Second-term pitfalls surrounding Obama

Jun 9, 2013 By Mark Shields

Dan Jenkins, a sportswriter of rare wit, once gave us the Ten Stages of Drunkenness, which include these separate points on the road to inebriation: "Witty and Charming," "Rich and Powerful," "Clairvoyant," "Patriotic," followed by "Crank Up the Enola Gay" and culminating in Stage 10, "Bulletproof."

Re-election to second White House terms seem too often to lead, sadly, to incumbent presidents acting like they are drunk on power. Ronald Reagan's presidency was tarnished and his credibility damaged by the Iran-Contra affair, a secret plot to sell Israeli arms to the Ayatollah's regime in Iran (then waging war against Iraq) and to use the money from those sales to ship arms to the right-wing Contras in Nicaragua.

Bill Clinton's personal recklessness in entering into an illicit sexual relationship in the West Wing with a young White House intern reflected the behavior of someone who was sure he was both Bulletproof and Invisible. Richard Nixon's second term ended with his own resignation and 25 of his friends and colleagues going to jail.

This is not to compare President Barack Obama to Nixon. But the uproar over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative political groups and the Justice Department's, without discussion or prior warning, seizing the phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors were actions developed and executed by agencies led by individuals who had been chosen and endorsed by Obama.

The president who benefits from personally giving the green light to Navy SEAL Team 6 -- which conducted a daring raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and killed the founder-leader of al-Qaida -- will also be held accountable for the wrongful acts of his appointees.

David Axelrod, the architect of Obama's brilliant 2008 victory and his close friend, offered on MSNBC the lamest, most unpersuasive defense of the president: "There's so much beneath you (as president) that you can't know because the government is so vast."

Everything in politics is a poll. If you're an officeholder in a public place and people are clamoring -- or deliberately passing on the chance -- to have their picture taken with you, that is a poll as revealing as anything you'll get from a Quinnipiac or Pew survey. This week, we saw Democratic senators facing re-election fights next year who have been among the president's strongest supporters separating themselves from the White House. Colorado's Mark Udall spoke for many of his colleagues: "I am concerned about the Justice Department's actions and the chilling effect it could have on the Fourth Estate."

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire and Virginia's Mark Warner, all on the 2014 ballot, established public daylight between themselves and the actions of the Obama administration's IRS and Justice Department.

President Obama -- for the good of his agenda and, more importantly, for the good of the country -- must do much more than express his anger or outrage. He must step up and "own" the IRS problem. That's what a leader does. He leads the investigation. He makes it his duty to expose any and all wrongdoing. He guarantees that nothing like it will ever again happen on his watch. A leader takes personal responsibility. A leader takes charge. A leader takes the heat. The clock is ticking.

Editor's note: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields is a former Marine who appears regularly on "Newshour" on PBS.

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