News and Tribune


May 19, 2013

HOWEY: Where the buck stops

NASHVILLE —  Mr. President, the buck stops with you.

President Truman set that standard, with these very words posted on a sign on his Oval Office desk.

But now, with more than a thousand days left in this second Obama administration, we find a Nixonian stench emerging from the “W. House.”

What we’ve witnessed this past week has been a stew — some issues like Benghazi simmering for for months — while the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of Tea Party groups was known to insiders and then exploded into the public consciouness last week.

As a reporter, I was most incensed about the monitoring of Associated Press phone calls, but at least there was a plausible reason for it when Attorney General Eric Holder described a Department of Justice leak involving a terror airliner plot.

The Benghazi story has emboldened Republican conspiracy theorists, but what sticks out at me is the fact that Ambassador Chris Stevens ventured out to a CIA facility with only four security personnel and no obvious Plan B once the RPGs began to fly. This was a logistics problem and, having occurred on Sept. 11, a lack of recognition of the historic relevance coming in a sector that had 60 other terror related events in the previous six months.

The IRS component has echoes of Nixon era enemies lists, spying, using the FBI to track political henchmen and that sort.

Particularly when acting IRS Director Steven Miller wrote in a USA Today op-ed article, “Mistakes were made, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation.”

I couldn’t believe the wording, that conjured up Watergate: “. . . mistakes were made . . .”

What the IRS — and possibly the Obama administration — has done is played right into the hands of some of the Tea Party and Patriot groups who sensed conspiracy and political malfeasance beginning three years ago. Some of this mistrust was warranted, some of it hyped. Some misguided. But now the Obama regime has provided authentication to what some had seen as paranoia.

In the Oct. 14, 2012 edition of Howey Politics Indiana, I reviewed Alfred Zacher’s book “Presidential Power in Troubled Second Terms.” We learned that of the 20 presidents re-elected (now 21 with Barack Obama), only nine were considered a success and one of those, Abraham Lincoln, lasted a mere six weeks before he was assassinated.

It’s worth a refresher course from Zacher, who lives in Fort Wayne: “Twenty presidents have been elected to a second term, a threshold for greatness. Yet, for many of these, frustration, failure and even disaster followed their re-election. For a relative few, success meant overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, while for others apparent success was followed by failure in the judgment of history. The second term has been a time of great stress or travail to such presidents as Jefferson, Monroe, Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon and George W. Bush.”

Zacher asks, “What caused this great variation; why have presidents faltered and so few succeeded? It is in the second term that the elements of presidential leadership are crystallized, when innovation can be implemented and authority expanded.”

Americans expect from a second term president security, a clear path, fair play, and law and order. They reject hubris, expect an expanding economy, no war, reliable communication, and integrity.

Since President Obama took his second oath, we’ve endured the Boston Marathon bombing, the potential of Syrian weapons of mass destruction ending up in the hands of al-Qaeda allied groups despite Obama’s “red line,” a stubbornly high jobless rate, and the president taking Republicans out to dinner and golf after little reach out in the four prior years. He was stuffed on the gun background check bill in the Senate, and a “grand bargain” on the budget and deficits is now getting swamped by the events that only give credibility to the paranoia, antagonism and skullduggery.

When ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked Obama on May 1 whether he still had “the juice,” the president responded in Mark Twain fashion: “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”

At this point? Yikes! This administration still has more than a thousand days to go.

That conjured up images of April 18, 1995, during the tormented first term of President Clinton when he had to insist, “The president is relevant here, especially an activist president.”

On Wednesday, Obama called the IRS conduct “inexcusable” and added, “I am angry about it” after canning Miller, vowing to hold perpetrators “accountable” and promised to work with Congress.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa told CNN that the president “set the right tone” and called it “a good first step.”

With so much at stake, with Obamacare ready to be fully implemented next year (some skeptics are predicting a delay until after the mid-term elections), with a dire need for a “grand bargain” to get the nation’s finances in order at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day, this president needs to get a grip.

The buck stops with you, Mr. President.

The columnist publishes at Find him on Twitter @hwypol.


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