Thursday, May 16, 2013

Messy Second Term: Incompetence, Ignorance or Indifference?

Too much golf and too many White House parties (on the tax payer's dime) may be affecting the President's focus.  He shows signs of slacking, maybe from indifference.

By Dan Balz

After answering questions Monday morning about two of the controversies that have undermined his administration, President Obama flew off to New York to raise money for the Democratic Party. There, before partisan donors, he reflected on his second term and said he will continue to reach out to Republicans. “I sure want to do some governing,” he explained.

Obama’s words suggest that he believes there is a way to compartmentalize the business of his second term: legislative and other business here, scandals over there. But things are too messy for that right now. A politician who has counted good luck as part of his skill set will need all the breaks he can muster to pull off that bit of political jujitsu.

Even in the best of times, Obama’s outreach to Republicans produced little in return — and these are no longer close to the best of times. The question is whether the barely civil relationship between the White House and the opposition party has been irreparably damaged. A related question is how much the controversies will weaken Obama’s standing with the public. Together, the answers will decide how effectively he can govern.

It is too early to draw any broad conclusions about the long-term damage to Obama’s presidency from the news that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups and that the Justice Department collected two months of phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors. But in the moment, these controversies — along with the ongoing congressional investigation of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya — have created major challenges for the administration.

The president and his advisers have tried to insulate the White House from the actions of the IRS and the Justice Department, claiming ignorance. The IRS, officials argued Friday, is quasi-independent. It took the president three days to express his outrage at the agency’s actions. As for the Justice Department’s leak investigation, White House officials said Monday night that it was a department decision that was not forwarded to the president.

Those are temporary responses that probably will not be sufficient over time. The White House may have known nothing about either, but both are now the president’s problem. And both reflect questions about the administration that predate the revelations of the past few days.

Read it all here.

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