It has been a rough week or so for the
While still a college professor,
The day after Election Day 2004, President Bush confidently stated that he had earned political capital in the election and intended to spend it. It was a bold statement for a man who been reelected with a bare 51 percent majority. And Bush had anything but a successful second term. His ambitious plans for Social Security reform foundered; he was thwarted in his efforts to achieve
What happened to Mr. Bush between Election Day 2004 and the Democratic victories in 2006 is a cautionary tale for the Obama administration. Election 2004 was as much a
In late August of that year,
Earlier this year, I argued on this page that to lead effectively, contemporary presidents need support from federal courts and
This brings us to President Obama's current troubles. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama was reelected by a bare 51 percent majority. Exit polls showed most voters favored full or partial repeal of the president's signature legislative accomplishment, health care reform. Much like the Bush 2004 strategy, the Obama campaign spent millions defining
When House Republicans decided to reopen investigations into the
The initial response from the White House has been to deny any knowledge by Mr. Obama of these misdeeds. The White House is engaged in a confusing two-step; the president is responsible for the executive branch, but he is not responsible for the actions of executive branch employees or officers. In reality, it makes no difference whether Mr. Obama was directly responsible for or knowledgeable of any of the actions alleged. The catastrophe of the Katrina aftermath was very much the fault of former officials Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, New Orleans Mayor
The perception emerging now is that President Obama is a detached bystander in his own administration. Rather than embracing his role as chief executive, he is busy with the "permanent campaign." Worse, the IRS and Justice Department wiretap stories undermine a central tenet of the president's agenda: that government can be a trusted and competent partner in improving lives. These scandals bolster conservative arguments about government as a malevolent force.
This is President Obama's Katrina moment. If he cannot regain control of the narrative, he will face the same loss of public confidence suffered by President Bush. If that happens, Mr. Obama will spend the next three years relying on little more than the power of the veto to influence the agenda of others. Much as 35 percent of the public stood with George W. Bush until the very end, Mr. Obama can expect to maintain the support of a very committed segment of the public. But legacies are not built on the cultlike adherence of a passionate and deluded minority. Just ask George W. Bush.