President Obama’s hollow promise that Americans who liked their own healthcare plans would not have to give them up under Obamacare may prove to be another tempest in a tea party teapot, but it might also balloon into a political gale that blows away the highest hopes for his second term in the White House.
Winning reelection to the presidency is often a triumph before a fall. Richard Nixon won a second term in a landslide; two years later, the Watergate scandal forced him to resign. Ronald Reagan too won a huge reelection victory, but his second term was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton handily won four more years, but then along came the Lewinsky sex scandal and the first presidential impeachment in 130 years.
Despite the best efforts of congressional Republicans to puff up the Benghazi tragedy into a scandal on par with those that rocked past second-term presidencies, there simply is not enough there, besides shortsighted incompetence, to make it much of a threat to the Obama White House.
The botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, however, has done some serious damage. Liberals may be right that once enough people begin to enjoy the benefits of the new healthcare regime, the near meltdown of the healthcare website in its first weeks will be forgotten. That could also be wishful thinking. No matter how much things improve, a sense that someone failed to get it right might also linger.
And certainly that concern has now been reinforced by the president’s admission that his repeated assurances that no one’s healthcare coverage would be disrupted was simply wrong. Enemies of healthcare reform have pounced, saying the president told a lie worse than Nixon’s Watergate cover-up or George W. Bush’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. That’s crazy, of course, but, even if it wasn’t a lie of historic proportions, it was a tactical manipulation of the facts that someone in the Obama administration had to know was not at all the whole truth.
Obama was interviewed by NBC on Thursday and said he will figure out a way to take care of the many people whose personal healthcare policies have been changed or dropped because of provisions of the healthcare act that set minimum standards for insurance policies. He claimed that he was not aware of the problem. If so, that turns him into a salesman who really did not know what he was selling.
Throw in the revelations of NSA spying on foreign leaders that Obama says were a surprise to him, add the mixed signals about Syria, and a perception of a president who is not on top of things begins to form. It may be unfair -- presidents preside over a vast system of government that is beyond the capacity of any human to fully master in every detail -- but perceptions have power. A pervasive sense that Obama is not fully in charge could undermine everything he hoped to accomplish in the second four years of his presidency.