Obama’s second term starting badly

Guest Editorial
Historians say that many re-elected presidents suffer a second-term curse.

Such a fate seems possible for President Barack Obama.

During his first term, critics and an obstructionist House of Representatives did everything they could to derail his presidency. Some went so far as to question his birthplace. Others accused him simultaneously of being a socialist, a Marxist, a Muslim, a follower of an anti-American Christian pastor and a dictator.

The tactics didn’t work. Despite a weak economy and high unemployment rate, the president won a relatively easy re-election over Republican Mitt Romney.

The start of Obama’s second term has hardly been a victory lap, as his administration is plagued by three major controversies: the deaths of four Americans at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya; the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status; and the widening revelations that the administration is gathering massive phone and Internet information about not only reporters, but also private citizens.

There is little doubt that Republicans are playing politics with these issues, a fact that some polls say is fully recognized by many Americans. Nonetheless, the responsibilities that the administration bears for these controversies — and how they are perceived by the public — could well define Obama’s second term.

The Benghazi murders should focus on the decision to place and keep American diplomats in a dangerous, unprotected location. The warnings were there. Who ignored them and why? Secondarily, was there an attempt to shield administration officials from culpability after the fact.

Because of budget cuts, it’s possible to give Republicans some responsibility for insufficient funds. But it’s the administration’s responsibility to ensure adequate safety for American diplomats. Why didn’t that happen?

The IRS story only gets worse with recent stories about high-spending antics by IRS officials. While many Americans were suffering through the Great Recession, the IRS was spending tens of millions of dollars on training sessions and silly videos. The “Hunger Games” scenario was further enhanced because groups that dared to challenge the party in power were singled out for invasive, drawn-out and inappropriate questioning.

Some of the reaction was overblown. But the partisan appearance of the IRS actions provides further evidence for those who believe the federal government is too big and too overbearing.

Finally, it is becoming more clear that the federal government is massively mining information about American use of phone calls and the Internet. As users of cell phones, the Internet and emails, this may be the issue that most bothers Americans.

Officials note that, except in rare cases with court orders, they are not listening into phone calls or reading emails. They are looking for connections that could help secure American security. The actions are intrusive but seem to be legal under the provisions of the Patriot Act. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, says the methods have thwarted at least one terrorist plot aimed at America.

But it’s hard not to recall the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, “Those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither.”