Why Presidential Scandals Seem Like Business as Usual
Policy + Politics

Why Presidential Scandals Seem Like Business as Usual

Office of the President of the United States

President Obama is five months into his second term and already his administration is entangled in the center of three controversies that are dominating the political news .

New developments in the investigation of the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans have put the White House under the interrogation lamp. One Republican lawmaker, Rep. Steve King, R- Iowa, has likened Benghazi to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, while another Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R- Ok, even floated the possibility of the president’s impeachment.

SLIDE SHOW: 10 White House Scandals that Shocked America  

“Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them — this ... is going to go down as most egregious cover-up in American history,” Inhofe postured Monday during a radio interview.

Despite emails showing how language about a terrorist attack was scrubbed from official talking points, the Obama administration says there was no Benghazi cover up, and instead is brushing it off as a Republican conspiracy theory. At a press conference on Monday, President Obama called the accusations a “political circus” and a distracting “side show.” On Tuesday, Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed comparisons of President Obama to Nixon saying “people who make those kinds of comparisons need to check their history.”

Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University, said the perception of whether this is actually a scandal is split between Republicans and Democrats. “It’s part and parcel of a dysfunctional, polarized system,” Allen told MSNBC, adding that Republicans should be careful to over-politicize the scandal, as it could backfire. “Accusers have to be careful. Democrats actually gained seats after Bill Clinton was impeached.”

The White House, meanwhile, has been in damage control-mode for another political controversy  after the Internal Revenue Service came under fire last Friday when it announced its employees had targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny over their tax-exempt statuses.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Monday afternoon, news broke that the Department of Justice has been spying on Associated Press reporters, surreptitiously obtaining telephone records for more than 20 reporters, including their home phones and cellphones. The Associated Press called it a “serious interference with A.P.’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

Whether these issues turn out to plague Obama’s presidency or are simply roadblocks, one thing is clear: Second terms have not always been easy for presidents, prompting historians to diagnose many with the “second-term curse.” See our slide show for a list of the top 10.