Worldwide Fuss, but Obama Will Survive

Finally, President Obama has his long-dreamed of two-party unity. Democrats and Republicans support PRISM, the digital sniffer program that has caused worldwide uproar. From Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner — not a friend of Obama’s — to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a liberal from San Francisco, they all consider it all right, completely legal and even useful and necessary. Only the libertarian right and suspicious left protest. Obama builds bridges!

So much for the good news: In the Rolodex of scandals, semi-scandals and nonsense that keep Washington busy, the sniffer program is none of the above. It will give the president few problems in terms of content. The important question of how dangerous this all is will soon prove secondary to the question of what political damage Obama has suffered.

Comparisons to Richard Nixon by American Obama-haters and “experts” in Europe are quite absurd. This darkest of all presidents was flooded with scandals, all of his own making. Nixon ordered for the IRS to be unleashed on political opponents and spurred the Watergate cover-up. He bombed Cambodia without authorization. And there’s more: Nixon really thought that when the president does something, it is automatically legal. He was unique.

Whether Obama’s problems are indeed scandals or something else does not really matter. They are politically harmful. The political right is watering at the mouth at this opportunity to also ruin Obama’s second term. The initial attempt — the hearings about the death of the American ambassador in the Libyan city of Benghazi — did not bring Republicans more than helpless frustration. It did not interest the average American. Mistakes were made — maybe communications had been somewhat clumsy — but it was not a conspiracy or large-scale incompetence, much less a cover-up.

Sniffer Program

Much more attractive was the disclosure that the IRS was harassing exemption-requesting tea party groups. This may have been a stupid act, but the real scandal is that the IRS did not harass big political players, like Karl Rove’s political action committee and other clearly political organizations, Republican and Democrat alike. But everyone hates the IRS, so that always works.

Add to this the wiretapping of journalists, the forced abandonment of data by the telecommunications company Verizon and, since last week, that worldwide sniffer program. Only the case of the journalists is being challenged in court. As for the rest, the American public is okay with it. Punch-drunk from 12 years of the war on terror, the average American accepts quite a bit. Obama works with a national security state adorned by Cheney and Bush; governments seldom give up obtained power, not even when they are democratic. If that raises questions, even better. Obama set the tone for that three weeks ago in a wise and well-received speech that now gets extra focus.


Wiretapping journalists is the biggest problem. The Department of Justice is investigating the matter, but that will probably not be enough. It can cost Attorney General Eric Holder, already under attack, his head — that is all. All things considered, you have to determine that Obama can hardly be blamed for bad will or malicious rule. His biggest problem is that all these scandals fit in a large Republican story: Look, see, Obama’s agenda is the endless expansion of the government. Proof delivered. For the many rabid Obama-haters, it sounds more credible every day.

The irony is that Obama’s supporters are disappointed as well. What makes Obama different from Bush, Jr. — the disillusionment of his own constituency lies around the corner. Combined with the obsessive obstruction of Republicans, who have not uttered a word about government infringements, it can render Obama powerless early in his second term.

However, that is not certain. It is not all that bad. Republicans overplay their hand more often. Hate is blind and a bad adviser. On foreign policy, Obama does not need Congress. His team is complete, and who knows which urgent problems will dictate the agenda in the near future. On domestic issues, Obama has already showed more readiness to strongly fight Republicans.

Small Steps

However things turn out, the prospects for big legislation from President Obama are limited but, honestly, they are already were on Jan. 20. The immigration bill will pass, but further into the future, politics will be of little steps, comparable to Bill Clinton’s second term.

President Obama is certainly not done governing. He will probably be able to appoint judges in the Supreme Court or elsewhere, an opportunity to lure Republicans into their own trap of hubris. They have yet to win the congressional elections of 2014. And, more important than anything else, the economy seems to be doing better. If that continues and the deficits further recede, these “scandals” will be nothing more than footnotes to a successful presidency.

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