Monday, October 24, 2011

Scandal-free Obama administration

Jonathan Alter has written a fairly long but very interesting article titled Scandal in the age of Obama.

Barack Obama was not in office for more than a couple of minutes, it seemed, before conservatives began trying to cover him in muck. Yet for almost three years, the administration has been scandal-less, not scandalous. In a capital culture that over generations has become practiced at the art of flinging mud pies, Republicans and a few reporters have been tossing charges against a Teflon wall...

The question is, have Obama and his administration objectively engaged in less scandalous behavior, or has some combination of external forces kept scandals from spreading through the public consciousness? And if Obama has managed to build a scandal-proof administration, is that purely a good thing, or has it come at a cost?

Here I humbly offer some theories about how the Washington scandal machine works, and why there has been such a dearth of scandals in the age of Obama.

Alter goes on to list six theories that might have a part to play in explaining the lack of scandals. Some are more complicated than others. But here's the one that takes the least explanation. Alter has a little fun with "The Family Man Theory."

Of course the most entertaining and explosive scandals involve sex, which reporters and pundits will ride all day and night. But you’ve got to give them something to work with. As far as we know, the president, the vice president, the top White House staff, and the Cabinet members are either committed family men and women or single. Nowadays you need flagrant adultery— or Anthony Weiner-style weirdness—to get some traction with sex. Barack Obama and an intern? Highly unlikely. The first lady would kill him, cover it up, look fabulous at the state funeral—and no one would be any the wiser.

When it comes to other ways that President Obama has impacted the lack of scandal (versus outside events), he talks about the ethical tone the President has set in his administration, the over-the-top oversight of things like the Recovery Act, and ends with "the Obama paradox."

An even bigger paradox involves Obama and the power of the presidency. The essence of power is getting people to do what they don’t want to do with carrots and sticks. The carrots can morph into bribery and the sticks into blackmail and extortion, as earmarks and campaign contributions become catnip for corruption.

But some of these techniques are the flip side of political success. Feldstein notes that neither FDR nor LBJ were lawyers. They were interested in results, not strict adherence to the law. “You don’t get the sense that Obama relishes exercising power,” says Feldstein. “He’s both cleaner and less effective than some of his predecessors.”

I’d amend that argument on the effectiveness front; the president has won more than he’s lost over the last couple of years. But whatever his successes and failures in office, he is, as Joe Biden got in trouble for saying in 2007, “articulate and bright and clean.” Polls consistently show that the public agrees. Integrity is a nice calling card in a bruising election. If he manages to get reelected amid sky-high unemployment, this will be a big reason why.

Hmmm, perhaps that's because President Obama believes in the the power of partnership instead of dominance.

1 comment:

  1. " The first lady would kill him, cover it up, look fabulous at the state funeral—and no one would be any the wiser." So true. And what about the theory that he is a decent, intelligent man who tries to live out his values because he truly holds them, instead of mouthing them because that's what his supporters want to here?

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