Saturday, November 05, 2005

How Do you Survive a Second Term Scandal?

All of the presidents who have had a second term since Roosevelt Eisenhower have had serious scandals in the second term: Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra-gate, Clinton had Blowjob-gate, and W. Bush has Plame-gate. Nixon was brought down by his scandal. Reagan survived, although his numbers took years to recover. Clinton prospered during his scandal.

Liberal bloggers like to note the vast gulf in the seriousness of these scandals. Three involved subverting the democratic process and one involved a blowjob. I don't want to go over that one again. I was born and raised inside the Beltway, and I want to look and the totally Machiavellian angle: how do you survive one of these politically? Sidney Blumenthal claims that Reagan survived because he ditched the neoconservatives and brought in the center-right Washington policy establishment personified by Brent Scowcroft.

(For some reason, this establishment is typically called “the realist camp” particularly on foreign policy, where they use compromise and diplomatic maneuvering to maintain American power. People like W Bush are then called “idealists” because they use the military to spread democracy everywhere. To me, though, the two camps simply look like cautious and ambitious imperialists. Or better yet: power worshipers who understand power and power worshipers fixated on the crudest manifestations of power.)

In truth, though, Nixon has as much claim on being a centrist in touch with the political establishment as Reagan. While fighting the Viet Nam war he drove to the center on domestic issues, among other things, founding the EPA. Blumenthal does note something, though, that Reagan could do at the height of his political comeback that Nixon could never do. Blumenthal writes, “President Reagan's popularity rating had collapsed from 67 to 46 percent; it did not recover until a year and a half later, in May 1988, when he negotiated an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and traveled to Moscow to declare the Cold War over.”

I have an alternative prescription for surviving your second term scandal: don’t be in the middle of fighting a losing war. Animosity to Nixon was driven by the war he kept us in, the costly war that served no purpose. Of course, this lets us know a lot about W Bush’s chances of surviving this scandal. Especially given new revelations (via Dr. B) about the VP’s role in authorizing torture.

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