Administration meltdowns are hardly novel. In almost every presidency there comes a moment when sheer chaos, whether self-induced or the result of an outside crisis, takes hold.
Vietnam had effectively destroyed Lyndon Johnson by 1967. Watergate unraveled the Richard Nixon administration, as the disgraced president resigned in the face of certain impeachment.Gerald Ford could not whip inflation and was not reelected. One-termer Jimmy Carter was undone by the Iranian hostage crisis and skyrocketing oil prices.
For a time, it seemed that Ronald Reagan’s second term might not survive the Iran-Contra scandal. George H. W. Bush could not be reelected after he broke his promise not to raise taxes and Ross Perot entered the 1992 race. The popular Bill Clinton was impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair and limped out of office tainted. The insurgency in Iraq and the fallout from Hurricane Katrina crashed for good the once-high poll ratings of George W. Bush.
The Obama administration over the last month has seemed on the verge of one of these presidential meltdowns.
An open mike caught the president promising Russian president Dmitri Medvedev that he would be more flexible after the election — as if Obama might grant concessions that would be unpalatable if known to the general public before November. That embarrassment followed an open-mike putdown of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year.
The president also unwisely attacked the Supreme Court as it deliberated the constitutionality of Obamacare. He needlessly referred to the justices as “unelected,” and wrongly claimed that they had little precedent to overturn laws that dealt with commerce. The gaffe about the Court and its history was doubly embarrassing because Obama has often reminded the public that he used to teach constitutional law.
Democrats unwisely went after the Catholic Church and religious conservatives on the grounds that they did not support federal subsidies for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. Another gratuitous scrap soon escalated into an unnecessary fight with the Catholic bishops. To widen the controversy further, Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz alleged that the contraceptive fight was part of a wider Republican “war on women.”
But that new psychodrama also blew up in the administration’s face when a zealous Democratic consultant, Hilary Rosen, claimed that Ann Romney, the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, had “never worked a day in her life.” In fact, the affable Mrs. Romney had raised five children and had survived both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.