The second-term curse goes like this: A president (e.g., Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and so on) wins reelection, but then his presidency implodes over the next four years — mired in scandals or disasters such as Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky, the Iraqi insurgency, and Hurricane Katrina.
Apparently, like tragic Greek heroes, administrations grow arrogant after their reelection wins. They believe that they are invincible and that their public approval is permanent rather than fickle.
The result is that Nemesis zeroes in on their fatal conceit and with a boom corrects their hubris. Or is the problem in some instances simply that embarrassments and scandals, hushed up in fear that they might cost an administration an election, explode with a fury in the second term?
Coincidentally, right after the election we heard that Iran had attacked a U.S. drone in international waters.
Coincidentally, we just learned that new food-stamp numbers were “delayed” and that millions more became new recipients in the months before the election.
Coincidentally, we now gather that the federal relief effort following Hurricane Sandy was not so smooth, even as New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Barack Obama high-fived it. Instead, in Katrina-like fashion, tens of thousands are still without power or shelter two weeks after the storm.
Coincidentally, we now learn that Obama’s plan of letting tax rates increase for the “fat cat” 2 percent who make over $250,000 a year would not even add enough new revenue to cover 10 percent of the annual deficit. How he would get the other 90 percent in cuts, we are never told.
Coincidentally, we now learn that the vaunted DREAM Act would at most cover only about 10 percent to 20 percent of illegal immigrants. As part of the bargain, does Obama have a post-election Un-DREAM Act to deport the other 80 percent who do not qualify since either they just recently arrived in America, are not working, are not in school or the military, are on public assistance, or have a criminal record?
Coincidentally, now that the election is over, the scandal over the killings of Americans in Libya seems warranted because of the abject failure to heed pleas for more security before the attack and assistance during it. And the scandal is about more than just the cover-up of fabricating an absurd myth of protesters mad over a two-month-old video — just happening to show up on the anniversary of 9/11 with machine guns and rockets.
The real post-election mystery is why we ever had a consulate in Benghazi in the first place, when most nations had long ago pulled their embassies out of war-torn Libya altogether.
Why, about a mile from the consulate, did we have a large CIA-staffed “annex” that seems to have been busy with all sorts of things other than providing adequate security for our nearby diplomats?
Before the election, the media were not interested in figuring out what Ambassador Christopher Stevens actually was doing in Benghazi, what so many CIA people and military contractors were up to, and what was the relationship of our large presence in Libya to Turkey, insurgents in Syria, and the scattered Qaddafi arms depots.
But the strangest “coincidentally” of all is the bizarre resignation of American hero General David Petraeus from the CIA just three days after the election — apparently due to a long-investigated extramarital affair with a sort of court biographer and her spat with a woman she perceived as a romantic rival.
If the affair was haphazardly hushed up for about a year, how exactly did Petraeus become confirmed as CIA director, a position that allows no secrets, much less an entire secret life?
How and why did the FBI investigate the Petraeus matter? To whom and when did it report its findings? And what was the administration reaction?
Coincidentally, if it is true that Petraeus can no longer testify as CIA director to the House and Senate intelligence committees about the ignored requests of CIA personnel on the ground in Benghazi for more help, can he as a private citizen testify more freely, without the burdens of CIA directorship and pre-election politics?
It has been less than two weeks since the election, and Obama seems no exception to the old rule that for administrations that manage to survive their second terms, almost none seem to enjoy them.
The sudden release of all sorts of suppressed news and “new” facts right after the election creates public cynicism.
The hushed-up, fragmentary account of the now-unfolding facts of the Libyan disaster contributes to further disbelief.
The sudden implosion of Petraeus — whose seemingly unimpeachable character appears so at odds with reports of sexual indiscretion, a lack of candor, and White House backstage election intrigue — adds genuine public furor.
The resulting mix is toxic, and it may tax even the formidable Chicago-style survival skills of Obama and the fealty of the so far dutiful media.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 Tribune Media Services