Day 1,956 of his presidency was not too kind to President Obama. Having to announce within a four-hour span that he had lost both an embattled Cabinet secretary and his chief spokesman, Obama looked Friday like a man gamely trying to get a stalled administration back on track.
He entered the week still stuck with low approval ratings and facing fierce criticism of his policies both at home and abroad. On Wednesday, he tried to chart a new course internationally with a West Point speech setting out a new foreign policy. On Thursday, he dealt with widespread criticism of the speech. On Friday, he tried to dig himself out of a troubling Veterans Administration scandal by jettisoning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a man he thought was being unfairly blamed for the problems. Then he accepted the resignation of press secretary Jay Carney, the longtime public face of his White House.
It is a cliché to note the aging of our presidents, to count the gray hairs sprouting with each passing day in the Oval Office. But Obama does look weary. And he is at a point in his administration when his agenda seems tired and many of his appointees are exhausted. In that regard, he is no different than every second-term president since World War II. For all of them, the sixth year was troubled and filled with administration scandals, political challenges and executive turnover.
A second-term president has to figure out how to govern effectively without his original band of hardy loyalists. Most of them have fled government at this point. When Obama looks around his White House these days, he sees Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer and only a handful of other aides who were with him on that frigid day in 2007 in Springfield when he announced his long-shot candidacy. Only three of Obama’s original 16 Cabinet officers remain — Eric Holder at Justice, Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, and Arne Duncan at Education. He is on his fourth budget director, his fifth chief of staff, and, soon, his third press secretary.
The turnover at press secretary is the least surprising. Few appreciate what a tough job that is. Marlin Fitzwater, who served Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that the biggest shock to him when he became press secretary was how hard he had to dig to get the facts and to make sure what he said publicly was accurate. As Carney was later to learn, most of that work is done off-camera, fighting to be included in the inner circle. The two-term presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have all worn out their press secretaries. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each had four, and Ronald Reagan had three. Lyndon Johnson, who served less than two full terms, had four.
Each had to struggle with the reality that the public starts to tune out a president in his second term. This is a highly personal office. A president is the only politician whom voters, in effect, invite into their homes and watch on television every night. But in a sixth year, people tend to believe they have pretty much heard it all from the president and about all they hear seems to be bad news.
In making his announcements on Shinseki and Carney, the president did all the things expected of him in the circumstances, projecting determination and even smiling bravely. But what he didn’t do was signal convincingly that he knows how to provide a way forward for the 966 days he has left in the White House. How he responds now will determine whether this week is regarded as a low point or a critical turning point for his presidency.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”