Week two: Will the scandals live on?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Having endured more than a week of scandal, according to a CNN/ORC poll released Sunday, President Obama’s approval ratings remained untouched at 53 percent.

It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from one poll. And it’s also true that it sometimes takes time for scandals to begin taking their toll. But one thing is for sure, this time, you can’t blame the media for not covering the controversies.

Could it be that the public just doesn’t care? — that even when confronted with the most egregious examples and definitive evidence, they still yawn? That’s a scary and frustrating proposition, but not an impossibility.

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Consider this theory from Neil Postman’s classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: “The New York Times and The Washington Post are not Pravda; the Associated Press is not Tass. And there is no Newspeak here … All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference.”

Postman was lamenting Ronald Reagan’s “teflon” presidency, but based on the lame spin coming from Jay Carney and Dan Pfeiffer, and the apparent death of outrage, one might begin to wonder if Postman was on to something.

My conservative friends who cannot stand the sight of the president have never agreed with me on this, but I’ve long contended that Obama gets a pass because he is likable in the way that Ronald Reagan was likable. So for a great many Americans, even if mistakes were made, the president usually stays above the fray. It’s always someone else’s fault.

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The fact that likability covers a multitude of sins shouldn’t surprise us. Nor should we be surprised that perception is reality. As Postman also argued, “the dishonor that now shrouds Richard Nixon results not from the fact that he lied but that on television he looked like a liar.”

Richard Nixon was never Mr. Charisma, and he eventually grew to look like a crook. But that wasn’t always the case. Don’t forget, Nixon was (to borrow a phrase) likable enough to win his 1972 re-election by a landslide. But there is something about being relentlessly attacked — and watching your power slowly erode — that takes the polish off of even the world-class politicians. And when the press turns on you, too, you’re probably toast.

And it may be that that the decline of Barack Obama is likewise a work in progress. This is not to say he will meet the same fate as Richard Nixon, but it is to say that Nixon didn’t become Nixon over night, but over years. We are now on just week two of the convergence of three scandals. And there is reason to believe we might see a week three.

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This morning the Washington Post has reported that Obama’s Justice Department tracked Fox News reporter James Rosen via a key card and seized personal emails. Drip. Drip.

Targeting tea party groups might be accepted, but this crosses the line. Already, Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker has called these tactics “outrageous,” and has tweeted that Obama is “criminalizing reporting”:

Obama’s real problem is that information continues to drip out. And every time someone goes before cameras to do damage control, they contribute to the glut of information that might be scrutinized, and later, proven to be wrong. At this point, the real question about the scandals isn’t “how bad are they?” The real question is, “What other shoe(s) might drop”?

Matt K. Lewis