Election 2014

No President has sailed through two terms accoladed by the public and lauded by the media. The sixth year, in particular, is a hard one – especially as the mid-terms provide a clear score card on the incumbent. This time around the voters gave Obama a thorough spanking. But his misery is in good company.

George Bush watching his  presidency bog down.

George Bush watching his presidency bog down.

In 2006 Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” had decayed into an Islamic quagmire and he was wallowing in the bad press created by his second-rate response to Katrina. He proceeded to lose the House and Senate in the mid-terms, as well as several governorships).

Clinton actually had a better year in 1998 than he did in 1994 – politically. He picked up seats in the House – and although the Senate remained in GOP hands the balance of seats remained unchanged.

His difficulties were caused by the revelation of shenanigans with the intern, Monica Lewinski, and his serpentine defense of the indefensible. Luckily for him the GOP – instead of saying his behavior was that of a cad, grabbing the moral high-ground and moving on – gave him political cover with an impeachment overreach.

Luckily for Bill the GOP kept him afloat.

Luckily for Bill the GOP kept him afloat.

Reagan didn’t have much to lose politically in 1988 as control of the House and Senate was already in Democratic hands – so the modest Democratic pickups had little effect. But the day before the midterm elections the Iran Contra scandal broke. It turned out that the happy Cold War warrior’s administration was selling arms to the Iranians and using the funds to support the Contra insurgents fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. All on the QT.

Reagan was left with the CEO’s dilemma – which is, that when your organization is guilty of bad behavior, you have  the choice of appearing complicit or ignorant. With his self-deprecating humor about his age and need to sleep, people were willing to believe he had lost control.

Nixon’s 6th year difficulties transcended those of any other President. He didn’t even make it to the mid-terms. His pointless coverup of a pointless break-in led to his resignation over Watergate.

Eisenhower lost 48 House and 13 Senate seats in 1958. But at least he dodged being swamped by scandals. Although he was derided for being out of touch and playing too much golf. (Sound familiar?)

Years before Obama was accused of it, FDR was supposedly pursuing  a larger share of the power pie.

Years before Obama was accused of it, FDR was supposedly grabbing for a larger share of the power pie.

The year 1938 was tough for FDR. He set a record by losing 71 House seats – as well as 6 Senate seats. He was already reeling from the negative reaction to his 1937 court packing scheme, when the New Deal itself was threatened by the “Roosevelt Recession”. An economic down-turn that was exacerbated by a series of violent strikes. Which called into question his competence to deal with the economy.

Further his attempt to thwart the re-election of anti-New Deal Democrats was characterized as a purge by the media – an unfortunate allusion to the USSR, which was much in the news because of Stalin’s prominent show trials.

So why the six year ‘curse’? Every President comes into office with a sense of newness and possibility. He is either inheriting a country that is going through the ringer and is seen as a savior knight in shining armor – or is inheriting a country going gang-busters and is expected to keep the good times rolling.

But as Mario Cuomo famously said, “You campaign in poetry and govern in prose”. When you campaign you can promise the sky. But there is no faking the governing as events unfold. Added to that bitter reality, is that at least half of DC (and often many of your own team) is telling everyone what a bozo you are.

And finally people get bored of you.

What will 2014 mean for Obama’s legacy and the Democrats in 2016? Who knows. But I guarantee that by 2022 and the 6th year of the next president’s administration – should she make it that far (no, I’m not saying it’s going to be Hillary, but it might be a woman.)  – Obama is going to be viewed more favorably than he is being today.

Call it the Truman rebound.

Harry Truman

 

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