There’s a simple lesson here, according to veterans of past administrations and presidential historians: Having political allies control Congress doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily any interest in the White House agenda, and just taking the oath of office a second time doesn’t provide any presidential superpowers. And unlike Bush, Obama is facing a House controlled by the opposite party — Republicans who’ve beaten him before, and who can play a longer political game than the president can afford to.
So far, Obama has avoided setting many concrete, long-term goals. That includes major foreign policy objectives that have defined previous second terms and big topics such as tackling climate change — the kind of ambitious goal that a second-term president who’s popular around the world might seize the lead on. While Obama spoke at length about climate change during his news conference last week, he made no specific promises or demands…
There’s another clear lesson here for the Obama White House: Don’t underestimate the derailing power of a scandal and don’t dismiss how much damage can be done when a president loses the public’s trust. Clinton was able to channel his own strong second-term victory in 1996 into the deal that produced the first balanced budget, but relations with Congress were so poisoned that Republicans impeached Clinton mostly to parade his sins on the Senate floor.
Like the debt and Iraq War fatigue that eventually enveloped the Bush administration, Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky had its roots in his first term. But as the Reagan administration discovered with the Iran-Contra affair, there’s more than enough time in a second term for a scandal to start, fester and explode.