Not Fitzgerald Grant's fictional presidency of television series "Scandal" fame, for it abounds with adept fixers, perceptive optics, heroic motives and clever dialogue. I mean Ulysses S. Grant's scandal-plagued presidency, which was replete with clumsy denials, regretful dismissals, base enticements and desperate political ploys.
The shocking scandals of the mid-1870s – from the Whiskey Ring's tax evasion and bribery of administrative officials to secretary of War William Belknap and his wife's patronage kickbacks – consumed Grant's second term. The investigations reached as high as the president's personal secretary (Orville Babcock) and prevented Grant from focusing on the two major issues severely undermining the state of the newly reunited union: a weak economy and worsening race relations in the South.
Despite having won reelection in 1872 with nearly 56 percent of the popular vote and securing more than 78 percent of the electoral vote, as historian Charles Calhoun explained, "Republicans failed to achieve a lasting realignment in the electorate…[and] whether individual charges were fair or not, the corruption issue presented Republicans with an image crisis of immense proportions."
Grant's managerial laxity (which was very similar to Obama's "uninterested" demeanor) not only became his personal undoing, but was also the beginning of his party's collapse.
By 1876, Democrats had regained the majority in the U.S. House and political control of nearly all of the Southern states. Only South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana continued to have Republicans in power. Grant had become as much a political liability as a lame duck in the eyes of the public.
Democrats mercilessly exploited the wide-ranging scandals and promoted their most outspoken reformer, New York governor Samuel Tilden, for president. Were it not for questionable maneuvering and rank partisanship, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes would not have succeeded Grant in the presidency.
Avoiding this kind of diminished legacy means that Obama must do what Grant could not. He needs to face the seriousness of the allegations which stretch across his administration and welcome in the investigators. Obama should be cleaning house, instead of hunkering down with controversial cabinet members and advisers (e.g., Eric Holder, Susan Rice and Samantha Power). In short, by not engaging to get his presidency back on track, Obama's ensuring that only one sentiment will prevail among the voters in the next election: change.
Only this time, it'll be against him, not for him.
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