President Barack Obama's hollow promise that Americans who liked their own health care plans would not have to give them up under Obamacare may prove to be another tempest in a tea party teapot, but it might also balloon into a political gale that blows away the highest hopes for his second term in theWhite House.
Winning re-election to the presidency is often a triumph before a fall. Richard Nixon won a second term in a landslide; two years later, the Watergate scandal forced him to resign. Ronald Reagan, too, won a huge re-election victory, but his second term was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton handily won four more years, but then along came the Lewinsky sex scandal and the first presidential impeachment in 130 years.
Despite the best efforts of congressional Republicans to puff up the Benghazi tragedy into a scandal on par with those that rocked past second-term presidencies, there simply is not enough there, besides short-sighted incompetence, to make it much of a threat to the Obama White House.
The botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, however, has done some serious damage. Liberals may be right that once enough people begin to enjoy the benefits of the new health care regime, the near meltdown of the health care website in its first weeks will be forgotten. That could also be wishful thinking. No matter how much things improve, a sense that someone failed to get it right might also linger.
And certainly that concern has now been reinforced by the president's admission that his repeated assurances that no one's coverage would be disrupted was simply wrong. Enemies of reform have pounced, saying the president told a lie worse than Mr. Nixon's Watergate cover-up or George W. Bush's claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. That's crazy, of course, but, even if it wasn't a lie of historic proportions, it was a tactical manipulation of the facts that someone in the Obama administration had to know was not at all the whole truth.
Mr. Obama was interviewed by NBC on Thursday and said he will figure out a way to take care of the many people whose personal health care policies have been changed or dropped because of provisions of the health care act that set minimum standards for insurance policies. He claimed he was not aware of the problem. If so, that turns him into a salesman who really did not know what he was selling.
Throw in the revelations of NSA spying on foreign leaders that Mr. Obama says were a surprise to him, add the mixed signals about Syria, and a perception of a president who is not on top of things begins to form. It may be unfair -- presidents preside over a vast system of government that is beyond the capacity of any human to fully master in every detail -- but perceptions have power. A pervasive sense that Barack Obama is not fully in charge could undermine everything he hoped to accomplish in the second four years of his presidency.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go tolatimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.