Another poll came out this week pointing out the obvious: President Barack Obama’s popularity continues to slip.
This is probably less worrisome to the White House than it seems. Obama can’t run again, so his popularity isn’t an electoral problem. Slumping approval figures damage his ability to accomplish anything in Congress, but he wasn’t going to get much of anything done anyway.
Still, an unpopular second-term president delays even a broad, bipartisan discussion about continuing problems: the economy, infrastructure, funding for Social Security and Medicare, even challenges with the Postal Service. That is a problem because the grinding stalemate only allows those problems to fester.
Obama’s defenders say his numbers have slipped in part because of events largely out of his control, particularly overseas. But the truth is most of his problems are self-inflicted.
Let’s take one of his bigger challenges: the expanding scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service and its oversight of nonprofit political groups known as 501(c)(4)s.
To recap: Republicans are furious because evidence suggests the IRS may have improperly delayed the tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status for some conservative groups. They’re even more upset that some of the emails of Lois Lerner, the IRS worker at the center of the scandal, have mysteriously vanished.
The GOP’s anger would be easier to accept if the party were genuinely worried about IRS interference with political groups. It is not. We know this because the party rejects the easiest way to stop the IRS from scrutinizing political speech, by simply ending 501(c)(4)s.
The GOP opposes this because 501(c)(4)s have become the preferred way to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in secret campaign donations. For Republicans, keeping 501(c)(4)s means secret campaign cash and an IRS scandal — sweet!
Obama could call the bluff by proposing an end to 501(c)(4)s. He won’t, though, because Democrats are addicted to secret cash too.
Instead, as the IRS investigation continues, his administration appears to have taken a page from the Watergate playbook: stall, stonewall, obfuscate, deny, anything to protect the secret flow of campaign cash.
It didn’t work for Richard Nixon, and it may not work for Obama. But it’s part of a troubling philosophy both men seem to share: Scandals such as the IRS controversy are mere political problems to be managed instead of actual problems to be fixed.
Soon a special prosecutor may start digging around. At that point, slumping poll numbers will be the least of Obama’s concerns.