Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama's second-term curse? Not so fast

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Tue May 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Media saying Obama is running into the "second-term curse"
  • He says it's true Obama's running into trouble, but pundits' rush to judgment premature
  • Second-termers (see Reagan, Bush, Clinton) have successes along with stumbles, he says
  • Kurtz: Obama does face wind down of sway; this could affect his impact more than errors

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

(CNN) -- The media verdict is in: Barack Obama is cursed.

Less than four months after taking the oath of office for the second time, he is seen as falling prey to some mysterious witchcraft that casts a fatal spell on re-elected presidents.

"Will Obama suffer the 'second-term curse'?" asks the Washington Post.

"President Obama stares down the second-term curse," says Politico. And such stories ricocheted onto NBC's "Today" show, on which, we learned, "some observers" are questioning whether "Mr. Obama is falling victim to the second-term curse."

One can almost conjure up a bubbling cauldron of black smoke with a wand-wielding wizard laughing diabolically.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

Now, there's no question that second-term presidents often stumble or run out of gas. But the punditry suggests a one-size-fits-all scenario that isn't borne out by history. What's more, there's a rush-to-judgment air to some of these pronouncements that implies his second term is on the verge of failure, with more than 3 1/2 years to go.

It isn't hard to build the case that the president finds himself in a ditch. The almost offhanded disclosure that the IRS was targeting conservative and tea party groups for reviews of their tax-exempt status, and the revelation that a top agency official knew about this two years ago, is an outrage that carries disturbing echoes of Richard Nixon. (Now there's a guy whose second term didn't turn out too well.)

The Benghazi debacle (which of course happened in Obama's first term) finally gained traction after ABC News reported that the administration's misleading talking points after the fatal attack had been scrubbed to remove references to a group affiliated with al-Qaeda and CIA warnings about terrorism.

Republicans, meanwhile, have been making Obama's life miserable, defeating a modest measure on background checks for guns, slow-walking immigration legislation and refusing to vote for some Cabinet nominees.

IRS admits it targeted tea party groups
Issa: Obama couldn't be more inaccurate
Bush pushes for immigration reform

Oh, and the economy isn't doing that well either.

But does that amount to a jinxed second term, or the same kind of partisan standoff that has marked Obama's years in office? A look back at recent second-termers makes clear that every set of problems is inherently different.

George W. Bush vowed to spend his political capital after winning in 2004, but a move to privatize Social Security quickly collapsed. The sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina sealed an image of the administration as incompetent, against the backdrop of a bloody Iraq war. And he left office amid the financial crisis of 2008.

Bill Clinton's second term blew up when the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted and he got himself impeached. But less remembered is the pre-scandal year of 1997, when the president and Newt Gingrich's Republicans hammered out an agreement to balance the budget for the first time in three decades. It was sex and lies that proved Clinton's undoing, although his popularity remained high when he left office.

In similar fashion, Ronald Reagan's second term ran aground when the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in late 1986. What has been overshadowed is the sweeping legislation on tax reform and overhauling immigration that he passed earlier in the year. And Reagan's personal approval rating was sufficiently intact that he was able to hand over the office to his vice president.

As for Obama, smart journalists are careful not to be definitive when writing their trend pieces. Politico says the recent setbacks "have left the president feeling deeply frustrated, even angry — and eager to find a way to recapture the offensive." The Washington Post piece describes his mounting woes as "diversions working against a president who is keenly aware of how little time he has left to achieve big things."

This brings us to the thing that every second-term president since FDR has indeed faced: a ticking clock.

A re-elected commander-in-chief is a lame duck whose ability to reward and punish inevitably diminishes as his departure date approaches. And that, rather than any sinister voodoo, may be Obama's biggest problem as he tries to dig his way out of this ditch.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT