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 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT