Can Obama escape the second-term scandal curse?


Can Obama escape the second-term scandal curse?

Storified by Digital First Media · Wed, Nov 07 2012 11:34:50

A second term is another chance for presidents to shape their legacy, but it also presents risks. Many re-elected presidents have found themselves stumbling into scandals that damage their reputations and hurt their effectiveness. Below, some examples of scandals that President Barack Obama would do well to avoid.

The Wayward Staffer: Sherman Adams

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In this 1954 file photo, President Dwight Eisenhower is flanked by assistants Sherman Adams, right. (AP/William Smith)
As White House chief of staff, former New Hampshire Gov. Sherman Adams was unusually powerful. That made it all the more painful when a House subcommittee revealed that he had improperly accepted an Oriental rug and fancy coat (named as vicuña but actually camel’s hair) among other gifts from a wealthy New England businessman. Adams left the White House and opened a ski lodge.

The Constitutional Crisis: Watergate

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The Watergate complex in shown Saturday night, Jan. 24, 1998, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Like many second-term scandals, Watergate had its roots in the first term, specifically the bungled 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington. When the burglars were eventually tied back to a slush fund for Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, the ensuing scandal led to the president’s resignation.

The Congressional Showdown: Iran-Contra

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Lt. Col. Oliver North gestures while testifying before the joint House-Senate panels investigating the Iran-Contra affair on Capitol Hill July 7, 1987 in Washington. (AP Photo/Lana Harris)
The United States was not supposed to sell weapons to Iran or fund the Nicaraguan Contras. So when it came out that the Reagan administration had sold arms to Iran and given some of the money to the Contras, the ensuing scandal led to a showdown with Congress, severely damaging Reagan’s reputation with the public.

The Personal Failing: Monica Lewinsky

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President Bill Clinton makes a statement of contrition from the White House in 1998, just minutes before the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
When President Clinton had an extramarital relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, it was a personal failing. But when he lied about the relationship in a deposition for a sexual harassment lawsuit, he was impeached by the House. Though acquitted by the Senate, Clinton had his law license suspended and was fined for giving false testimony.

The Improper Leak: Valerie Plame

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Former CIA officer Valerie Plame, left, and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, arrive for a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington in this July 14, 2006, photo. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
When former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson wrote an op-ed arguing that President George W. Bush misrepresented intelligence findings in his State of the Union address, conservative columnist Bob Novak wrote that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent, effectively ending her career. That set off an investigation and lawsuits over who in the Bush administration authorized the leak.

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