Scandals hamper Obama's message

2012-04-20 10:07

Washington - A series of scandals are proving distracting embarrassments for US President Barack Obama giving Republicans an opportunity to question his competence and leadership, an opening for his likely Republican opponent Mitt Romney in a race so close that any advantage might make a difference.

And while Obama isn't directly implicated in any of the scandals, involving federal bureaucrats carousing in Las Vegas, the Secret Service consorting with Columbian prostitutes and US soldiers posing with bloody enemy corpses, they still feed a story line that can erode public confidence in Washington institutions, fuel a perception of federal excess and frustrate Obama's argument that government can be a force for good.

The White House response has been textbook - a mix of outrage and deflection.

"The president has been crystal clear since he was a candidate about the standards that he insists be met by those who work for the federal government and on behalf of the American people and for the American people," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney.

But taken altogether, the events have overwhelmed the president's agenda. The Secret Service scandal broke while Obama was in Cartagena last weekend for a Summit of the Americas with more than 30 Western hemisphere leaders.


Back home the headlines and the news anchors were hardly focusing on the summit, instead playing up the fact that 11 Secret Service agents and uniformed officers had been sent home on accusations of misconduct.

By the time the president got home, General Services Administration officials were appearing before congressional committees about a lavish Las Vegas conference and junkets to resorts, and more evidence of excess was beginning to emerge.

Obama's attempts to draw attention to his efforts against oil market manipulation on Tuesday and to help the economy on Wednesday were drowned out by further Secret Service revelations and by the publication of gruesome photos depicting GIs with the bodies of Afghan insurgents.

"Even though you may not be losing ground because it's not the White House taking the hits, you're no longer gaining ground because the White House doesn't get its message out," said Ari Fleischer a former spokesperson for President George W Bush.

Obama quickly tried to put distance between himself and the accounts of misbehaviour. White House spokespersons avoided getting into specifics, instead citing investigations under way and referring reporters to the Secret Service or the GSA or the Pentagon.

Some Republicans were folding the Secret Service and GSA episodes together with Solyndra, a solar firm that received a half-billion dollar federal loan and was touted by the Obama administration before declaring bankruptcy in 2011.

"Presidents are to be held responsible," Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said on Thursday. "They also need to be responsible for insisting that from the top to the lowest employee that not one single dollar will be wasted in this government," he added. "I don't sense that this president has shown that kind of managerial leadership."


Romney this week called the GSA "embarrassing" to the Obama administration and made a point of stressing that leadership is set at the top.

Still, his criticism seemed aimed more at painting a bloated government than as a direct shot at Obama.

Paul Light, an expert on government bureaucracies and professor of public service at New York University said the president will likely take some of the blame just because he is the one in charge.

"It damages this president indirectly because he is being portrayed as the president of big government," Light said.