Scandalgate: A DIY, All-Purpose News Story

President Obama speaks about the recent scandal in which the IRS is accused of targeting conservative organizations. i i
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama speaks about the recent scandal in which the IRS is accused of targeting conservative organizations.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Good grief.

Scandals seem to swarm around American presidents like yellow jackets around a state park picnic table.

In fact, administration after administration has spent its second term swatting away falsehoods — and true tales — of miscreancy.

And so patterns have emerged. This happens, then that happens and eventually — well, you know how it works.

So to save all of us some time, we have written a Do-It-Yourself All-Purpose Presidential Scandal Story. You don't have to fill in the blanks; technology does it for you. All you have to do is choose a president and the sorted/sordid details will fall into place.

  • Barack Obama: The year was 2013 and the president was facing scandalous allegations that he was somehow involved with questionable audits by the Internal Revenue Service. The scandal was known by many names, including IRSgate. Detractors said Obama used power to advance his political agenda and defenders said he was personally unaware of any wrongdoing. There was divisiveness, debate and discussion of impeachment. In the end, who won? Perhaps the left; perhaps the right. And what about the presidential reputation? "Presidential legacies can survive scandals," says presidential historian Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University.
  • Ulysses S. Grant: The year was 1875 and the president was facing scandalous allegations that he was somehow involved with the defrauding of the Treasury Department by politicians and members of the liquor industry. The scandal was known by many names, including Whiskey Ring. The president's detractors said Grant's private secretary, Gen. Orville E Babcock, was indicted and defenders said the president did not know of Babcock's involvement in the widespread scheme. There was divisiveness, debate and discussion of impeachment. In the end, who won? Perhaps the left; perhaps the right. And what about the presidential reputation? "Presidential legacies can survive scandals," says presidential historian Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University.
  • Richard M. Nixon: The year was 1973 and the president was facing scandalous allegations that he was somehow involved with the breaking into of Democratic National Committee Headquarters by burglars hired by Nixon's re-election campaign. The scandal was known by many names, including Watergate. The president's detractors said Nixon lied about his role in the cover-up and his defenders said outside of Washington, the scandal was not a big deal. There was divisiveness, debate and discussion of impeachment. In the end, who won? Perhaps the left; perhaps the right. And what about the presidential reputation? "Presidential legacies can survive scandals," says presidential historian Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University.
  • Bill Clinton: The year was 1998 and the president was facing scandalous allegations that he was somehow involved in inappropriate behavior by intimately engaging with a White House intern. The scandal was known by many names, including Monicagate. The president's detractors said the president lied about his involvement and his defenders said Clinton was the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy. There was divisiveness, debate and discussion of impeachment. In the end, who won? Perhaps the left; perhaps the right. And what about the presidential reputation? "Presidential legacies can survive scandals," says presidential historian Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University.

Postscript: To expand his point, Zelizer says that Ronald Reagan suffered through the Iran-Contra scandal. The prolonged contretemps "raised private discussions about the possibility of impeachment," Zelizer explains. "But after Congress never found that the president had engaged directly in illegal activity and Reagan ended his term with a historic agreement with the Soviet Union, the most defining positive aspect about his term in office has, thus far, overwhelmed memories of the scandals."

And George W. Bush — who withstood maelstroms involving homeland security, Iraq and Katrina — "has already experienced something of a political recovery as people revisit other aspects of his presidency," according to Zelizer.

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