The Second-Term Syndrome
I don’t know what it is about second terms. Maybe George The First was lucky not to have had one. They trip up every administration, from Nixon through Reagan, Clinton and now George The Second. It’s possible I suppose that there’s a particular fear in attacking a first-term president, thoughts of retribution, a concern that it might all go wrong and come back to haunt at the polls. It's also possible that the losers are so stunned by their loss that they don't really get on track until a second term.
Because that’s what it’s all about, re-election. Theirs versus ours, however they and us are defined. Special prosecutors burst out of the underbrush like driven pheasants in second terms.
And yet we are early into this president’s second term and, while the scandals revolve around who did or didn’t whisper in Robert Novak’s ear or Tom DeLay’s difficulties in Texas, the big one, the guy everyone edges away from as quietly as they can is Jack Abramoff. Jack is the big news. File all others under ‘also of interest.’
Jack is almost entirely a construct of Tom DeLay, but man, did this loose horse ever get around. If Tom was the engineer of the expressway between lobby money and lawmakers, Jack Abramoff was its general contractor, the guy who smoothed the concrete, painted on the striped lines and made sure traffic passed smoothly in both directions. And like all expressways, this one was connected to tributaries and feeder-streets, thoroughfares and secondary roads, one or another of which officed every single legislator that could be bought.
In this media-harried world we have created, the World Series and Jack Abramoff’s widening circle of the soon-to-be-indicted takes over our attention from Katrina, Pakistani earthquakes and the mudslides in Guatamala. The difference between Jack and the Series is that seven games down the road we will have a World Champion and the rings will be distributed. The Boys of Summer will take some time off until Spring Training. Jack is destined to be background music to the balance of this administration, a three-year humming like summer cicadas and a distraction to everything and everyone it touches.
Jack will prove to be the Boy of Endless Summer.
On the upside, Jack Abramoff’s endless summer promises great press; accusations, denials, shamefacedness, outrage, exposure, righteous indignation, quietly abandoned hopes, the reshuffling of priorities and the bringing down of the mighty. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Whether Washington will ever be the same depends upon if you are an optimist or pessimist. As they say, an optimist thinks everything is as good as it gets. A pessimist is afraid he is right.
There is palpable fear in the corridors of power. Everyone has a horse in this race and there will be no clear winners because the track is muddy enough to splash both right and left, Republican and Democrat. You won’t see the usual C-Span pontification as the ruthless missionary-work done this past decade by Tom DeLay and his minions blossoms into a harvest no one wants to reap. Well, that’s not entirely correct. It is and has been a harvest no one wants to be seen reaping or down on paper as reaping or connected in any way to the e-mails of the weeping reaping.
Revealed corruption within our federal government will rival the most outrageous examples found in third-world nations. I wish it were not so. It will be so and, like the worst congressional revelations of the past, it might bring in its wake a few much-needed and never-too-late restorations of conscience and law and ethical behavior. It also might not.
It occurs to me that only one man stands to reap a benefit from this debacle and even John McCain will have to hope that his careful ride along the outside rail has kept him out of the mud. But he’s been pointing fingers in the direction of lobbyist excesses for quite a while now and John has the one public perception that will matter in the coming months and years . . . that of personal integrity, which promises to be in very short supply. Which might get him elected. And might bring some reforms as well.
And then, of course, there will come his second term.