The woes of a second term are nothing new, but for President Obama they seem to have started sooner and struck harder than for his predecessors.
In his State of the Union address, delivered precisely six months ago Monday, Obama outlined a scaled-down agenda for his sixth year in office, acknowledging the difficulty of passing legislation in a gridlocked Congress and vowing to use “the pen and the phone” to get things done. Now even those circumscribed ambitions have been overshadowed by crises overseas that are demanding his attention and buffeting his presidency.
“He’s a lame duck and it’s not even lame-duck time,” says Sara Fagen, who knows the territory. As White House political director during George W. Bush’s second term, she saw that administration face growing resistance in Congress and have to battle for attention as the political world turned to the next presidential election — but not, she says, as early as Obama has had to deal with those complications.
White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri acknowledges it has gotten harder to command the attention of the news media. “A lot of the press around the first term is focused on what whatever action the president is taking will mean for his or her ability to have a second term,” she said. “That sort of motivation for the press is removed.”
But during second terms, as with first ones, “you need to be focused on the opportunities and prepared for whatever problems are going to be coming your way,” she says. “The world doesn’t stop spinning.”