Obama's Loss of Trust and Credibility

The latest polls show that President Obama's approval ratings are in free fall like a hot air balloon with the fire extinguished; his approval rating has declined eight percentage points over the past month. CNN reporter Chris Cuomo described the decline as "dropping like a stone." Lara Brown of U.S. News and World Report, declared, "The Obama presidency becomes more Grant than Lincoln every day." Even his standing as a "leader" has shown a six-percentage-point drop among those who think he is a decisive and strong leader. Worse, CNN reports that half of the public no longer trust the president or find him honest, credible, or trustworthy. The worst news, though, is that 54 percent of the public disapprove of the president's job performance - up nine points over the past month. Taken as a whole, this is a meltdown of public support for the president and the first time since November 2011 that a poll revealed that a majority of Americans view the president negatively. Significantly, it is the Democrats, young people, independents, and minorities - the president's former friends and formerly his strongest supporters - who are causing the shifts in approval.  In fact, the biggest drop this month is among the under 30's, which dropped 17 points since last month.

The dive in approval ratings, of course, coincides with media coverage of the cascade of scandals washing over the White House. While the impetus for the decline in approval likely is concern for the unprecedented invasions of privacy and the distaste for government surveillance of private citizens, the president's numbers dropped across the board: economy (down two points), deficit (down four points), immigration (down four points), terrorism (down 13 points), foreign affairs (down five points).  The catalyst for the heretofore somnolent media's sudden attention to the administration's misfeasance, if not malfeasance, probably is that its own freedoms are threatened this time.  As Breitbart noted, the mainstream media has not broken a single one of the major scandals of Mr. Obama's second term, nor have they even covered the scandals until recently. Instead, as Breitbart also noted, the "media's energy was collectively poured into ensuring the truth was never discovered." In that, of course, the White House has been even more diligent; the president and his team have worked to downplay the seriousness of the allegations of all the scandals. None of the major players has had push-back - Eric Holder, though cited for contempt of Congress, is still Attorney General, and both Susan Rice and Samantha Power have had promotions. In fact, a factor of the public's about-face in support for the president comes, I believe, from his "in-your-face" response to the scandals. He seems to put his administration above the fray when it comes to accountability and transparency - in spite of all the high-sounding campaign and political rhetoric about transparency.

If the Nixon era should have taught politicians anything, it is that trust and credibility are essential to the presidency. Nixon's downfall was not so much in the petty thievery of his campaign researchers; it was the lying and cover-up that brought him down.  With Obama, abuse of trust is the theme running through all the scandals. Ironically, the shear number of scandals is helping the president in the short term - there is scattershot investigative coverage rather than focused probing. The cumulative effect, though, is beginning to show. Americans bought into the president's campaign image of "hope and change," but lately, they instinctively know that "where's there is smoke, there's fire" and the "smoke" of all the scandals seems to come directly from fires at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  In the Internet era, doubletalk doesn't work; there've been too many side-by-side comparisons of truth versus White House spin.

It's bad enough that the public doesn't trust the president and his White House czars; it is disastrous when the Obama Administration's cronyism and scandals destroy trust to the point that the credibility not just of this administration but of the whole of the United States Government is threatened. Nowhere is this a more pressing problem than in the Internal Revenue Service scandal; the president added the newly minted responsibility to administer parts of the Affordable Care Act to the IRS's responsibility for collecting tax revenues. The idea that the public will trust the IRS after what has been revealed about ideology contaminating the processing of applications for tax-exempt status has dealt it a body blow from which it will be difficult if not impossible to recover. Voluntary compliance with tax regulations has, by and large, been the hallmark of this country. But unless some drastic housecleaning and reform are implemented, tax avoidance such as is rampant in countries like Italy, Greece, and some South American countries may spread like a plague.

What can we learn from this morality tale? When trust between a president and the people begins to unravel, the whole government starts to fall apart.

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., a former Presidential Speech Writer for President George H. W. Bush, is now Senior Fellow for Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.