Just after the election, I wrote that the reason conservatives were so worked up about the tragic events in Benghazi was scandal envy; they were livid that a president they despise so much had gone an entire term without a major scandal, so they were desperately grasping for whatever was handy. The response I go from many conservatives was vigorous, including assertions that Benghazi was a far worse scandal than Watergate (that necessitated another post explaining, for those who had apparently forgotten, why Watergate was a big deal). But as President Obama's second term begins, we have to wonder: What's the big Obama administration scandal going to be?
There might not be one, of course. It's possible that his second term will proceed with nothing but low-grade controversies on the order of Solyndra or Fast and Furious, Darrell Issa's best efforts notwithstanding. The lack of a scandal so far might be a testament to Obama's integrity, but it's just as attributable to good luck. After all, the executive branch includes about two-million employees spread across dozens of agencies around the country, and at any given time at least a few of them are probably up to no good. Nevertheless, the administration deserves some credit for keeping its hands relatively clean so far, particularly the fact that they managed to give out over three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus funds without any identifiable corruption.
Conservatives would be quick to argue that all sorts of corruption is there, we just haven't found it yet. Maybe, but we'd all be pretty surprised if there were a scandal that implicated Barack Obama personally. And the President's personal involvement is what separates a big-yet-contained scandal like the Valerie Plame affair from a monumental scandal like the Lewinsky matter or Iran-Contra.
If it is going to happen, history tells us we should be on the lookout starting about a year from now, since Year Six of a two-term presidency has been a fruitful time for scandal. Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light in January 1998, at the start of Clinton's sixth year in office. Iran-Contra was revealed in November 1986, in the sixth year of Reagan's presidency. The Watergate break-in occurred in 1972 while Richard Nixon was running for re-election, but the revelations played out slowly enough that he didn't resign until his sixth year in office, in August 1974. Similarly, the Bush administration revealed Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative in 2003, though the scandal wasn't fully over until 2007, when Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and President Bush commuted his sentence.
That confluence of timing is probably nothing more than a coincidence; we're dealing with a small number of cases. On the other hand, there might be something about second terms—turnover among staff, or the fact that the big legislative pushes of the first term are behind you—that makes malfeasance more likely. If there is an Obama scandal, it'll at least give us something more interesting to talk about than yet another debt-ceiling showdown with the maniacs in Congress.