President Obama is fond of comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln. As enjoyable as such ruminations might be for the president, some comparisons to more recent U.S. presidents might better serve.
Those of us old enough to have been around during the Lyndon Johnson administration remember first-hand what happens when a president loses the trust of the American people.
In the case of LBJ, outright falsehoods concerning American involvement in Cambodia during the Vietnam War so cost the president, that no one believed him when he told the truth about the 1968 Tet Offensive being a victory for U.S. forces. The media spun Tet as a defeat and that narrative became the de facto narrative of the Vietnam War. Johnson had the good sense not to seek re-election.
Having lost the office due to a forfeiture of trust, LBJ was succeeded in office by Richard Nixon. The trust deficits only deepened.
Nixon lied to the American people concerning break-ins at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. and he lied about dirty political tactics undertaken by close aides and campaign officials.
The lies hounded Nixon from office. He remains the only U.S. president ever to resign. No president since has enjoyed the level of trust that American presidents once could count on.
Poll numbers now strongly suggest that Barack Obama has forfeited the trust placed in him as the “hope and change” president. As scandal after scandal washes over the White House and as administration officials are caught lying almost on a daily basis, the president’s poll numbers have dropped, most notably and most precipitously among the very voter groups that at one time were his most ardent supporters.
Against this backdrop we are treated to the scene at this week’s G-8 summit at which Russia’s Vladimir Putin — on the subject of mass murder in Syria — more or less told the President of the United States right to his face to go home and pound sand.
That’s because Putin knows his history. He knows that when a U.S. president loses trust, as Lyndon Johnson did, his hands are effectively tied when it comes to vigorous prosecution of U.S. foreign policy.
No president can be president without the trust of the American people. Through Obamacare, fiscal cliffs, sequesters, endless debt ceiling fights with Congress and a bruising re-election campaign, the majority of Americans still said that they liked and trusted President Obama.
If the polls are to be believed, that is now coming to an end.
If so, it’s going to be a very long three and a half years for the president.
And for the country.