The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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May 14, 2013

A pivotal time for a president

From the renewed Benghazi hearings to the IRS intimidation of conservative political groups, to the Justice Department's scan of Associated Press phone records, the Barack Obama administration is being exposed in its most vulnerable spot, the chief executive's credibility.

The fall has been steep and swift in recent days, followed by expressions of outrage from the Oval Office about underlying political motivations, blame for low-level rogue bureaucrats and dubious claims of national security -- very much the usual and familiar range of rationalization for overreach and abuse of presidential power.

In each instance, from Benghazi to Cincinnati to AP phone lines, revelation is followed by the White House's best shot at plausible deniability, then an expression of outrage and, when all else fails, a promise by the White House to deal with the responsible parties.

When missteps and misdeeds occur in the executive branch of government, the responsible party is the President of the United States, which accounts for the layers of insulation that are constructed between the office holder and the many agencies whose actions rely implicitly upon his authority.

What is different about the Obama presidency, however, is that it relies significantly on a perception of intellectual righteousness for validity and support. The president's appeal, from his beginning on the national stage, has been closely tied to an articulation of national aspirations for unity, honesty and principled governance.

Barack Obama's story is one of a rise from humble beginnings, success in Ivy League colleges, dedication to community building, devotion to Constitutional law and meteoric political ascendency through state and national legislative offices with no evidence of compromised character.

There has been a price for this. Barack Obama's leadership has been described as extraordinarily aloof and, consequently, ineffective. Through this, the president has sustained popularity with his skills for reason and speech that encourage faith in government, his admirable family values and a dignity in office that contrasts favorably to the mud wrestling, fundraising, duplicity, and influence peddling that scar so many in public office.

This week, the president finds himself boxed in by three eruptions that exposed his appointees' mismanagement or malfeasance. Like it or not, President Obama now finds himself between the responsibilities of his office and loyalty to his closest supporters. He is no longer above it all.

His next decisions, ironically compared to some of his more momentous challenges, will define his presidency.

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