- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010


Barack Obama has entered a new and difficult period in his presidency. Call it the second-year slump.

He can no longer get away with blaming his predecessor when things go wrong. And an increasingly skeptical public doesn’t swoon whenever he approaches a microphone.

He will have to get tough - real tough - soon and conduct his first major political execution or he will lose his credibility as a leader.

Politics is a blood sport. Voters demand a human sacrifice every once in a while to compensate for a high-level blunder.

In other words, the president will have to call for someone’s head to answer for any one of a growing list of mistakes that have been made during his tenure. To do otherwise would jeopardize his presidency.

Mr. Obama has played the nice guy so far. He has been forgiving of missteps that range from comical - the serial breaches during a White House social event - to serious - the nearly successful jetliner bombing on Christmas Day.

True, one of his administration’s top officials did leave last year in a way that looked like a forced resignation. Insiders suspect that White House counsel Gregory Craig was axed because the president disliked his handling of the shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But no one can say for sure.

The next departure cannot be so ambiguous. If he wants to save his presidency, Mr. Obama will have to be harsh. The leader of the free world cannot be seen as a pushover.

The hanging-by-president is a long Washington tradition. Everyone remembers that Michael Brown resigned as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2005 as a way to lay off the blame for the botched rescue of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Three years later, President George W. Bush also helped lead Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson to the door in the wake of questionable contracting at the department.

Every president, in fact, has had to fire someone to help get over a rough patch.

President Obama has a wide range of people he could fire. He could find someone in the Secret Service or on the White House staff to whack for allowing three uninvited guests into a state dinner last year. But that’s a little old to provide much impact.

He could use the excuse of an upcoming report on the Fort Hood massacre to remove someone from his intelligence agencies for failing to spot lone-wolf terrorists getting inspiration from Yemen.

Or he can reverse himself and decide that someone really is to blame for the Christmas Day bombing attempt in Detroit. That might stop the bipartisan criticism he has faced for not taking swift-enough action.

He has said that the buck stops with him for that event, but many Americans are not placated. And why should they be? Voters don’t have the chance to get rid of him for another three years.

The president also can satisfy the political blood lust by calling for a political scalp and not just taking one. This week’s controversy involving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, presents an opportunity.

Mr. Reid was caught in a new book, “Game Change,” referring to then-Sen. Obama as “light-skinned” and a “Negro.”

The blowback on Mr. Reid has been massive. The chance that he was going to be re-elected to the Senate this year, which already was slim, is approaching nil. He is also in danger of losing his job as the Senate’s top Democrat.

So far, the president has, as usual, been lenient. He has accepted Mr. Reid’s apology. But maybe he should change his tune.

The president clearly owes a great debt to Mr. Reid and is widely expected to steer clear of the senator’s problems. After all, without Mr. Reid, the president’s top legislative priority, health reform, would have died long ago.

Nonetheless, it’s time for the president to cause something to die: the political career of one of his closest allies. He will have to commit the sacrifice eventually to allow his presidency to live on.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a columnist for The Washington Times and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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