Analysis: — Pity a poor president who wants to get his agenda past the opposition in congress when pesky controversies arise that distract both public and lawmakers.
This has come to pass with both U.S. President Barack Obama and Costa Rican chief executive Laura Chinchilla. It seems that sometimes the latter president is near giving up the battle.
The difference is that Chinchilla is mostly responsible for her problems while Obama appears to be a bystander caught up in the swirling maelstrom of events. But both can be accurately accused of a lack of transparency.
With the U.S. President, it all started with the terrorist attack on a poorly defended State Department consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Although he was not directly to blame — it was up to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s officials assign enough resources to protect the ambassador and three other officials murdered there.
Then came the Internal Revenue Service mess where Tea Party organizations had to respond to some absurdly draconian questions to obtain tax-free status, with resulting delays in modifying their status. It was never clear if anyone in the White House was involved and probably will never be, but it looked bad.
The U.S. administration infuriated the press when reporters and editors at the Associated Press found their e-mail correspondence hacked by the Justice Department’s ham-handed investigators looking for leaks of supposedly classified material. That had not even begun to die down when National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA’s spying.
In all this, the questions revolved around transparency. In the case of the NSA, probably the debate on how much probing into its own citizens’ private correspondence and phone calls is overdue, anyway.
But most of this controversy appears to involve President Obama only as directly as his setting the tone for his administration. The doubts raised by these discussions seem to be set in the suspicion of much of the American public that their elected officials may be dealing from the bottom of the deck, a doubt raised in the White House of Richard Nixon and always in the back of the citizen mind.
With Chinchilla, instead of a number of small grassfires swirling around her, there have been two big ones and a small bonfire of embarrassment. The first came with the cabinet’s massive over-reaction to the Nicaraguan troop invasion.
The ink was just barely dry on her mandate and she allowed herself to be stampeded into hastily building the road along the southern bank of the San Juan River, throwing all the legal checks and balances having to do with construction contracting overboard.
The result was massive corruption and loss of public funds that will take years to recoup. Public confidence in the President and her cabinet eroded with blinding speed thereafter. Until the newspaper La Nacion broke the story, the public was in the dark. Again, transparency was at the heart of the sense of betrayal.
Just as public disgust with that debacle was beginning to fade, the widening of the San Ramon-San Jose resulted in wide public fury and forced her to withdraw the contract for the project. The concession by-passed legal checkpoints and proved that neither the Administration nor its Chief had learned anything from the border road (trocha) mess.
Just how much the cancellation of the contract will set the country back is not known but when it is litigated will likely raise another firestorm.
Then the intense embarrassment — the President’s use of a corporate jet apparently leased by a Colombian under suspicion of ties with narcotics cartels. In this, Chinchilla came off as a victim of a disordered Presidential office without anyone really in charge of such niceties as checking the background of someone offering free transportation.
But in both Obama’s and Chinchilla’s situations, they are hampered in getting legislation passed that will define them in the eyes of historians. Obama is impatient to get on with his second and last term. Chinchilla has less than a year left. In both cases, the clock is ticking…