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Why IRS investigation is already Obama's Watergate – and Benghazi, too (+video)

Since Watergate, every two-term president has had a second-term scandal. First-term mistakes and hyperpartisanship make probes – like those into Benghazi and the IRS – almost inevitable.

By Staff writer / May 19, 2013

President Barack Obama speaks under an umbrella held by a Marine as a light rain falls during a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Thursday at the White House. He was asked questions about the IRS investigation.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Will Benghazi become President Obama's Watergate? Or perhaps the IRS scandal?

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In a sense, they already have.

Watergate, of course, has become political parlance for any scandal that takes down a president. But it was also something that has become much more mundane – something that has hit every two-term president since. It was a second-term scandal.

President Reagan had the Iran-contra affair. President Clinton had the Monica Lewinsky scandal. President Bush had his vice president, Dick Cheney, embroiled in investigations over the public outing of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame.

Now, it seems, Mr. Obama is genuinely a part of the club, with allegations that the White House hid the fact that the attack on a diplomatic outpost in Libya was terrorism, and that the IRS, on his watch, discriminated against conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. 

The White House has said it did nothing wrong on Benghazi but simply released information as it was known. It also said Sunday that it had no knowledge of the IRS activities against tea party groups and others, and bristled at the idea of investigations swallowing Obama's second-term agenda.

"What we're not going to participate in is partisan fishing expeditions designed to distract from the real issues at hand," said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

What is it about second terms that get presidents into so much trouble? The fact that a first term preceded it. Presidential politics is rarely fluffy clouds and rainbows, and the massive American bureaucracy has never been likened to Swiss clockwork. Things go wrong, and (this being politics) that rarely leads to primetime presidential confessionals before Congress.

"What is it about presidents' second terms that makes them seem so scandal-ridden? Simple: The iron law of longevity," writes Doyle McManus in an opinion article for the Los Angeles Times. "All governments make mistakes, and all governments try to hide those mistakes. But the longer an administration is in office, the more errors it makes, and the harder they are to conceal."

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