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Week In News: Speculating On Obama's Second Term




The newly minted President Obama from his 2009 inaugural address. Another speech is surely coming together right now for Monday's inauguration. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hello there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: You know, you and I were talking earlier, and you have this really interesting theory. You say there are two big constants in modern second-term presidencies.

FALLOWS: Yes. The first of them is that a president who is often frustrated by all the sort of tedium of dealing in domestic politics turns his eyes internationally and tries to spend more and more of his time solving problems around the world. The other big constant is how many more scandals seem to crop up in a two-term-president's second term.

Of course, all presidents look for a second term, but when they get one, we see things like the Sherman Adams scandal back in the Eisenhower era, of course, the Watergate trials and resignation for Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan had his Iran-Contra problems then, and, of course, Bill Clinton was impeached and had the Monica Lewinsky situation.

LYDEN: Well, how does the Obama administration compare? So far, the president's done a pretty good job on the scandal side of things in the sense that not too many: Solyndra comes to mind; of course, more recently, Benghazi, the attacks on Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens.

FALLOWS: Yes. There certainly is a critique by much of the Republican opposition and by Fox News, et cetera, that the combination of the Fast and Furious issue with gunrunning to Mexico and Benghazi and Solyndra together constitute some kind of grand scandal. But by historical standards, or by the measure of people in jail or large-scale congressional hearings, there's not been much there, there for the administration so far.

LYDEN: As far as foreign affairs in the president's second term, so far, it seems like we are really concentrating on the domestic picture, the budget, gun policy, immigration.

FALLOWS: Yes. And I think that this is where the second Obama term may actually differ from what I was saying is the pattern before, because when President Obama initially ran for president on opposition to the Iraq War, and as soon as he became president, he was, of course, engulfed by this global financial scandal. And a larger than normal proportion of what he did in his first term was international in its nature, including this odd winning of the Nobel Peace Prize with less than a year in office.

And so, I think that his second term might see more of a domestic focus. As you say, the gun issue is very high on his agenda, the implementation of his medical care plan. Immigration reform is probably the initiative he's going to try hardest to push, and so we see a time of comparative calm on the global statesman front and have a lot of business to do domestically. And so barring the external surprises that always happen and barring the tensions in Iran and Syria and elsewhere, which certainly will demand his attention, this may be a more domestically oriented second term, breaking that recent pattern.

LYDEN: Finally, Jim, this was a bad week for the Boeing Company. Japan keeps reporting problems with their fleet of - I love this name - Dreamliner airplanes. And things seem to be getting really tense between Japan and Boeing.

FALLOWS: Yes. I think the way to think of the problem with the Dreamliner is that it is urgent but not serious. Urgent in the sense that there's something wrong with these lithium ion batteries in the plane - which are overheating and sometimes bursting into flames, which is why the FAA and many other authorities have grounded the plane - but not serious in the sense that there's almost no suggestion that this could jeopardize the project as a whole. It's one apparently known problem in one confined component of the plane, so everybody is trying to fix it now.

LYDEN: And when getting to those planes, Jim, apparently, we won't be getting the full body screen any longer.

FALLOWS: Well, one kind of these full body screeners, the ones by Rapiscan that use a very sort of weak X-ray, those are finally being phased out by the TSA. They're the ones with the big, opaque square boxes you walk through. Some of the other ones that use radio waves, millimeter waves to scan you will still be there. But I think this is a positive step in reducing one intrusive security measure.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at Jim, as usual, thank you so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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