According to a fresh-off-the-presses CNN/ORC International Survey, President Obama’s approval rating fell a massive eight percentage points over the past month, with only 45% approving of the job he is doing. More specifically, most Americans do not believe he is "honest and trustworthy." To anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to current events in the past few weeks, there are a number of immediate likely reasons why, but to catch up to speed (and take stock of what seems to be a continuous stream of scandals), here are five reasons why Obama's approval rating dropped.
Two weeks ago the Guardian broke the story of how the National Security Administration has been spying on American citizens by "accessing" data from internet and technology giants including Apple, Google, and Facebook. Since then, however, details have emerged which call into question the exact nature of the actions of the NSA and the companies involved in the PRISM program.
For his part, Obama is defending the PRISM program, pointing out that the NSA must get a warrant from a "FISA" court and that such a requirement makes the system transparent. Yet there are important details about these courts that severely undermine Obama’s argument.
The first company revealed to be in cahoots with the NSA was Verizon, which gave the NSA access to millions of customers' phone records. While this metadata does not include content of calls, it does include the names of callers, length and times of calls, and equipment identification information. Such phone data collection has occurred since the W. Bush presidency, but Obama is feeling the heat — rightly or wrongly — for the NSA's actions.
In May, we learned that the Department of Justice had seized phone records from several Fox News phone lines in connection with a search warrant for correspondent James Rosen's personal emails. The data seizure was part of an investigation of Rosen, whose report about North Korea's upcoming nuclear missile test implicated the CIA. Obama's reaction was a very boilerplate "I have raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concerns"; never mind the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder, was on board with the seizure. According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, however, Obama believes "reporters shouldn't be prosecuted for doing their jobs."
One of the country's most despised organizations, the Internal Revenue Service, was revealed to have deliberately targeted conservative and Tea Party groups for investigation. The supposed reason for this was that there has been an explosion in the number of organizations seeking tax-exempt status, and political organizations are more likely to not qualify given the possibility of connections to campaigns and legislation advocacy; however, their methodology was faulty, and because they were asked (against IRS policy) to provide additional information, this explanation seems dubious. The IRS itself apologized for what it called "inappropriate" targeting during the 2012 campaign season, thought it blamed low-level workers and denied any political motivation. In an appearance before Congress, however, IRS official John Shafer claimed that the White House had no involvement in the investigations.
The first major scandal of Obama’s presidency was the Benghazi "situation," referring to the attack on the American diplomatic offices in Libya on September 11, 2012 which left four Americans dead. The official government narrative of this event has been unclear from the beginning, but the main controversy revolves around U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's claim that the attacks were spontaneous and contradictory evidence showing that they were planned, and the possibility that at least some people in the government had reason to believe this. Obama defended Rice, stating that he should be the one criticized instead of her.
As explained above (and assuming the claims are true), Obama did not have direct involvement with a number of these programs, so to assign him blame is partially unfair. Still, it is likely that he is not being entirely forthcoming about his (or his administration's) involvement or awareness of these events, and it certainly does not help that several of these scandals involve secrecy and privacy issues. Rightly or wrongly, presidents are judged not just by their own actions but the actions of their administration, and currently, the American people are rightly suspicious and angry at the Obama administration and various federal agencies.
How much damage these scandals inflict on Obama and the various involved programs depends on the will of the American people — or more accurately, the will of the media and politicians — to continue investigating these stories and holding those responsible accountable. Obama's reputation will likely forever remain sullied by these scandals, but one hopes in the interest of fairness that all involved individuals will receive no more and no less than the appropriate amount of blame and consequences for their — and only their — responsibility.