POLITICS
05/31/2011 12:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

White House Scandal On The Way, Says Math

Hey, America! Are you ready for some high-level presidential scandals? No, no, calm down. I have none to report. But what's being reported is that one day -- maybe someday soon! -- there will be a scandal to report, and this can be totally proven with mathematics. So, should a scandal blossom, it's now been predicted. If one fails to materialize, well, that just means there's one around the corner. The scandal could drop at any moment.

Hey, America! Are you ready for some high-level presidential scandals? No, no, calm down. I have none to report. But what's being reported is that one day -- maybe someday soon! -- there will be a scandal to report, and this can be totally proven with mathematics, thanks to political scientist Brendan Nyhan:

One of the least remarked upon aspects of the Obama presidency has been the lack of scandals. Since Watergate, presidential and executive branch scandal has been an inescapable feature of the American presidency, but the current administration has not yet suffered a major scandal, which I define as a widespread elite perception of wrongdoing. What happened, and what are the odds that the administration's streak will continue?

Wait, so that time Common read some poetry at the White House didn't count as a scandal? Well, I bet a lot of people feel pretty foolish now.

Nyhan identifies two major factors as key determinants in the inevitability of a White House scandal. First: Does Obama have an opposition party that dislikes him intensely? Check. And does a "news media" that thirsts for scandal exist? By Jove, yes. And so, voila: "My research identifies presidential approval among opposition party identifiers as a key risk factor. The reason is that discontent among the opposition's base creates demand for negative news about the president, encouraging opposition legislators and members of the news media to promote allegations of misconduct."

This explains why things like Obama's maintenance of, say, Bush-era warrantless wiretapping doesn't rate as a scandal. Obama's opposition loves warrantless wiretapping. Obama's supporters love Obama. And the media doesn't care. So, even if the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that "this is change for the worse," the world spins on obliviously.

Nyhan goes on to point out other external factors, like the fact that the media keeps having to cover news like the Arab Spring and earthquakes and floods and the death of Osama bin Laden, and whatever newshole is left is taken up by things like birtherism, which is only a "scandal" if you are some sort of deranged person.

But, again, scandal is inevitable:

Going forward, though, the odds of scandal are high and rising. Obama already faces low approval among GOP identifiers and a similarly hostile climate in Congress. Back in March, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted that Republicans hadn't yet made a serious effort to back up claims that the Obama White House is "one of the most corrupt administrations." As more time passes, pressure to find evidence of misconduct is likely to build -- my data suggest that the risk of scandal increases dramatically as the period without a scandal stretches beyond two years.

Do you need to see this in chart form? Here you go!

See! Scandal is all but certain. And yet I'll still bet you ten dollars that when and if it surfaces, the story won't be broken by the White House Press Corps.

Of course, a presidential scandal isn't necessarily defined as some action that Obama himself takes that balloons into some disruptive media event and political self-destruction. He's got a whole administration full of people who could slip up at any moment and, say, funnel arms to anti-American extremists. (Ha.) All we know is that this is a pretty neat trick: Should a scandal blossom, it's now been predicted. If one fails to materialize, well, that just means there's one around the corner. The scandal could drop at any moment. Oh, ho! What's this?

Nailed him.

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