I Suppose Pundits Gotta Pund

But this really is rather silly:

"If [Obama is going to have a major scandal], history tells us we should be on the lookout starting about a year from now, since Year Six of a two-term presidency has been a fruitful time for scandal. Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light in January 1998, at the start of Clinton's sixth year in office. Iran-Contra was revealed in November 1986, in the sixth year of Reagan's presidency. The Watergate break-in occurred in 1972 while Richard Nixon was running for re-election, but the revelations played out slowly enough that he didn't resign until his sixth year in office, in August 1974. Similarly, the Bush administration revealed Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative in 2003, though the scandal wasn't fully over until 2007, when Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and President Bush commuted his sentence."

OK, in January 1998 Clinton had been in office five years. By November 1986, Reagan had been in office almost six years, and Iran-Contra was just being revealed. But for Watergate, the scandal was revealed in Nixon's fourth year, and ended in his sixth. The Plame scandal took from year three to year seven of the Bush administration, so, yes, it happened to run through the sixth year. And these are only the best fits!

Whitewater actually hit in year two of the Clinton administration. Earl Butz resigned in the third year of the Ford administration. The Checkers scandal was in the second year of the Eisenhower administration. Truman had an IRS scandal in his fifth year. Teapot Dome occupied the second and third years of the Harding administration.The Whiskey Ring scandal did hit Grant in his sixth year in office, but he had scandals almost every year. Andrew Johnson was impeached in his third year. Lincoln had a corruption scandal in his second year. The Galphin Affair hit during Zachary Taylor's first year. The XYZ affair was during John Adam's second year.

So given scandals often run several years, and except for FDR no president has served for more than eight, one can probably cherry-pick any year one wants and cobble together a story that "history tells us we should be on the lookout" for a scandal in year X. Perhaps the exception is the first year, because it does take some time to do something scandalous, get caught doing something scandalous, and have an investigation of the scandal launched.


  1. Until you have a plausible causal mechanism, it's usually best to ignore these sorts of correlations. Spurious ones are bound to show up all the time in something as complex as a political system.

    From 1840 until Ronald Reagan, every president elected in a year ending in zero died in office.


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