- - Tuesday, June 24, 2014


If the Obama administration were to have a motto, it would be “never mind.”

The president tacks one way and then the other without regret or apology.

He withdraws troops from Iraq and then begins to return them as soon as the retreat emboldens the enemy.

He threatens Syria, but then does nothing to follow through.

He cozies up to Russia, then complains about its intervention in Ukraine and then does, essentially, nothing about it.

The list goes on and on.

The public is slowly catching on to this reckless vacillation. Mr. Obama’s job-approval rating is at or near record lows.

He suspects that this can quickly change, though, because of the sound-bite world of politics we live in. Public outrage seems to last only a nanosecond, no matter how serious the infraction.

Word of the Veterans Affairs’ disgraceful wait times looked like it would bring the White House to its knees. That scandal lasted no more than few weeks. Now it’s barely in the news.

The outrage that replaced the VA story — the swap of a war prisoner for a handful of high-ranking terrorist detainees — has also come and gone from public view.

I wrote in a previous column that a lot of this shallow behavior by Mr. Obama could be explained by seeing his administration as a “rhetorical presidency.” He was able to give a powerful speech now and then, but he didn’t much care about — and largely neglected — the hard work of governing that was supposed to follow.

Now it’s clear that there’s more to it than that. He acts as if voters don’t remember — and don’t care — what he last said.

As long as what he said makes sense at the time, he can get away with it, or so he thinks.

He can reset the reset with Russia, for example, and not suffer many consequences. He can lay out his foreign-policy principles several times and expect that (almost) no one will notice that they’ve changed each time.

Then he can trump those principles with a bumper sticker — Don’t do stupid stuff — and imagine that the phrase is yet another fresh start.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. A short attention span isn’t the same as amnesia. The public has noticed. The polls don’t lie.

Not only is the president dragging himself down, all of official Washington is suffering with him. By constantly restarting — and reversing — his policies, the president has undercut and deflated trust in government. Congress’ poll ratings are in the cellar, too.

A lot of that is caused by naked partisanship. Indeed, the gridlock isn’t entirely the president’s fault, but he has abetted the decline and the persistent stalemate on Capitol Hill by resetting his goals so often.

In fairness, circumstances do change and so must policies on occasion. Also, the second half of any president’s second term is prone to staleness and missteps.

When the second team comes in, incompetence and exhaustion take their toll.

There’s a reason voters rarely give the party that controls the White House a third consecutive four-year term. Any ideology tends to run its course after eight long years and change is usually a healthy correction.

In Mr. Obama’s case, change itself has been taken too far. On many issues, he’s lost the vital center by altering his views so often.

Voters want their presidents to be consequential, to take a stand. A reset presidency can never be good enough.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

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