BIRNBAUM: The reset presidency

Obama’s zigzag policymaking has cost him public support

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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.

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