Obama’s words starting to mean little to the public, media

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President Barack Obama’s usual response to scandals swirling about his administration is to stall until people lose interest.

When a scandal breaks, the president expresses surprise (he didn’t know what was going on until he heard about it from the news media) and outrage (he’s “madder than hell”). He vows to get to the bottom of it, but doesn’t actually do anything.

If words alone don’t tamp down public concern, the president moves on to the Meaningless Gesture. (A favorite has been to announce the dismissal of a senior bureaucrat who was about to retire anyway.)

He has yet to make changes in policy and personnel which might right the wrong. His foremost priority — noticed even by MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews, who said once he gets “tingles” up his leg when Mr. Obama speaks — is protecting his image and reputation.

The president’s poll numbers plunged after he gave the Veterans Affairs secretary a vote of confidence, so he made a surprise Memorial Day visit to the troops in Afghanistan. It did not go well.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to meet with him. The White House staff inadvertently outed the CIA station chief. This wasn’t Mr. Obama’s fault, but it reminds us that in no administration before his have there been so many staffers with meager qualifications and ethical challenges.

Do you remember the furor in 2003 when columnist Robert Novak revealed Valerie Plame, wife of a critic of President George W. Bush, was a CIA officer?

Democrats demanded appointment of a special prosecutor, who indicted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, even though he wasn’t the leaker.

Ms. Plame was staffing a desk at Langley, so being outed put her in no danger. After he was outed, the CIA station chief presumably went to the top of the Taliban’s hit list.

His foreign policy is a success because he’s ending wars his predecessor started, the president said in his commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The reception Mr. Obama got from the cadets was “pretty icy,” said CNN correspondent Jim Clancy. Frostier still were the reviews of his speech.

The president “marshalled a virtual corps of straw men” to rebut criticisms no one has made, said the Washington Post. The “binding of U.S. power” he proposed “places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War II.”

His assurances about American global leadership are welcome, said Time magazine, but critics have “heard that song from him before and doubt that he truly means it.”

“Mr. Obama’s talk of the need for more transparency about drone strikes and intelligence gathering ... was ludicrous,” said the New York Times. “His administration had to be dragged into even minimal disclosures on both topics.”

He’s “responsibly ending” the war in Afghanistan, the president says.

The president isn’t ending wars, he’s losing them, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

A Marine battalion is standing by offshore to evacuate Americans from Libya, which has descended into chaos since Mr. Obama waged war of dubious legality to oust the old regime.

More than 70 percent of 2,323 Americans killed in Afghanistan have died on Mr. Obama’s watch. Most analysts expect the Taliban to take over once U.S. troops leave.

The Taliban is strengthened by the administration’s swap of five senior terrorist leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who went AWOL in 2009, said NBC’s counterterrorism analyst.

Sgt. Bergdahl is a deserter, say fellow soldiers. The swap was illegal, said the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It’ll encourage terrorists to kidnap other Americans, said former Deputy Secretary of State John Bolton.

But the swap distracted attention from the VA scandal, and gave the president a photo op.

In the past, the news media have covered for Mr. Obama when he’s hidden policy failure in a flurry of words. But the sharp criticism of his West Point speech indicates they’ve begun to take note of the widening gulf between what he says and what he does.

When State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the president “doesn’t give himself enough credit” for his foreign policy “triumphs,” journalists assigned to Foggy Bottom burst out laughing.

Mr. Obama thinks he can talk his way out of anything. Since talking is all he has ever done, how will he behave when (if) he realizes this is no longer true?

Jack Kelly writes for The Blade of Toledo and The Pittsburgh Press. He can be reached at jkelly@post-gazette.com.

First Published June 9, 2014 4:28 PM

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