A president in trouble can always try to change the subject, and often succeeds. It's one of the most coveted perks of office, and Barack Obama knows it well.
A week ago, in the wake of the radical Islamic attacks on Paris, everyone everywhere was consumed by outrage and determination to destroy the savages, barbarians and dirty rats of ISIS. Pundits and politicians exhausted the thesaurus for a word awful enough to apply to terrorists. Everyone agreed the Islamic terrorists were pigs (though the noble and tasty pig had done nothing to deserve the association). No word was too bad to apply to the evil-doers.
We were all Frenchmen. If it's an ill wind that blows nobody good, Christmas arrived early for the florists and manufacturers of Teddy bears. The floral tributes descended on French embassies throughout the world. The blue, white and red of the flag of France decorated the landscape, and in the lights projected against houses, skyscrapers and bridges across America.
President Obama's usual insouciance in the face of threat from radical Islam stood out sharply against the universal outrage. He had boasted only an hour or so before the wholesale murder in Paris that he had "contained" the Islamic State, as ISIS calls its pretended caliphate. In the hours afterward he doubled down on the absurd claim.
But then the anger and the determination to do something began to recede, and it was clear that Mr. Obama intended to leave response and retribution, if any, to others. He would continue to lead from the comfort of behind. The president of France led the way against evil, and Mr. Obama was soon content to turn his ire and outrage against the real terror of right-thinking folk, the Republicans in Washington. Bigotry, not terrorism, was all that irritated the president. The subject of what to do about the gathering storm bores him.
Soon the aroma of the holier-than-thou began to waft across the landscape. The flowers on the fence at the French embassy began to wilt, and the furry little faces of the Teddy bears grew limp from the tears shed by little button eyes. The voices of sentiment, eager to break the silence of the compassionate and good, soon emerged from the babble of the rabble.
"Confronted with those who want to change our way of life," asked Shep Smith, a Fox News commentator, "will we abandon our freedoms and the rights granted to us by the Creator, or will we welcome huddled masses, yearning to breathe free? Will we take extreme measures to fundamentally alter who and what we are?"
Well, certainly not if radical Islam gets here first, and leaves us mouldering in the grave. Shep called in the violins and hit all the buttons, stealing from the Gipper as well as from Emma Lazarus. "Our shining city on a hill is vulnerable. We've always known that. If we change it to accommodate the savages, have they won?"
The goo-goo began to spread across the land. A pundit in Arkansas, of all places, agreed that terrorism is bad, and not just the work of the Islamic terrorists of the Middle East. Americans do terrorism, too, and columnist Brenda Looper of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette cites the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph. She concedes that "the terrorists of ISIS are among the worst." Moral equivalence in an unexpected place.
The president, grateful for allies wherever he finds them, lashes out at the Republicans for wanting to take precautions in admitting the refugees from Syria, whence cometh the current peril. Such demands are not only bigotry, but maybe even semi-treason, given that the president says they help the enemy by giving ISIS a "recruitment tool."
Outrage always dissipates, and a good thing, but it can sometimes accomplish a good end before it mellows. President Obama is trying to make sure the outrage fades before it forces him to take due diligence. The incomplete vetting of Syrian migrants, letting some of them leach across the border, is good enough.
He dismisses the notion that migrants must be screened to exclude ISIS ringers. "The idea that somehow they pose a more significant threat than the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn't jive with reality. My expectation is after the initial spasm of rhetoric, the people will settle down, take a look at the facts and we'll be able to proceed."
Only Mr. Obama could get by with using the word "jive" to describe what's going on. "Jive," as in "shuck and jive," is an expression the slaves of yesteryear used to describe clowning around to mislead ol' Massa. Like nearly everything else, it's racist now, but it's a useful word, and often accurate. The president said it, I didn't.