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Milbank: Washington's flavor-of-the-week politics

  • (DAN WASSERMAN / Boston Globe)

“This is not theater.”

That was President Barack Obama’s answer in Dallas last week to critics who said he should have gone to the border to see firsthand the mass immigration of unaccompanied minors that has suddenly seized Washington’s attention.

The president is wrong. The terror, abuse and suffering of children shouldn’t be theater, but it is. All the political world today is a stage. Our national dialogue has become a series of one-act plays: Each runs for a week or two, the critics volunteer their reviews of the president’s performance, and then it closes just as quickly — perhaps, like Benghazi, to be revived for a second run at a later date.

Last week, Washington’s thespians were chorusing about the border crisis. Is it Obama’s fault? Has he mishandled it? The border situation will be much the same a couple of weeks from now, but it’s a safe bet that the political world will have moved on to another one-act show. My nomination: Whether Obama is to blame for the upsurge of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

So it has been going for months. Two weeks ago, the show was about the Internal Revenue Service and Lois Lerner’s missing emails. A week before that, Washington was deep in a seemingly existential debate about the terrorists who had overrun much of Iraq and Syria. Two weeks earlier, the play was about the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap with the Taliban. Two weeks before that, it was about the veterans’ health care scandal. A week before that, the play was about the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. A week earlier, there had been a brief reprise of the Benghazi show, because a previously unknown document had surfaced. Before that was the one-act play about Ukraine.

Such is the attention-deficit disorder that has come to afflict our politics. Those Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing. The situation in Iraq is every bit as grim as it was when Washington was paying attention, and perhaps more so. Ukraine is still volatile and veterans still aren’t getting the level of service they deserve. But now we care only about whether Obama’s failure to visit the border was his “Katrina moment,” after George W. Bush’s weak initial response to the 2005 hurricane.

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