Like George W. Bush before him, President Barack Obama has mastered the art of media manipulation. Whether it’s finding just the right soundbite or, say, putting out the press release of one of his nominees to the State Department being rejected on Friday afternoon at 5 p.m.—when not even the 24-hour news networks give a rat’s ass—there’s no doubt he’s got the routine down.

He proved this yet again as last week dwindled toward the long-awaited Memorial Day long weekend, doing something only a president can effectively do—changing the national dialogue. It is by now a universally regarded fact that if the president talks about something, it gets talked about. Even if people are just talking about the president talking about it, they’re still talking about it. Like few others, a sitting president has the power to shape our discourse, and of course, the media’s slant on any given issue.

So in the wake of horrific tornado and storm damage in the Midwest, did Barack Obama get behind his podium and bang out another heartwarming speech about the indomitable spirit of America in the face of unspeakable tragedy, about how we’re all Oklahomans at heart or some such nonsense? Hell no. He talked about drones. Wait. Drones? Really?

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why Obama would be interested in making a big speech about drones at this point. He’s already provided his shady justification for what anyone who’s willing to put more than three seconds of thought into the issue can tell you is a crime against humanity it’s pretty obvious he’s going to keep committing. So what’s the point in bringing up the subject again when it’s already settled?

It moves the conversation.

Not that anyone in this country even knows or cares where Benghazi is or knows or cares what did or did not happen there, and not that anyone in the general public gives a crap either about the Justice Department hacking phone records of Associated Press reporters or about the IRS targeting right-wing conservative groups for audits, but these stories—there were so many of them, and so suddenly!—were getting out of hand. By bringing drones back into the mix, President Obama has moved the discussion to right where he wants it.

What’s the difference? Drones aren’t a scandal, and no one who cares about them—human rights groups, lefty tree-huggers, the countries being attacked—has a voice that matters. Not that nobody cares, but nobody who’s likely to make an impact or affect general opinion polls cares. So when it comes to having stories floating around the public consciousness that make the president look bad—like, say, killing American citizens abroad with flying robots and no due legal process—that’s still better than something like the IRS hammering the Tea Party, which is just the kind of ridiculously stupid fodder that those kind of conservative groups get the biggest “we’re the victim” boner for in the first place. Let’s talk about drones instead.

Presumably, the hope is that the distraction—oh look a bird!—is enough to pull the public and media consciousness away from the slew of second term scandals, and maybe it is. We already know President Obama’s all about hope, and we already know the media is down for reporting first and asking questions later, so it’s probably worth a shot on his part to see if he can get everyone to move on to the next thing, even if the next thing is the last thing. And hey, if it’s shrewd cynicism driving our national conversation, no big change there, right?

Anyone notice the Dow’s over 15,000 and nobody who doesn’t already have a shitload isn’t making any more money? No?

Anyone want to acknowledge our crumbling infrastructure as evidenced by the collapsed bridge last week on I-5 in Washington? No?

Well alright then. Drones it is.

JJ Koczan

jj@theaquarian.com

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