Teachable moments are everywhere: yes, it is regrettable about tapping phone records, but the slip at least offers occasion to revisit the shield laws. Yes, the IRS has gone rogue, but just maybe some of these right-wing organizations are not really organizations at all. Yes, Benghazi was full of miscommunications, but that is what happens when David Petraeus’s CIA and Hillary Clinton’s State Department work at cross-purposes.

Obama intended to halve the deficit in his first years (remember his charge that George W. Bush on his “lonesome” charged our debts to the bank of China?). Obama still feels terrible that those who started “two wars” prevented his debt-reduction plan. Iran was supposed to shut down its centrifuges at the end of the year, before the G-20 meeting, before the multiparty talks began, in front of the UN meeting. There are red lines in Syria — let’s be perfectly clear about that — and, make no mistake about it, they are not to be crossed. Obama is not mysterious, unpredictable, and sometime dangerous in what he might do and might not; instead he is perfectly clear that there are definite red lines that are neither red nor lines.

We were almost at the forefront of the Google version of the Arab Spring in Cairo, but then made up for that tardiness by rushing into Libya to lead — from behind. We reset something with Russia, and then reset that something reset. Mexico, Obama warns, has good reason to be angry that NRA-types are selling them guns, but perhaps not as many guns as the Obama Department of Justice itself sold them.  The War on Terror cannot go on forever, and so it will not. Who won and who lost, we do not yet know, but apparently someone must have. Obama “ended two wars,” but how and under what conditions we are not told. (The easiest way to end a war is to lose it, as George Orwell once said: Ask France about May 1940.)

Why is such rhetoric routine? Nothing is what was advertised. The deficit doubled rather than was halved. There was no summer of recovery. The Affordable Care Act will soon spike rather than reduce health care costs. Shutting down the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols meant expanding the drone kill list by a factor of ten and embracing the once hated war on terror. My God, who knew that the world was that bad even before George W. Bush took office? In a perennial rebound, unemployment remains high, growth weak, and borrowing massive. Joe Biden must have made it clear that the stimulus trillion-dollars would not be wasted.

How to square that circle?

By making ourselves perfectly clear and making no mistake about …. nothing much at all.