But our president is more ambitious than this. He believes that he can redefine the language so that it better suits his political needs. Just as he assumes he can “define” the “War on Terror” out of existence, so he images he can characterize the political landscape anyway he desires.
Let us take the word “politicize.” In ObamaSpeak this now refers to statements and activities that make his administration look bad. Accordingly, when Republicans highlighted emails that showed the White House and State Department altered talking points so as to misidentify the nature of the attack on our Benghazi consulate, they were engaged in politicizing this issue.
On the other hand, when Obama and his cronies sought to discredit these Republican assertions, they were not engaged in politicizing their response. Because they were only telling the truth about misguided opponents, they were “educating” the public as opposed to manipulating the facts.
The president is also fond of excising uncomfortable words from his lexicon — and from ours. Foremost among these are the words “terrorist” and “terrorism.” Thus, when Maj. Hassan brazenly shot dozens of American soldiers on a military base this was “workplace violence.”
It did not matter that in perpetrating these deaths and injuries this Army doctor shouted out his loyalty to Allah. Nor did it count that he was in contact with avowed enemies of the United States in Yemen. They too were not terrorists — even though they sponsored terror against us.
Obama also choked over the idea of calling the Boston marathon bombers terrorists. Although they built their bombs and placed them with the objective of causing the most injuries and fear they could, they were protesting against American intransigence rather than terrorizing.
Another word absent from the president’s vocabulary is “Islamist.” Around the world in Libya, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Chechnya, Dagestan, Mali and Nigeria, activists have been inflicting damage in the name of defending Islam and yet our chief executive sees no connection.
Now, granted, most Muslims are not actively engaged in attempting to harm us, but can any sane person doubt that the tenets of Islam have been used to justify doing so? Nor should we avert our eyes when huge majorities in Muslim countries support the introduction of Sharia law that commands the stoning death of unfaithful wives.
These same Islamist fanatics espouse a “jihad” to wipe the Little Satan (Israel) and the Great Satan (the United States) off the face of the earth. Yet we are not supposed to define a jihad as an avenging war, but as a personal quest for spiritual growth.
All of this might be amusing, except for the fact that people are going to die because of this head-in-the-sand mentality. Playing word games when one is intent upon wooing voters in an election can be an estimable skill, but substituting language for policy thereafter can be disastrous in a chief executive.
The person who is in charge of setting our domestic and foreign policy agendas should be more concerned with consequences than with verbal gymnastics. The idea is not to sound smart, but to be smart with respect to critical decisions.
Barack Obama needs to realize that in the long run, people will judge him on the basis of what he does rather than what he says. If our national foes see weakness, they will take advantage of this. If those who wish us ill detect confusion, they will not be charmed by poetic cadences.
Words can be powerful, but they are no replacement for actual power.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.