Apart from all the other wars that president Obama has inherited, started, and is planning to start, his biggest battle may be with the English language. All politicians twist words, as George Orwell pointed out in a much-quoted passage: “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
But Obama seems to have an exceptional level of confidence that he can force words to have the meanings he chooses. Gene Healy says that you should be particularly on your guard when Obama prefaces a remark with the phrase ‘let me be clear’ because what follows will be anything but.
Obama’s policies depends on doing violence to plain language. To our various “wars” on drugs, crime, and terror — add Obama’s “War on Words.”
Last year, the administration added a new phrase to the doublespeak lexicon. Americans slated for death by drone go on something called “the disposition matrix,” which lacks the harsh clarity of “kill list.”
Harry Truman famously redefined war in Korea as a “police action.” For its 2011 Libyan adventure, the Obama Team did HST one better: Raining cruise missiles on Tripoli isn’t “war,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes insisted; it’s “kinetic military action.”
That’s the kind of construction that makes your head hurt: “Kinetic,” “resulting from motion” is the only kind of “action” you can have. What’s the alternative? “Static” military action?
At times, it seems that Team Obama claims full-spectrum dominance over the English language itself. That’s apparent in their legal position papers rationalizing undeclared wars, assassination of American citizens, and mass surveillance.
The ‘double-speak’ of Obama’s NSA is by now well known so that one can no longer believe anything they say. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has provided a handy guide to their misleading use of language while Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman of the ACLU provide a similar glossary for decoding the true meaning of their words
It makes Bill Clinton’s careful parsing of the word ‘is’ seem quaint.