Where Obama’s words fail
Jordan Ryan | Thursday, September 29, 2016
President Obama, during his 2008 presidential campaign, proved beyond any doubt that he is a gifted orator. As proof of his public speaking skills, he repeatedly stressed just how important word choice can be. During a campaign speech in Milwaukee, then-Senator Obama emphasized the power of the use of particular words: “Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” he said in his remarks. “‘I have a dream.’ Just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’ Just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words? Just speeches?” To the contrary, these are forceful words uttered by great leaders at defining moments in our nation’s history.
Though I often disagree with the president, he is certainly right on this point. Words do matter, a lot. Therefore, we must ask why President Obama, in light of his acknowledged view on the power of particular words, continues to refuse to employ obvious word choices, which could assist in defining existential threats to America. One is left with the conclusion that he consciously does so in an effort to distort reality and manipulate public opinion to suit his own political agenda.
Just last week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest summarized President Obama’s most recent foreign policy pronouncement on the terror challenge: “When it comes to [the Islamic State group], we are in a fight — a narrative fight with them. A narrative battle.” What does a narrative battle even mean? A war of words? A publicity fight?
This position is, unfortunately, in keeping with President Obama’s repeated efforts to reshape reality so that it can somehow coincide with his personal views of the world order, a world order that simply does not exist. President Obama’s efforts to characterize the killings in Orlando as a “hate crime;” the murders in Fort Hood as “workplace violence;” or, as recently as this week, the stabbing attacks at a Minnesota mall and the bomb blasts in Manhattan and New Jersey which injured 29 innocent people as a “narrative battle” is either an Orwellian effort to rewrite news or a reflection of the president’s condescending view that it is his job to define the truth and then make, interpret and enforce the laws on behalf of the rest of us (including Congress) who simply don’t get it.
If President Obama were true to his belief that words in fact matter, he would confront the threat of terrorism to the United States and beyond on the term which defines it: radical Islam. This description clearly, concisely and correctly defines the enemy and importantly differentiates these dangerous extremists from other Muslims.
This nonsense cannot continue. Blaming the murders of innocent Americans in Libya on an internet video, trying to capitalize on the senseless killings in San Bernardino and Orlando to advance the left’s gun control agenda, referring to IS as the “JV team” or referring to countless murders of innocents around the world by IS killers as “isolated” events will not advance the ball. Likewise, an effort to recast the goals of extremists utilizing bullets, bombs, knives and airplanes to kill as a “narrative battle,” while perhaps more consistent with the president’s ideological agenda, will not change the facts. It is time to define our enemy for who they are: radical Islamic terrorists. The time for political spin, an overblown sense of political correctness or an effort to reshape reality to better coincide with the administration’s sense of priorities is long past. These notions have accomplished nothing except the impairing of our ability to realize and react to the depth of this crisis.
President Obama now claims, “There is no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’” As he himself has acknowledged, words do matter, especially these powerful words which cannot be ignored for political gain. IS is not a narrative threat. We are not engaged in a narrative battle. IS is made up of murderers. Mischaracterizing the very essence of the problem will not make it disappear. Either we take on and defeat IS or continue with the administration’s effort to distort reality. We again find ourselves at what may well prove to be a defining moment in our history.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.