Wars of words are often a silly waste of column inches and air time. That we spent more than five minutes on a semantic debate about whether Rush Limbaugh really wants the president to fail is disappointing, perhaps -- but it proves that in America, words really matter.
So you'll indulge me as I pick a particular battle in another incendiary war of words.
In discussing the Obama administration's theatrical push for more wildly irresponsible spending, Howard Fineman made an unfortunate and cavalier assertion in Newsweek:
"Neocons in the Bush administration used the attack of 9/11 to push us into Mesopotamia; progressives see the economic crisis as an opportunity as well."
Of course it's not the first time the economic crisis has been described as an "opportunity." As a justification for the continued theft of taxpayer money to help fund various non-emergency pork projects, President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, prone to crude linguistic spasms and metaphorical mustache-twirling, devilishly admitted way back in November, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." (And an evil cackle was heard all the way to Smurf Village.)
Even our treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, adopted the giddy mantra in an address to lawmakers in March. "We have a moment of opportunity now, and we don't want to waste that opportunity."
The fiscal crisis may indeed be an opportunity -- depending on who you ask it's either an opportunity to return to smaller government and fiscal responsibility, or it's an opportunity to nationalize private industry, fire CEOs, control executive compensation, undermine the legal system, raise taxes, fund neon signs and dog parks, and impoverish future generations.
But what's unfortunate, irresponsible and offensive is comparing the economic crisis to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
It's a trenchant and deceptively ambiguous assertion that must be carefully unpacked. What, exactly, are they suggesting?
Democrats are only too happy for the chance to blame America -- President Bush, Republicans, and Americans themselves -- for something, and in this case it's the economic crisis. It was our fiscal irresponsibility, corporate greed, deregulation, and general capitalist piggishness that got us into this mess. No one, rightly, has asserted that Austria or Cambodia or Sumatra is responsible for our economic problems at home. Both Democrats and Republicans see our mistakes and we want to fix them, even if we disagree on what they are and how to do it.
Essentially, we have a bed of our own making in the economic crisis, and so we must lie in our own sweat-drenched sheets for a while. And crafty Democrats, by their own admission, will use it as an opportunity. So in comparing the "opportunities" we have from the economic crisis to the "opportunities" Republicans supposedly exploited after 9/11 -- Iraq, the Patriot Act, and (gasp!) terrorist detention -- the underlying suggestion, then, is that we also brought on 9/11 ourselves.
This is not a foreign notion -- in fact there are plenty of folks around the world who believe just that. Conservatives tend to call them radical extremists and terrorists, while liberals call them campaign donors, tenured professors, keynote speakers and Rosie O'Donnell.
The other insinuation, that Republicans have exploited 9/11, is also an old trope. John McCain, a prisoner-of-war and bona fide hero, was scolded by the left for his brazen show of patriotism at the RNC last year. Keith Olbermann memorably felt compelled to address the nation, in his own inimitably self-important way, to reprimand the RNC. (What would he have preferred -- that Republicans donned berets, played the Swedish national anthem, patriotically recounted the military heroics of the Javanese and saluted the Cuban men and women overseas?)
More recently, the Congressional contest in New York's 20th District between Jim Tedisco and Scott Murphy has raised the exploitation specter yet again. After the National Republican Congressional Committee aired an ad accusing Murphy of being soft on terrorism (not an unimportant point in New York), it was was roundly criticized by the left for rehashing that darn, old 9/11 stuff again. No matter that Murphy opposes the death penalty for 9/11 terrorists -- Republicans are no longer allowed to bring up 9/11, even when it's explicitly relevant. The Hill's Reid Wilson chided, "It's not the first time the NRCC has used Sept. 11 as a political tool." Apparently, terrorism is, like, so five minutes ago.
Except that it's not. In case the media was too distracted by the President's brackets and American Idol to notice, we're still fighting terrorism. At home we are monitoring jihadist cells looking to infiltrate our communities. Abroad, we're trying to win a war in Afghanistan, break up the Al Qaeda-Iran lovefest, and engage our weary allies to help. An on the high seas we're channeling the ghost of Decatur due to an alarming reemergence of piracy (for which I place the blame squarely on Johnny Depp.) We don't know yet what we're doing with the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay -- hopefully they're not coming soon to a Whole Foods near you.
So likening the economic crisis, for which we are to blame, to 9/11, for which we most certainly are not, is a cunning and insulting word game that liberals are hoping we're all too stupid to notice. And using 9/11 and our subsequent response to it to justify a massive expansion of government is a juvenile, baseless and cheap bastardization of the complexities of a War-on-Terror world.
There's much evidence that the Obama administration chooses its words carefully. Apparently it was important to drop "War on Terror" and replace it with a vague new euphemism like "Overseas Contingency Operations." But if words really mean that much, the left should drop the economic crisis-as-9/11 simile. They are not the same, no matter what they say.
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