The Euphemism Presidency

posted at 3:30 pm on April 7, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Jonah Goldberg skewers the new administration for its attempt to roll back the nomenclature of the Bush era, one euphemism at a time.  At times, it seems as though the word change substitutes for actual policy change.  Doesn’t the government have higher priorities than acting as a Roget’s Thesaurus for bureaucrats?

He has put rhetorical innovation on an equal footing with policy innovation. Exhibit A: “Overseas contingency operations.” That’s the Obama administration’s term of choice to replace “the long war” or “the global war on terror.” No doubt they were inspired by the famous Leo Tolstoy novel, Overseas Contingency Operations and Cessation of Overseas Contingency Operations, later dumbed-down by the publisher to War and Peace.

Janet Napolitano, head of Obama’s Department of Homeland Security — primarily created to deal with terrorist attacks in the wake of 9/11 — has decided “terrorist attack” is too hard-edged. It’s “man-caused disasters” now. “That is perhaps only a nuance,” Napolitano explained to a German newsmagazine, “but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.”

Meanwhile, the White House has announced that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will no longer be called “enemy combatants.” No word yet on what the new term will be. No doubt the poetic euphony of “man-caused disasters” and “overseas contingency operations” sets a very high bar for Obama’s Office of Euphemism Generation. But surely “Men Prone to Disaster Causation” or “Overseas Counter-Contingency Operators” are the most obvious choices. My friend Mark Steyn, however, suggests going another way: “Future Facebook Friends.”

We had a lot of fun with that last one around the conservative blogosphere, in a gallows-humor sort of way — the kind of laugh Barack Obama himself enjoys now and again.  My preference: future security consultants.  Laugh if you will, but don’t be surprised to see MS-NBC hire one or two for that purpose, once we close Gitmo.

Jonah describes this as a “moral failing,” an inability to face tough choices.  Instead of actually dealing with the uncomfortable realities of terrorism, we call it “man-caused disasters” as a way to strip responsibility from the act, and therefore the need to deal with the intent to kill.  After all, a “disaster” like Katrina can be blamed on George Bush, but a man-caused disaster just happens.  In fact, maybe Napolitano can make up bumper stickers that say, “Man-caused disaster happens!”  They’ll sell like hot cakes … to the Code Pink, International ANSWER, and World Can’t Wait crowds.

What’s next from the Department of Orwell in the West Wing?  Shall we call homicides “early terminations”?  It’s on the same level as calling fish “sea kittens,” PETA’s attempt to propagandize children into vegetarianism.  The Obama administration thinks we’re all children, apparently.

Jonah Goldberg will appear tonight at the University of Minnesota at 7 pm to talk about his book Liberal Fascism and its application to the green movement.  I’ll try to be there to cover it for Hot Air, but if you’re in the area, CFACT will have the event at 125 Willey Hall in Minneapolis.  Here’s the web site announcement, too.


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