One of the first rules that speakers and writers learn is to avoid absolute terms like always, never, nothing … and everything. Heck, parents learn that lesson when their kids get to the earliest ages of reason and turn into miniature Clarence Darrows, where every day is the Scopes trial. Barack Obama fell into that trap in yesterday’s presser while trying to defend himself against charges that the White House has been slow to respond to the Gulf oil spill. He insisted that the government was doing everything possible to mitigate the damage, a point Jake Tapper challenged:
JAKE TAPPER: You say that everything that could be done is being done. But there are those in the region and industry experts who say that’s not true. Governor Jindal obviously had this proposal for a barrier. They say that, if that had been approved when they first asked for it, they would have 10 miles up already. There are fishermen down there who want to work, who want to help, haven’t been trained, haven’t been told to go do so. There are industry experts who say that they’re surprised the tankers haven’t been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in ’93 outside Saudi Arabia. And then, of course, there’s the fact that there are 17 countries that have offered to help, and it’s only been accepted from two countries, Norway and Mexico. How can you say that everything that can be done is being done with all these experts and all these officials saying that’s not true?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me distinguish between — if the question is, are we doing everything perfectly out there, then the answer is absolutely not. We can always do better.
No, the statement Obama made was that they were doing everything, not everything perfectly. And they’re not, as Jake inconveniently pointed out on national TV. Obama still hasn’t learned to avoid overstatements and hyperbole.
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Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!