This morning, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a report from Mara Liasson about the use of language in Washington. She started off by talking about how ‘toxic assets’ are now being called ‘legacy assets’ and the difference between ‘shared responsibility’ vs ‘individual mandate’ in the discussions over health insurance. Good so far.
But then she went on to discuss Obama’s ban on the use of ‘war on terror’ and his administration’s alternate, “overseas contingent operations.’
This is where her report went off the rails. She interviewed writer Joe Queenan about this usage. First she paraphrased him: “Queenan thinks leeching political language of its most powerful terms–axis of evil, war on terror–fits right in with President Obama’s non-polarizing, inclusive leadership style.” Great. But Ms. Liasson and Mr. Queenan missed the opportunity to point out that terms such as ‘war on terror’ and ‘enhanced interrogation’ were a calculated invention by the political right specifically to frame the debate in their terms. Of course Obama is not going to use them!
Mr. Queenan, in fact, went on to draw an inappropriate (and, I would argue, partisan) conclusion: “He does use those fancy vaporous expressions, and I think that does go well with his personality, and it’s kind of hard to pin this guy down on anything.”
Obama’s choice of vocabulary does indeed reflect his ‘inclusive’ leadership style. But equally important are the terms that he’s not using: unlike the previous administration, his administration is not inventing partisan vocabulary to frame the debate in liberal terms. He’s accurate and neutral, not partisan or vague.
(George Lakoff was the obvious interviewee for this report.)

Categories: Politics