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Strategic Republican Magic Words

Don Rose 11 January 2010 10 Comments

I have just discovered the newest Republican strategy. Possibly it is even larger than a strategy. It may be a belief system.

I speak here of the magical power of incantation.

Soon after the underpants bomber proved himself no more skilled than the shoe bomber of yore, the recent ex-vice-president snarled with his most ferocious, fang-baring snarl that Barack Obama has made us less safe because he never uses the ex-v-p’s favorite phrase, “the war on terror.”

Quickly the right-wing echo-chamber was bubbling and seething with the sentiment. Congresspersons, broadcasters, tea-sippers and similar great minds explained that we can never defeat the terrorists unless we keep chanting and incanting about a global war on terror—or at least a plain vanilla war on terrorism. Only these words would show how serious we are and therefore will make the bad guys be gone.

Some of those great minds even averred—incorrectly—that Obama never ever used the word terror, terrorism or terrorist. Unfortunately for them, a series of television news clips showed he used all those words many times, as a candidate and as president. But no, he did not use the phrase “war on terror,” and with good reason.

He doesn’t say “war on terror” because there is no such thing. As numerous commentators, from former Senator Bob Kerrey of the 9/11 Commission to famed cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski point out, terrorism is a tactic used by left and right alike. How can you declare war on a tactic?

One might as usefully declare war on drive-by shootings, kidnappings or booby-trap bombings—all related instruments of terrorists. Sarah Palin might speak of Bill Ayers as a terrorist, but would she or her sympathizers brand the people who bomb abortion clinics or murder doctors as terrorists? They are, you know.

Here in the USA a terrorist organization called the Ku Klux Klan thrived for a century, often with the tacit support of local governments, but the word was not used about them. Maybe a few people got wise that Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, as were the DC snipers. Is our euphemistic war on their ilk as well?

Of course, Obama’s immediate predecessor, whose administration originated the phrase, mouthed the term time and again—sometimes half a dozen times in the same speech. Somehow, however, no matter how often he repeated the incantation, he did not manage to win the war he declared. Perhaps he was not a good enough incanter—though Brzezinski observed that the ex-president spoke of terrorism in “vague, semi-theological terms.” Brzezinski hit a deep truth.

No one denies there are terrorist organizations out there that are dangerous and have every intent of damaging the United States and spreading terror. That’s their goal, knowing they cannot defeat us militarily. The ex-president, however, never named the enemy by name, preferring the incantation of a war on terror rather than a war on Al Qaeda or on radical Islamists.

Obama, however, had no problem saying explicitly that we are at war with Al Qaeda—a network with many incarnations and locations, as we are learning. He stopped short of saying we are at war with the Taliban, perhaps harboring some hope of separating “moderate” groupings within that network.

Obama also separated himself from a large part of his base by escalating the war in Afghanistan—in part to prove he was not “soft” on terrorism. Nevertheless, his opposition insists on the incantation—as if the ex-president’s incantations protected us from all evil.

Fact is, some of ex’s cohort are now trying to erase history through the use of further magical incantation. In recent days we heard Rudy Guiliani incant, “we had no domestic attacks under Bush; we’ve had one under Obama.” Oops—remember 9/11 Rudy? New York? You were mayor?

And he was not the only incanter. Earlier we heard similar sentiments from pundit Mary Matalin and ex’s last press secretary Dana Perino who incanted “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.”

All you gotta do is believe!

Rudy now acknowledges he slipped and meant no attacks after 9/11, still forgetting the shoe bomber and the still at-large anthrax killer. Is this dementia or incantation? If we keep repeating these magic words will they become reality?
Ah, if magic words would only do the trick, I have a perfect strategy for the Republican incantationists:
Persuade Osama bin Laden to change his name to Rumpelstiltskin.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Merseberg Incantations


  • John Maynard Krebs said:

    OK Don,

    I am pro-life and sympathetic to Sarah Palin. I am against killing abortion Doctors. It is murder, and certainly can be described as terrorism.

    Now…when are the Lefties going to get around to condemning Bill Ayers terrorism?

  • Pat Hickey said:

    “Now…when are the Lefties going to get around to condemning Bill Ayers terrorism?” – when Leon Trotsky gets out of surgury.

  • Windy City Commentary said:

    I didn’t realize this site had any liberal commentators besides the weak radio political host Tom Roeser. This site is lame. There is an average of 1 comment per post, and the longest columns are those defending Mark Kirk. This site subscribes to the Chicago holy political verse, “politics as usual” and “that’s jus the way it is”. Roeser is a lightweight.

  • John Maynard Krebs said:

    Roeser as a liberal lightweight puts your count at 0 and 2, Kyle. 3 strikes you’re out.

  • Pat Hickey said:

    Windy City Commentary said:
    I didn’t realize this site had any liberal commentators besides the weak radio political host Tom Roeser. This site is lame. There is an average of 1 comment per post, and the longest columns are those defending Mark Kirk. This site subscribes to the Chicago holy political verse, “politics as usual” and “that’s jus the way it is”. Roeser is a lightweight.


    You have some powerful standards! I blinked at your Academy of Thought – stunning, Kyle, stunning.

    I have not been this pole-axed and impressed since Leno captured Prime Time.

    Mr. Roeser, Kyle has a point. It is between his shoulder blades.


  • Mike F said:

    Don: Barack Obama had shown a marked avoidance of the term war when the panty bomber was arrested. I don’t care if it’s war on terror, war on Al Quaeda or whatever. Barack studiously avoided “war” and went down the “alledged” road, alledging that this alledged man alledgedly tried to bomb an alledged airplane.

    I think conservative Americans took the lack of warlike language as a symbol that he was going to prosecute the panty bomber as a criminal just like the Gitmo residents. Conservatives think that these men, foreign citizens, who attack our country should be treated like enemy soldiers rather than neighbors gone wrong.

    And yes, most everyone of every stripe in America believes that abortion bombers are terrorists, church bombers are terrorists and Tim McVeigh was a terrorist too. Add to that the anthrax mailer and the Tylenol killer.

  • Windy City Commentary said:

    Go ahead and give me the 3rd strike and you’ll have less than 10 visitors on the site, as conservative media in Illinois becomes as faint as ever. Hickey, I’m glad McCain is finally appalling to you. I’ve never heard the point and shoulder blades saying before; what’s it mean?

  • Pat Hickey said:

    What point migh be twixt one’s shoulder blades????

    Why – one’s noggin.

    Mine 90% of the time and it seemed your’s in taking the estimableMr. Roeser’s fine publication to unnecessary task.

    As to Sen. McCain, I admire one who loses with grace; I admire one who loses with anger; yet, I can not abide a loser who seeks to blame and calumnize the one person who most helped the loser almost win.

    Mccain surrogates McKinney and Schmidt have been energetic in this work.

    More so, I find Mark Halperin to be a singularly sparrow-hearted turd which makes anyone helping him suspect.

    His book is to Making of a President as Biggest Loser is to Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night.

  • Windy City Commentary said:

    O.K. that is what I thought you meant. I agree completely on McCain, and I think he slides by all too often by the more conservative part of the press. McKinnon and Schmidt have no business being hired by anyone trying to win an election. They were allowed to run Macs campaign when they could just as well been the guys who plant bugs to listen in on the private conservations of their opponents.

  • Pat Hickey said:


    They ( Schmidt and MacKinnon) seemed much more concerned about how much Milkey Chris Matthews or Fat-boy Olbermann felt about Maverick John than about winning at all. The Economy really put poop in McCain’s blood.

    Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.

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