Here, of course, is where we get to the part where Romney did concede some points. Obama, we’d wager, baited the hook for Romney — pointedly bringing up what he said in Rose Garden because he knew Romney would be unable to resist countering on the matter. All the while, Obama knew that he had the goods on this (Dave Weigel has the complete exegesis of what words Obama used when) and could spring this trap. “Please proceed, Governor,” said Obama, knowing that you never interrupt your opponent as they are about to make a mistake.
Romney, clearly, should have not been suckered into this pseudo-debate over semantics. There are any number of more material things to discuss about the consulate attacks and the Libyan intervention in general. So why did he naturally ease into what turned out to be a losing battle over what was said in the Rose Garden? Erik Wemple offers a compelling argument that Romney’s response may have been too informed by the right-wing media, which have gone overboard on some of the more picayune matters to be discussed in the overall world of the Libyan intervention.
But the weird emphasis on “magic words” and superficial semantics has become a continual reference point in the right vs. left battle over foreign policy and war-making. Romney didn’t need much prompting from Fox News — he’s internalized the war over words himself with the “No Apology” argument he’s advanced throughout the campaign.
And even before Romney surged back into the newshole, the battle over who uses the more belligerent vocabulary has become a mainstay. Obama’s speeches on the War in Afghanistan are subjected to the “word find” test, where his opponents search for certain terms and then try to make news about which ones didn’t show up in the speech. “How can Obama talk about war without mentioning the word ‘victory?’” goes a familiar refrain. But why are we talking about that at all? Any speech on Afghanistan has important goals and policies to analyze! (Does an objectively stupid strategy work any better because it includes the word “victory?” If you actually believe that, please step away from the Situation Room.)
We should be asking ourselves why the need to assess terminology for its extremity, and the way in which certain words are used on certain days, as opposed to other words on other days, has lately become something that matters so damned much. Because it seems to us that the underlying issue here is that on key matters of foreign policy and war, there is no longer any way to discern a material difference between the two sides.
What we can tell all Americans, straight up, is that if you vote for Obama, we will be in Afghanistan until 2014 and change. On the other hand, if you vote for Romney, we will be in Afghanistan until 2014 and change. And as far as our policy on Iran goes, we can discern no substantive difference between the two candidates in terms of their “red lines” or what it is we are perpetually putting “on the table” so that Iran totally knows what’s what! The only clear difference is that when Romney puts the same stuff on the table, he will plop it down with a louder bang, and perhaps use a more bellicose set of vocabulary words. (We are pretty sure that if you want to vote for a candidate promising something materially distinct from any of this, you should check out what Gary Johnson and Jill Stein have to say about it.)