Sunday, February 12, 2012

Language fit for his Magisterial Highness

It’s always likely that anyone in the public eye can be caught in a bad word choice, and certainly the President of the United States qualifies as being in the public eye.  But John Steele Gordon’s catch nicely amplifies the column of Mark Steyn that I posted yesterday.  Mr. Gordon notes that President Obama used the word “accommodation” in his response to the pushback on the HHS mandate rather than “compromise”:

An accommodation is something handed out beneficently to those who have a problem. We accommodate people in wheelchairs on public transportation, we accommodate people with food allergies or religious needs by providing alternative meals. A compromise is something agreed to jointly by equals (it comes from the Latin for a mutual promise). Obama, in his own mind, has no equals. Hence, he is ‘accommodating’ these people with their annoying moral scruples so at variance with liberal orthodoxy.”

And he goes on to note a similar usage in response to an interview question:

“Likewise, the other day he told NBC’s Matt Lauer the reason he had been unable to be as transformational a president as he would have liked was that he had been unable to ‘force’ Congress to pass his programs. What an interesting choice of words.

Oliver Cromwell ‘forced’ the Rump Parliament to dissolve when he arrived with soldiers and told everyone to leave, saying famously, “You have sat long enough.” He dismissed the Mace (the symbol of Parliamentary authority–it lies before the speaker to this day) as a mere “fool’s bauble.”

One would think the word here should have been ‘convince.’”

Gordon thinks these word choices speak to Obama’s magisterial view of himself and his outsized ego.  There is certainly some of that working here, but I think the larger context is that this is really the voice of the Liberal-Left.  Progressivism has been the dominant wave of American politics for roughly a hundred years, and the Democratic Party, if not always in office, has experienced a similar dominance.   In the Liberal Imagination (1950), Lionel Trilling described conservatism in America as little more than “irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble ideas” and more recently Sam Tanenhaus described conservatism’s role as a necessary restraint on liberalism for when it goes too far (like Obamacare???).  That is to say, conservatism is to be a secondary, a role of support, for the natural lead of liberalism.  In short, Obama’s imperiousness may stem from his personality but it also fits with the larger political forces of which he is a part, and their complete obliviousness to this tendency is the source of much wondrous, wry amusement.

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