Friday, January 8, 2010

Transformational Speech serve as punch line for Obama's, Napolitano's first year

As I begin (finally) to do my look-back at 2009 I cannot help but focus first on the Obama Administration’s insistence upon trying to introduce new, misdirectional euphemisms into our vernacular. My need to go in this direction is inspired by our President’s speech on Thursday (January 7) regarding the foiled terrorist plot Christmas Day on Flight 253.

As President Barack Obama begrudgingly orates about the United States being at war with al Qaeda, I am reminded of his efforts shortly after his inauguration to refer to the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns in the Global War on Terror as “overseas contingency operations.”

And so the next domino of memory falls as that phrase by the President reminds me of then-newly-appointed Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and her attempt to nudge us toward using the expression “man-caused disasters” instead of allegedly more inflammatory terms such as “terrorism” and “act of terror.”

It was a rough start to Napolitano’s new career path in politics. In March she became the poster child for irresponsibly sweeping items under the proverbial rug when she was called to the carpet over the now-infamous report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center. This was the government-produced piece that weighed-in on the growing threat of home-grown terrorists and extrapolated on the notion that as people become more disgruntled in these economic times they are more likely to engage in radical anti-government activity. Among the talking points, the report stated these people are easily identifiable by their affinity toward clothing or any other paraphernalia that has a camouflage color scheme and displays of bumper stickers with right-wing slogans. Additionally it suggested veterans returning from the war are more susceptible to embracing violent rhetoric.

2009 ended for Napolitano much like it started. She has been ridiculed and derided for her recent comments that “the system worked” when asked how Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab was able to board Flight 253 in the first place.

The negative publicity she has faced in all these instances could have been avoided by exercising just a little responsibility.

I get that the Obama Administration has felt a sense of mandate bolstering them – between the President’s election and the sweeping majorities his party claimed in both houses of Congress – and it is not difficult to see how this situation would lead anyone in such a position of authority to believe they could roll out their agenda unquestioned. Obama was voted into office based in large part on his promise of change in how business would be handled in Washington.

What people in America were hoping to see first were a change in how money would be spent (or even not spent), a rapid departure from the policies of George W. Bush, and greater transparency in how government activity will be handled. What people saw before anything else was a bait-and-switch game of terminology: essentially an adolescent effort to coerce the public into adopting new speech patterns using a mindset of, “see, we popular people are talking like this therefore you should, too.”

This, of course, was accompanied by the trillion-dollar crap sandwich better known as the Stimulus Bill – but I digress as usual.

To offer a real-world example of why, a year later, I still cannot get over the Obama Administration’s terminology bait-and-switch, a previous workplace of mine implemented something just like this several years ago. Management’s title for it was “Transformational Speech.” (hmmm, “transformational…” seems to me I’ve heard this term used to describe Obama before – apologies, another digression on my part)

At my previous job, we were instructed to never use the phrase, “I don’t know,” in response to a member’s question if we didn’t genuinely know the answer. We were trained our reply had to be, “That’s an excellent question! Let me go find someone who can answer that more effectively.”

Also, the front desk was renamed “The Connection Desk” as this was the primary area where our facility “made the connection with our members” – we were expected to purge the phrase “customer service” from our lexicon.

I have nothing sarcastic to add here that you the reader haven’t been able to formulate on your own.

In case you were wondering, the list of transformational euphemisms went on and on.

The problem here was not much really had changed in the way we operated beyond the subliminal effort to make our members feel good about doing business with us. The whole phraseology ploy by the White House employs the same premise. Unfortunately, untold millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted doing the research on such dribble by this administration.

Related side note:
One subject at which I have hammered before and will belabor for the remainder of this presidential administration is the aforementioned MIAC report on potential domestic terror threats. As I stated earlier, some responsibility would have accomplished a great deal for not only Obama’s public image but his cabinet secretaries’ as well.

The MIAC story created the most visible early chink in the administration’s transparency armor. America’s secretary of Homeland Security took the single-worst course of action imaginable: Napolitano slid that report toward the bottom of a pile of paperwork on her desk as quickly as it had come to her attention.

All the White House needed to do was quickly go to the public with it once they were aware of its contents. The comedic part of this whole story is the truth was on their side: this report was initiated during the Bush Administration.

Napolitano could very easily have held a press conference with the report in hand, looked everyone in attendance in the eye and told them the report was initially published before Obama was sworn-in, and then declared the current administration did not subscribe to the conclusions reached by the MIAC.

This simple yet direct course of action would have shown a bright positive light on the new administration. It may even to some extent have stemmed the rising tide of the Tea Party movement in America, which was just beginning to gain momentum at this time. After all, President Obama was elected on a wave of anti-Bush and anti-Republican sentiment. Such an act of undeniable transparency combined with pinning this document onto his predecessor would have been a PR boon for a President whose approval numbers already were slipping not even two months into his term. And since the MIAC report focused almost exclusively on so-called right-wing extremists, outing this document on their own accord would have demonstrated the kind of bipartisanship Obama insisted he sought during his campaign.

Instead, the “keep quiet and maybe no one will notice it” approach only served to fuel suspicion surrounding Obama’s agenda. This action combined with the endless rhetoric attempting to paint Tea Partiers as “angry mobs,” racists, and a general bastion for potential violence, as well as the President’s decision in September to continue several “key provisions” of the Patriot Act, the so-called Net Neutrality Act, and the appointment of Mark Lloyd as FCC diversity officer (Lloyd having gone on record recently as saying the Fairness Doctrine does not go far enough) all come together to begin painting an alarming picture of how the left intends to deal with political dissent.

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