The ‘diction’ debates


Marc Ambinder explained this morning that Benghazi is “a debate about post-tragedy diction.” That’s certainly bolstered by recent Republican arguments, nearly all of which have to do with the timing of various choices of words.

If you’re thinking that genuine political controversies are supposed to deal with more meaningful issues than diction, you and I are on the same page, though congressional Republicans and much of the political world are on a very different page.

Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example. On Sept. 12, 2012, President Obama described the Benghazi attack as an act of terror. McCain yesterday insisted that those comments don’t count: “The president didn’t call it an ‘act of terror.’ … He condemned ‘acts of terrorism.’”

What matters, in Republicans’ minds, is the diction. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was thinking along the same lines today on Fox News.

“The president sent a letter to the president of Libya were he didn’t call it a terrorist attack even when in real time the president of Libya was calling this a pre-planned Sept. 11 terrorist attack,” Issa said. He added, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.”

This amusing, in a pathetic sort of way, and not just because of Issa’s rhetorical framework. It’s also striking because it’s shining a light on what Republicans consider truly important about this story: which officials used the words Republicans like and when.

Ambinder added, “The Diction Debates aren’t real because the opponent insists he/she knows about the motivation for using/ not using certain key words.” That’s also true – McCain, Issa and others are quite animated over which official used the word “terror” on which day.

But all of this serves to remind us that the political world has defined “scandal” down to a meaningless level. Watergate dealt with crimes committed by a president. Iran-Contra dealt with a White House that sold arms to a sworn enemy to finance an illegal war. The Plame Affair, the U.S. Attorney purge, and illegal warrantless wiretaps dealt with systemic wrongdoing at the highest levels.

In 2013, though, we’re apparently stuck with, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.

Darrell Issa, Benghazi and John McCain

The 'diction' debates