Tuesday, September 22, 2009


When It's Confrontational To Use The Dictionary

What do you call a person who redefines a word to suit himself -- and who, when called on it with a precise dictionary definition, complains that using a dictionary was unreasonable?

For now, you could call such a person President of the United States.
Mr. Obama: "No, but—but, George, you—you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase."

"I don't think I'm making it up," Mr. Stephanopoulos said. He then had the temerity to challenge the Philologist in Chief, with an assist from Merriam-Webster. He cited that dictionary's definition of "tax"—"a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes."

Mr. Obama: "George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. . . ."

Read the whole thing.

In all fairness, there can be (and is) serious debate on whether requiring people to buy health insurance constitutes a tax. Check this out, for example (and read the serious debate in the comments). Note, however, that the Associated Press -- which is certainly not known for pushing a conservative agenda -- has weighed in on the issue:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Memo to President Barack Obama: It's a tax. Obama insisted this weekend on national television that requiring people to carry health insurance -- and fining them if they don't -- isn't the same thing as a tax increase. But the language of Democratic bills to revamp the nation's health care system doesn't quibble. Both the House bill and the Senate Finance Committee proposal clearly state that the fines would be a tax.
All this is interesting, and important, but irrelevant to my original point. My point was that President Obama, for purely political reasons, argued over the definition of a word -- and, when confronted with a dictionary definition, called the very act of using the dictionary into question.

That's not responsible, and that's not leadership. (Isn't this the same President who, only weeks ago, was exhorting students to do their homework? Isn't that exactly what Mr. Stephanopoulos did?)

The Presidential thing to do, in my opinion, would have been to accept the definition -- and the person who took the trouble to look it up -- and then explain, calmly, why the dictionary definition of "tax" doesn't apply to his proposal.

(If he could, that is. When the government requires you to buy something, whether you want it or not, that sounds a lot like a tax to me. It's also a nasty precedent; read up sometime on Prussia's Frederick II and his 'porcelain tax'.)

You gave a good speech to the kids, Mr. President. I'd hate to think that, when you said you wanted people to study and work hard, you meant "as long as they don't work against me".

By the way: it's interesting to note that Mr. Stephanopoulos was not afraid of pushing the matter. The man's liberal leanings are well known, as are those of his network. Are we seeing the beginning of the end of a Mainstream Media in President Obama's pocket? Let's hope so.

UPDATE: Apparently, that was quite the interview.


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