Through the lengthy and squalid effort of the Republican party and its press allies to exploit the attack last month in Libya, the centerpiece has been the alleged magical powers of the words ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’. It’s reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani’s endless yakking in 2008 that the biggest problem with his Democratic opponents was that they didn’t say “9/11” enough, as though one grapples most effectively with the threats to the country by the endless repetition of buzzwords.
The turning point of the debate tonight came when Mitt Romney got giddy thinking he’d caught Obama in a lie when the president said he referred to the attacks as “acts of terror” on day one. If we care to get into the substance of the matter, it was clear from day one — from the administration’s own statements — that what happened in Benghazi was qualitatively different from what occurred in Cairo. Under the cover of protests over the video, well-armed attackers had conducted a raid. The Romney camp’s angle has been that Romney is Churchill incarnate because he’s saying terror, terror, terror and is too big a man to try to get a read on whether the video played any role.
Now Romney’s allies are trying to recover the fumble on his behalf by saying well, sure he uttered the word ‘terror’. But that’s just a word. Look at the context. He also mentioned the video. And videos don’t have anything to do with terror! In other words, but, but, but … the video!
Live by the buzzword, die by the buzzword. It’s been a nonsensical proposition from the start to imagine that foreign policy seriousness is defined by being the first one to hit the ‘terror’ buzzer like you’re a contestant on Jeopardy. But the Romney camp laid the trap. And tonight Mitt walked right into it.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.