Obama – Master Phrase Maker

TV observers of the civil crisis in Egypt ask what the US Government’s reaction should be. Everyone seems to agree that it would be terrible for the US to end up on the wrong side of the conflict. Support Mubarak, and we risk being on the outs if the demonstrators succeed in ousting him. Support the demonstrators and we risk being at a serious disadvantage later when dealing with a triumphant Mubarak. More than one commentator has concluded that the best course for the US right now is to keep our mouths shut, basically to stay out of it.

It occurs to me that no one is better suited to this task than our President. Barack Obama, or someone who writes for him, is a master at creating meaningless, noncommittal slogans. “Change you can believe in,” and “win the future” are a couple of prominent examples. Not only are these expressions basically meaningless within themselves, they have the added feature of allowing hearers to project into them whatever personal meanings they wish. It’s become obvious that many who voted for Obama were interpreting “change” in ways that were not congruent with what the candidate had in mind.

Likewise, “win the future” is wide open to various interpretations yet virtually without literal meaning. Does it mean “win IN the future?” If so, win WHAT in the future? The future, after all, will arrive on its own terms. It’s not a prize to be “won.” Then there is the question of exactly what “the future” is. Is it next year, next decade, or the next century. I can’t help thinking that Obama’s main goal is to “win” the next two years, but even this is open to a wide range of interpretations. One can make it mean anything he or she wants.

So if the task vis-à-vis Egypt is to be noncommittal while appearing to set an inspiring path “forward,” Barack Obama is our man.

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