On Wednesday night, President Obama gave a televised primetime address on his strategy to "degrade and destroy" the terrorist army ISIS that clocked in at almost 2,000 words, but to hear conservatives tell it, the speech actually only lasted about five seconds. While the rest of America heard the President reveal a four-part strategy to fight the group in Iraq and Syria, all most conservatives heard was this one line:
ISIL is not “Islamic.”
That bit of wise cultural diplomacy (and undeniable truth, since ISIS kills many more Muslims than anyone else) sent the conservative internet into a berserk rage at Obama's refusal to label all Muslims murderers. Conservative hatred and indifference to facts converged most elegantly on derp clearinghouse Twitchy.com, which ran the following headline:
Wait, what? "Reportedly?" What, did he whisper it to Ted Cruz in the next stall of the Senate washroom?
No, as it turns out, Senator Paul made his comments right on the TV, and rather than actually watch TV, Twitchy aggregated a bunch of apoplectic tweets, and added "Twitchy has not yet confirmed that Paul made the comments attributed to him above."
Yeah, if only there were some method by which you could verify what people say on TV.
They added the video this morning, which does, indeed, feature Rand Paul demonstrating his greatest political liability, the ability to occasionally say something that makes sense. In this case, he patiently explained to Sean Hannity that this part of the speech was a crucial appeal to the Muslim countries that we're going to need in order to destroy ISIS:
The good news is that Rand Paul is just a likely to demonstrate his second-greatest political liability, which is to immediately take back anything he says that makes sense. It's unclear, at this poin, how Paul's comments will affect Bill Maher's vote, since he hates "hawks," but also loves to bash Islam.
Unfortunately, the coverage of President Obama's speech wasn't much better on MSNBC, where the commentary generally sounded like a panel of picky children critiquing a shrimp gumbo they'd just been served. One notable exception was Al Sharpton, who, like Rand Paul, pointed out to many of the complainers that the President's speech actually was available to people in places other than the United States:
President Obama's been accused of many things. Stupid is not one of them. Tonight was to deal with the threat, and how we can, without giving information that would, in many ways, tell them which way we're coming, explicitly make it firm that we will hunt them down, but he's not going to put ground troops in.
Much of the criticism of President Obama involves the President not telling the American people things that he can't possibly tell them, either because it's not a good idea to, or because they are things that aren't knowable. At Tuesday's briefing, someone actually asked Josh Earnest, three times, if we would still be carrying out airstrikes on ISIS in January of 2017. How the eff is anyone supposed to know that? If Josh is getting a clairvoyant flash, I'm asking him for Powerball numbers.
There's nothing wrong with asking questions, but there are things in life that are not certain, and obsessing over those causes us to miss important things that are knowable. The President didn't announce any airstrikes in Syria, but we can know that they're coming, and we can know that many more US military personnel will be deployed in this effort. It might go well, and it might go poorly. We can also know that, no matter what happens, the President's critics will never like the porridge, and will never insist on playing their role in cooking it.