The terrorist attacks in Paris last week have revived a tired conservative narrative that the mainstream media refuses to call out for the dopey bit of dishonesty that it is. I'm referring, of course, to the notion that President Obama, and indeed all Democrats, can't possibly defeat ISIS if they won't even "call it by name," as Morning Joe maestro Joe Scarboroughput it Monday morning. He was referring to Saturday night's Democratic presidential debate, which might be confusing to anyone who actually watched that debate. Here are the Democratic candidates not calling the enemy by name:
I'm not imagining things, right? ISIS is their name, and O'Malley even called them evil. Elsewhere in the debate, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley referred to "radical jihadist ideology" or "jihadi radicalism" or "jihadi extreme terrorism" or "radical jihadis" over and over again, so there's no problem with them identifying the enemy as Muslims, they aren't talking about Presbyterians. They are clearly calling the enemy by name, so what the hell is Joe Scarborough talking about?
He's talking about the term "radical Islam," the use of which conservatives insist is as important to defeating ISIS as any other factor, like they're Rumpelstiltskin or something. It might be tempting to see President Obama's "refusal" to use it as equally inane, except he has used it. Don't take my word for it, just ask Fox News:
“What you have seen in terms of radical Islam is an approach that says that any efforts to modernize, any efforts to provide basic human rights, any efforts to democratize are somehow anti-Islam. And I think that is absolutely wrong.”
So this is not some sort of irrational refusal to say "radical Islam" because Beetlejuice might appear and wreak havoc, it is a well-reasoned preference that all three of the Democratic candidates articulated Saturday night when CBS' moderators decided to promote the talking point, most eloquently by Hillary Clinton:
(I)t's not particularly helpful to make the case that-- Senator Sanders was just making that I agree with that we've gotta reach out to Muslim countries. We've gotta have them be part of our coalition.
If they hear people running for-- president who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam-- that was one of the real contributions-- despite all the other problems that George W. Bush made after 9/11 when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, "We are not at war with Islam or Muslims. We are at war with violent extremism. We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression." And yes, we are at war with those people that I don't want us to be painting with too brand a brush.
It's not that Democrats are trying not to "offend Muslims," although that is part of it, it's that presidents, or people who would like to be president, necessarily need to be careful with their language, like when President Obama continually had to express a modicum of confidence that Republicans wouldn't send the country into default and crash the global economy.
In this case, the target audience isn't ISIS or those who might be attracted to ISIS, it is the Muslim nations that we are attempting to enlist in the fight against ISIS, nations and people who may oppose ISIS, but who also operate from a place of deep distrust for America. The kind of careful language that Hillary and Obama use is designed to avoid even the impression that this is a religious war, a Crusade, if you will. In reality, it loses us nothing, since there are lots of butch-y ways to describe ISIS that take their inspiration into account, and so the only reason Republicans raise it is because Democrats won't say it.
If you think that a broader group can't take a narrower designation personally, then try and think back to how conservatives flipped out when the Department of Homeland Security warned of "right-wing" domestic terror threats.
Saturday night's debate provided the perfect object lesson in the importance of using careful language, ironically when Senator Bernie Sanders tried to make the very point that we need Muslim countries to step up in this fight. Pretty much everyone missed it, probably because Democrats just automatically get credit for sensitivity, but imagine if a President Sanders had said this to the world:
(W)e have to understand that the Muslim nation in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, all of these nations, they're gonna just have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground.
They are gonna have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam. And those countries who are opposed to Islam, they are gonna have to get deeply involved in a way that is not the case today.
You see how easy it is to slip up? Since it was said by Bernie Sanders on a Saturday night during a Democratic debate, its effect on global politics will be negligible, but imagine the damage that could be done by a president who went around waving red capes at the very countries on whom we would like to rely for help in the fight against ISIS. Hillary is right, George W. Bush did take pains to say we were not at war with Islam, and still nobody believed him.
The mainstream media, though, continues to buy into this talking point, pressing Democrats about their language instead of getting Republicans to explain how "radical jihad" is in any way different from "radical Islam," and why anyone should think it makes any difference.
Cross-posted from Mediaite