Did it strike anyone else when Obama used the ‘E’ word?

A discussion earlier today about what Democrats and Republicans like to call things (say, “criminal” vs. “enemy combatant,” for instance) reminded me of something I noticed last week but failed to mention.

Everybody went on and on about Obama initially not using the word “terror,” and later using it.

Me, I was more impressed by another word he used:

So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil, that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.

“Evil,” of course, being a word out of the George W. Bush lexicon. Allegedly, liberals don’t hold with that word, suggestive as it is of moral absolutes. But the president used the word — perfectly appropriately, of course. But I noted it with interest…

58 thoughts on “Did it strike anyone else when Obama used the ‘E’ word?

  1. bud

    “Evil,” of course, being a word out of the George W. Bush lexicon. Allegedly, liberals don’t hold with that word,…

    Dick Cheney was certainly evil. Most liberals would agree on that.

    Seriously though, I’m not sure where that comes from Brad. Do you have link to support that claim?

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “Dick Cheney was certainly evil. Most liberals would agree on that.” -bud

      My memory is a little hazy one what makes Dick Cheney evil. What exactly makes him an evil person in your opinion?

      1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

        Showing no remorse for the thousands of lives loss in the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of this country is the definition of someone suffering from psychosis, which is close enough to evil in my book.

  2. John

    Interesting comment. Bill Clinton used the word “evil” multiple times in his address to the nation in reference to the Oklahoma City bombing, I was not surprised to hear Obama use it.
    On the other hand, Bush referring to multiple nations as the “axis of evil” managed to evoke global WWII scale conspiracies and Austin Powers at same time…I thought it was a rhetorical fail.
    I was OK with Reagan referring to the Soviets as an “evil empire.” I’m not sure empire was the right word for them but it’s hard to say Stalin was anything but evil, so governments descended from him would share the taint.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    I just ran across this quote from the late Christopher Hitchens:

    “George Bush made a mistake when he referred to the Saddam Hussein regime as ‘evil.’ Every liberal and leftist knows how to titter at such black-and-white moral absolutism. What the president should have done, in the unlikely event that he wanted the support of America’s peace-mongers, was to describe a confrontation with Saddam as the ‘lesser evil.’ This is a term the Left can appreciate. Indeed, ‘lesser evil’ is part of the essential tactical rhetoric of today’s Left, and has been deployed to excuse or overlook the sins of liberal Democrats, from President Clinton’s bombing of Sudan to Madeleine Albright’s veto of an international rescue for Rwanda when she was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Among those longing for nuance, moral relativism—the willingness to use the term evil, when combined with a willingness to make accommodations with it—is the smart thing: so much more sophisticated than ‘cowboy’ language.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I love the apparent irony in that.

      We associate moral absolutism with religious fundamentalists, with evangelicals in the Christian context. Meanwhile, we tend to associate moral relativism with a more humanistic view.

      But the world isn’t that simple. Here we have famous atheist Hitchens upbraiding, even sneering at, the moral relativists. Because, as I suppose he would have told us, you don’t have to believe in God to see things as black and white…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I find that problematic, of course. Because any absolutism coming from the flawed, inconsistent mind of Man, rather than from God, is untrustworthy.

        For instance, among the things Hitchens would say were definitely evil is religion itself. Which I see as erroneous.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          God, for me, is that absolute standard.

          It’s a standard that isn’t ever completely knowable to us, which is why we are justifiably suspicious when mere men speak of absolutes. All we can do is try to understand the absolutes of right and wrong as well as we can, and try to attune our lives to the right.

          We’re going to fail at that a lot. We’re going to miss the mark. But I believe — remembering my own fallibility — that when we speak of people who deliberately set off bombs with the intent of killing innocents, we are indeed speaking of evil. And both Silence and Barack Obama agree with me, which adds credence to my position…

      2. die deutsche Flußgabelung

        It isn’t that ironic given that Hitchens was on one of the principal founders of New Atheism, which has very absolutist views, you could almost describe it as fundamentalist atheism.

        Also I don’t know how any atheist can not be a pacifist. Since atheist don’t believe in an afterlife and this life is all you have, why would an atheist support sending young men and women to die in a war with no real purpose. At least a Christian or Muslim warmonger can always justify their actions by saying to the families of those killed in action, “At least they’re now in a better place.”

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t think it’s ironic. I like the fact that it is “apparently ironic,” meaning that it defies simple categories that we tend to construct…

          1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

            Maybe it is only “apparently ironic” to you. Since I generally don’t paint with a broad bush like you. But I guess when communitarians look at people, they see categories, while those within the liberal spectrum see individuals.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            You misunderstand me.

            By “apparently ironic,” I mean it would seem ironic to a lot of people. But not to me. My entire point in raising it was to explain why it was NOT ironic.

            I would think that everything in my blog over the years would demonstrate that I don’t lump people into categories — unlike, say, the way Democrats and Republicans do when they categorically reject those of the “other” party.

            I thought I was being clear here:

            But the world isn’t that simple. Here we have famous atheist Hitchens upbraiding, even sneering at, the moral relativists. Because, as I suppose he would have told us, you don’t have to believe in God to see things as black and white…

            I guess I wasn’t. I can only blame myself…

  4. Steven Davis II

    Piece of advice, stop posting videos that automatically start when the page opens. If I want to watch the video and listen to the audio I’ll click the Play button.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Sorry. I’m having trouble spotting what bit of code I need to change. Can anyone else spot it?

      Dang. I can’t even copy the code into here so you can read it.

      If anyone has the time, how about copying the code from the original site, and see if you can help me out here…

      1. susanincola

        Just a quick search gives me the following — haven’t tested it or anything, though.

        I think for the way you are doing it, you would change the embedded code as follows:
        in the tag, at the end of it (after dynamicStreaming=true, but before the end double quote), you would put “&autoStart=true” (don’t include the double quotes).

        Or it might be that you need to add the following as another param tag, before the tag.

        Or do both, won’t hurt. Hope that helps.

        1. susanincola

          Oops, looks like it took my HTML example as HTML tags in the comment — forgot about that!
          The other param tag that it stripped out was this:

          <param name=”autoStart” value=”false” />

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            No, it didn’t work. But then, I may not have done it right. There were several places that had “dynamicStreaming=true,” so I put the first new bit of code after all of them. Maybe that was wrong.

            There just seems to be a lot of redundancy in that code. Don’t know why…

          2. susanincola

            Went back and tested it and ran it through a debugger — and I think the answer is you can’t fix it, though someone with more knowledge in this area could prove me wrong.

            It looks from the debugger like the autoStart is being overriden by the viewer itself. (The provider usatoday uses, brightcove, allows one to create custom viewers that shut down or enhance numerous features of a standard flash viewer).

            Oh, well, never hurts to try. Guess SDII will just have to live with it.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      When I was still at The State, there was a video service I used to post videos on my blog for a time (eventually, I went back to YouTube), and it had a default autoplay setting. But it was easy to turn off. The code was something like “autoplay=yes” or something like that.

      Nothing so obvious here…

  5. bud

    when we speak of people who deliberately set off bombs with the intent of killing innocents, we are indeed speaking of evil.

    Like at Hiroshima and Dresden?

    1. Silence

      bud – I know you aren’t seriously conflating the lawful bombing of enemy industrial centers during a war by state actors with the terrorist bombings of crowds of innocent sporting event spectators. If that’s not an attempt at humor, it’s bad, even for you.

      1. David

        I don’t know, Silence; you’re the one who said that not blowing up eight year-olds is a moral absolute. Pershaps you don’t really believe it.

      2. bud

        So intentionally killing children is some instances is pure evil, but not in others. Absolutes are very hard to defend.

  6. bud

    Maybe you can have different levels of Evil. I suppose that puts me in the “evil is not an absolute” camp. At the top there’s Hitler and perhaps Stalin. Napoleon was probably not evil but his affinity for war made his actions evil. Then there was someone like Timothy McVie who seemed to enjoy killing for the sake of killing but didn’t have the means for widespread devestation like Hitler. The next teir would include people like Dick Cheney who probably did believe on some level that flawed military actions would ultimately make the world a better place but he had no reservations about lying to make those actions a reality. Perhaps we could come up with a numbering system: Evil A (Hitler, Stalin), Evil B (Napoleon, McVie), Evil C (Dick Cheney); Evil D (Koch Brothers) and so forth. The marathon bombers would probably be about a B.

    1. Silence

      If we are going to have an evil spectrum, people who kill innocents and children fall in the “most evil” category.

      10 – Hitler, Timmy McVeigh, Eric Rudolf, Tsarnaev Brothers, Lucifer
      9 – Stalin, childhood cancers, pederasts, Count Dracula
      8 – Obama, Kermit Gosnell, HIV, rabies, adult cancers, Sarah Jessica Parker
      7 – E.W. Cromartie, Bob Coble, Randy Scott, Steve Benjamin, Hannibal Lecter
      6 – Kevin “Elmo” Clash, John Wayne Gacy, mosquitos, wood ticks
      5 – TV executives, pit bulls
      4 – Wall Street speculators, rioters and looters
      3 – rank and file liberals, people who steal from the collection plate at church
      2 – people who cheat on taxes, shoplift, don’t leave a note when they hit your car in the parking lot
      1 – cockroaches, mice, Canada geese

  7. bud

    Were these people evil?

    20 So the people shouted, and [the priests] blew with the horns. And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the horn, that the people shouted with a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
    21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, both young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

    1. Silence

      obviously Rahab the Prostitute wasn’t evil, for she hid the spies sent by the Israeltes.

  8. Mark Stewart


    You are both being offensive here. Two brothers thought it a good idea to shatter the lives of innocent individuals and families enjoying the end of a marathon. Their Is no reason. There was no point.

    Evil doesn’t seem like its enough to me here. These guys aren’t mentally derranged as the last couple of years of gun-firing killers has been. These guys appear to lack any sliver of humanity. They were about nothing but terror. It’s unfathomable at this point. Hell on earth.

  9. bud

    These guys appear to lack any sliver of humanity. They were about nothing but terror.

    Sorry to come off as offensive. This whole discussion of “evil” really is difficult to pin down. Most Americans would not see the Hiroshima bombing as “evil”. Yet the intention was pretty clear, we wanted to kill lots of people. Not sure at this point we know enough yet about the Boston Marathon dudes to say “they were about nothing but terror”. Maybe they had some sick, religious motivation that’s just not clear at this time. That wouldn’t be a mitigating factor but it would suggest something beyond a mere “thrill” motive like Jeffrey Dahmer. The president spoke what we all thought but is it correct?

  10. Mark Stewart


    If you want to rail against the US in WWIi, then bring up the “Internment” of Japanese Americans. Don’t include Hiroshima. Or Dresden for that matter. It’s insulting.

  11. Silence

    I think that at this point the religious motive, at least of the older Tsarnaev, is pretty well-established. He was making Islamic Jihad against the decadent United States.

    1. Mark Stewart

      That’s just a manifestation of his all around looserish slide. His problems lead to his religious embrace. Let’s not give him credit here. There was no jihad, their was only selfish, bitter, feeble complaints of alienation.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Except, of course, that there’s no such thing as an “Obamaphone.” Some salient points from an explainer in The Washington Post recently:

      “Obama phone” is the widely used — and misleading — nickname of a 28-year-old federal program known as Lifeline. It provides discounts, averaging $9.25 a month, on phone service for 13.3 million low-income subscribers…

      Lifeline was begun not by President Obama but under Ronald Reagan. It expanded to include cellphone service during the presidency of another Republican, George W. Bush.

      In Obama’s first term, amid evidence of widespread fraud, the Federal Communications Commission moved to crack down on the program, saving what it predicts will be $400 million this year, on top of $214 million in 2012.

      Never mind all that. “Obama phone” has stuck…

      Lifeline, however, is not funded by taxes; it subsists on fees that are tacked on to most phone bills. That fund subsidizes a number of programs, which in addition to Lifeline include telecommunications service to rural and remote areas and to schools and libraries…

      1. Silence

        I don’t care whether you call it a tax or a fee. I still end up paying for somebody’s free telephone. It doesn’t matter what you call it..
        I also don’t believe that there is any need to continue to charge a fee to wire up remote areas of the country.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Hey, you also paid to bring DSL to the edges of Lake Murray. Rural is a state of mind…so they say.

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Don’t care who it started under. That’s mostly irrelevant. It’s a classic example of a government program that grows and grows and grows. “The program has nearly tripled in size from $800 million in 2009 to $2.2 billion per year in 2012,”


        I don’t care who started it, and I don’t care why. This program tripling it’s budget from 2009 to 2012 is a classic example why the federal government isn’t good at controlling costs.

  12. bud

    As for the Dresden bombings I think it is worth bringing up in terms of this “evil” discussion. The war was essentially won by mid February 1945 and there were many, even at the time, who questioned what was the intended goal of the bombings. We do ourselves a great disservice as a nation if we merely accept ALL military actions by the American military as honorable. We should never stop reviewing history. Here’s what Winston Churchill had to say about the Dresden bombings in March 1945.

    Churchill subsequently distanced himself from the bombing.[94][100][101] On 28 March, in a memo sent by telegram to General Ismay for the British Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff, he wrote:

    “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy.

    The Foreign Secretary has spoken to me on this subject, and I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.[102][103]”

    1. Bryan Caskey

      The total war of WWII is not analogous to specific targeted bombing of civilians by terrorists seeking to further a personal agenda. Not even close.

    2. Silence

      The relevant question as to whether the Dresden bombings were honorable or not comes down to this: Did bombing Dresden save the lives of American servicemen? If it scared the German citizenry, caused them to realize that their Reich was doomed, and ended the war faster with less loss of American life, it was honorable, or at least worthwhile.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Or just the sad reality that war – real war – extracts a terrible toll. Terrorism is not war. It’s just about aggreved individuals making stupid, pointless displays of I humanity – because they think they can.

        Tell, you what; I was more concerned that they were going to find North Korean involvement in the Boston crime.

  13. bud

    If the heartfelt goal by those who decided to go ahead with the Dresden bombings was to bring the war to a conclusion quicker then it could be defended on ethical considerations. If, on the other hand, the goal was to exact revenge on the German people then it was unethical. I’m not sure we know for certain which goal is correct or if perhaps there was some combination of the two.

    1. Silence

      bud – I don’t think that military commanders generally deal in “revenge” – at least not at the top levels of a Churchill, FDR or an Eisenhower.

  14. Brad Warthen Post author

    A few points re Dresden and Hiroshima:

    — We have a case of the morality of an action changing, to some extent, along with technology. Back when the Norden bombsight was the latest thing going, and you were doing well to hit within 400 feet of your target at 15,000 feet, massive civilian casualties were inevitable, particularly in bombing critical defense facilities in urban areas. Today, we have a greater ability to avoid killing large numbers of civilians, so we have a greater obligation to avoid such “collateral damage.”
    — That said, we DELIBERATELY bombed civilians. No doubt about that. There are many different ways to explain it. First, is the total war concept. NATIONS were at war with each other. The people of this nation were at war with the people of Japan and Germany. Everyone in those countries was presumed to be an enemy. This stands in stark contrast to the conflicts we have today, when we are NOT at war with the people of another nation, but against a regime (in Iraq) or a violent faction within the country (the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Qaeda in Iraq).
    – Part of the theory in bombing civilian populations was to demoralize the people in those countries, and reduce their support for the war effort, making them more inclined to want to surrender. An interesting finding I read about in Dave Grossman’s fascinating book On Killing is that this was based on a fallacy. In keeping with the theme of his book — that the most stressful thing for a soldier is that he is expected to kill, not that he might be killed — he presented evidence that civilian populations held up very well under bombing. PTSD was much more prevalent among combat soldiers, who were expected to kill the enemy, and helpless civilians who weren’t expected to do anything about the attacks on them, other than take cover.

  15. bud

    Silence, that statement is overly broad. Military people exact revenge all the time. What makes them any different from anyone else? This whole notion that because someone wears a uniform he’s exempt from human emotion is simply ridiculous.

  16. Brad Warthen Post author

    They most certainly are NOT exempt from human emotions. But they are subject to military discipline, and liable to be punished for breaking with it.

    For instance, a soldier faces a high likelihood of being court-martialed for shooting a prisoner, which would likely be an act of revenge.

    At the same time, vengeance often plays a psychological role in encouraging a soldier to do his duty, often overcoming the natural human reluctance (again, extensively documented by Grossman) to kill. In the opening monologue of “Patton,” George C. Scott graphically alludes to that factor when he says, “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do. ”

    Retribution for lost comrades can both inspire soldiers to acts for which they might receive the Medal of Honor, and cause them to commit acts for which they will be prosecuted.

    That said, on the level of generals — in modern armies in the service of liberal democracies, it would be very much out of character for a field commander to order a certain action for vengeance. Whether to act on such motives would be the province of civilian political leadership.

    Once upon a time, commanders had a freer hand. It’s remarkable the policy decisions that local commanders would make during the Civil War. Lincoln had a hard time controlling them, and often failed to do so. As I recall, the approach that Sherman took in rolling through South Carolina was motivated by his own belief that the state that started it all should suffer particularly. (Someone who is more of a Civil War scholar than I should correct me if I get that wrong.)

    Nowadays, with political leaders able to sit in situation rooms and make tactical decisions in real time, that sort of thing is less likely.

  17. bud

    Brad, you and Silence skirt the issues related to Dresden. I don’t know what was on the mind of the commanders who ordered the Dresden bombings. But it seems reasonable that given the horrors of war experienced by even the highest ranking generals some revenge motivation was both understandable and was not absent from their thought process. I just don’t fully buy into this miltiary discipline thing. There are just too many known exceptions. We know now, granted in hindsight, that those bombings had virtually zero effect on ending the war sooner. By mid-Februray 1945 Germany was spent and places like Dresden served mainly as refugee camps. Whether the high brass was fully cognizant of that reality at the time is somewhat open to debate in the historic appraisal after the fact. Winston Churchill for one saw the bombings in a less than receptive light. Why is impossible to at least acknowledge some revenge motive as a possibility?

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