The President, who refuses to identify the terrorists, now seems to have refused to identify their victims.
President Obama made news this week, but not in a way he would have wanted. In an interview with Vox, the President described the threat of global terrorism saying, “you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
The media questioned Obama’s use of the word “randomly” to describe an attack which was specifically intended to target a kosher deli (i.e. an attack on Jews). Vox’s Max Fisher described Obama’s word choice as “an obviously accidental micro-gaffe.”
However, when White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked to clarify, he tried to finesse it: “The adverb that the President chose was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible tragic incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they randomly happened to be.” Earnest didn’t deny the attack was targeting Jews, he just tried to emphasize a possible way to interpret the President’s remarks as something other than a blunder.
When State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked the same question, she tried to dodge the question saying, “I don’t think we’re going to speak on behalf of French authorities and what they believe was the situation.” Later in the day, as the administration response became an obvious mess, Psaki tweeted, “We have always been clear that the attack on the kosher grocery store was an anti-semitic attack that took the lives of innocent people.”
Here is the problem with the idea that the President didn’t mean to say what he said. If you look at his entire statement, he was clearly trying to avoid using the I-word. Of course, everyone knows he was referring to ISIS and the Paris attackers (i.e. Islamic terrorists). But to avoid saying that directly, Obama instead chose the word “zealot.” That’s ironic because the word “zealot” originally referred to a Jewish sect, and here he is using it to refer to Islamic terrorists targeting Jews.
Is it possible Obama misspoke? Maybe, but it seems less likely than the alternative. His statement was intended to obscure. In trying to obscure the identity of those who perpetrated the killings, Obama went too far and wound up obscuring the identify of their targets as well. The word choice may have been an accident, but the impulse to avoid labels he feels uncomfortable using was not.