In an overheated political environment such as exists today, too much can be made of a single word or phrase.
There's too much at stake in terms of the economy, national security, immigration and health care to be distracted by slips of the tongue and debatable choices in vocabulary.
Does the fact that Joe Biden missed an obvious double entendre when he remarked that President Barack Obama, "Has a big stick," constitute grounds for removal from office?
Is the Obama-Biden campaign slogan "Forward" really code for socialism or is it just a word that sounds meaningful and fits nicely on a bumper sticker?
Does Mitt Romney really like firing people? When he said he does, wasn't he really saying he likes having a choice in who he does business with?
But having said that, one phrase, one word actually, jumps out at me from the president's speech delivered to U.S. voters Tuesday evening.
Speaking from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the president said, "And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set — to defeat al-Qaida, and deny it a chance to rebuild — is within reach."
Do you see it too? It is the shortest word possible yet it says a lot. It is the word "I."
President Obama set the goal of defeating al-Qaida? He decided to deny it a chance to rebuild?
I remember distinctly where I was on Oct. 7, 2001, in Cleveland Browns Stadium when news broke that U.S. forces had begun hitting targets in Afghanistan. Word spread that President George W. Bush would be making a speech later in the afternoon. The crowd chanted, "Show the speech," with sufficient fervor to cause officials to delay the game and do just that on the stadium's giant replay screen.
What we heard was this:
"Good afternoon. On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime."
And this, "By destroying camps and disrupting communications, we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans."
Obama's claim that he set the goal of defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan appears in both the prepared text of his remarks and in his actual delivery. It was no slip of the tongue.
The president deserves credit for his prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Credit for things he's done, like aggressively targeting top al-Qaida leaders with special forces and drone attacks. And credit for things he hasn't done that he either said or implied he would do when campaigning for office. Not closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and not implementing precipitous troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example.
Critics say Tuesday's speech was a campaign message more than a national security one.
By singling himself out for credit for setting the goal, he bolsters their argument.