A pair of bloggers has stumbled upon yet another stunning example of the pass many in the old guard media have been giving to Pres. Barack Obama and his administration, this time on an apparent case of serial word murder.
Warner Todd Huston of Publius’ Forum and John Sexton of Verum Serum have been reporting on a growing ‘intercontinental’ crisis infecting the Obama administration.
Since 2009, Obama and high-level officials within his campaign and White House administrations have cited Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s achievement of pushing through America’s intercontinental railroad as good government policy. In fact, it was not an intercontinental railroad—one that would connect two continents, such as North America and Asia—that Lincoln promoted, but a transcontinental one that traversed our single continent as the Transcontinental Railroad did.
Channeling the ghost of William Safire for a moment, the words intercontinental and transcontinental while having the same root, do not have the same meaning. Trans- is a Latin prefix used to create an adjective to describe an object that spans or crosses the modified noun, in our case a continent. On the other hand, inter- is used to form an adjective describing a thing that joins two or more of its modified noun.
For example, if mankind’s future includes space travel across great distances we may commonly use terms such as transgalactic and intergalactic to describe our journeys. A transgalactic trip would be one that begins and ends within a single galaxy, in our case the cluster of stars within the greater universe known as the Milky Way. An intergalactic voyage, however, would take us from the Milky Way to a neighboring galaxy, maybe the nearby Andromeda galaxy. (Based on the President’s apparent misunderstanding about the distinction, perhaps we can be grateful he has chosen to opt out of the space navigation business.)
The gaffe was not a one-time slip of the tongue, however. Sexton and Huston have been aided by other bloggers in uncovering at least four separate occasions where the term intercontinental has been misused in the same context.
Obama used the term ‘intercontinental railroad’ in a University of Michigan commencement speech in 2009 and a Florida town hall the same year (jump to 5:10 in video after link). Chief Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod went ‘intercontinental’ at the Aspen Ideas Festival as recently as this past weekend:
Huston spliced the complete and pathetic pattern of confusion into a two-minute YouTube video, also providing viewers examples of public figures not involved with the Obama administration using the correct term for America’s 19th-century railroad project.
This habit of error that exposes not only the mistake of use, but the ineffectiveness of White House communications staffers to identify the error and take steps to hold an impromptu English refresher course.
But is this much ado over nothing? Sexton implied a less innocuous explanation when writing Thursday about the gotcha at Verum Serum:
You have to wonder if both the President and Axelrod got the same talking points memo from someone at the Center for American Progress or another friendly progressive think tank. And assuming they did get the handy political illustration from a common source, you have to wonder why neither of them caught the error (replacing transcontinental with intercontinental).
Let me borrow the bones of argument made by the left-wing against Pres. George W. Bush to ask: Should we be placing national transportation policy in the trust of the Obama administration if they do not know how to properly use the basic terms? When Obama proposes spending billions of taxpayer dollars on bright, shiny trains is it safe to just assume that he knows they will not carry passengers to Rio de Janeiro?
Are those in the media who haven’t pig-piled with glee on every mispronunciation of the word nuclear by Obama’s predecessor embarrassed for the President? Or does their silence stem from not wanting to acknowledge their own failure to spot this glaring error in word usage by nearly an entire presidential administration?
Sexton supposes the familiar double-standard is at work:
What’s certain is that this is just the kind of gaffe that the left would have had a field day with if Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin, or really anyone on the right, had made it. We have several recent examples of just this kind of gaffe becoming big news.
Politifact fact-checked Palin’s account of Paul Revere’s ride. So are they going to set the record straight on the transcontinental railroad? George Stephanopoulos went after Michele Bachmann’s account of the founding fathers and slavery. Is he going to question someone at the White House about this gaffe now that it has popped up twice? Will Chris Matthews suggest on air that the President is really a “balloon head?”
At the very least, presidential historian and NBC News expert Michael Beschloss should be asked to revise his 2008 assessment that then-Sen. Barack Obama’s IQ was “off the charts.”
The fact that thousands of professional writers and news reporters were on alert during the previous administration to highlight even a singular gaffe while now taking a laissez-faire attitude regarding a pattern of incorrect word usage by a Democratic president should be cause for introspection in newsrooms.