President Obama Called Violence in Libya "Unacceptable." In President-Speak, That Means "Acceptable."

A blog about politics, sports, media, stuff
Feb. 25 2011 5:16 PM

President Obama Called Violence in Libya "Unacceptable." In President-Speak, That Means "Acceptable."

Speaking this week about the crackdown by the Qaddafi regime in Libya, President Barack Obama said, "The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is

Advertisement

."



Unacceptable to whom? What does "acceptance" mean, here? Did Qaddafi submit the bloodshed to the Oval Office for approval, but Obama refused to sign for it? Did someone give the Libyan protesters an opt-out box to click if they declined to be shot, or if they preferred to be shot later?



Come statement-making time, the American presidency sounds like Reinhold Niebuhr's

in reverse: the things the president can't change get deemed "unacceptable."



In 2006, the Washington Post noted that President

had been using the term to describe, among other things:


rising health costs, immigrants who live outside the law, North Korea's claimed nuclear test, genocide in Sudan and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

On the last point, Bush said specifically that "the idea of

is unacceptable"—a sort of philosophical mystery, since the Iranians seem to accept the idea of having a nuclear weapon just fine, so that the idea of that idea is itself an accepted premise of America's Iran policy.



Nevertheless, Bush stuck with the usage, going on to call Russia's military foray into Georgia in 2008 "

" Again, despite their unacceptability, the troops were still there.



Obama has picked up where his predecessor left off. Before he was even inaugurated, he declared, "It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in

." (The United States

in broadband penetration.)



Since then, Obama has had better luck in deeming "

" Virginia's failure to mention slavery in proclaiming Confederate History Month—the state

—and in saying it would be "

" for middle-class tax cuts to expire. But the defeated or quixotic usage continues, as with Libya.



The most elegant formulation probably belonged to

, speaking about gun control in 2000: "The crime rate is still too high," Clinton said. "The level of violence we put up with is still unacceptable."

What we put up with is unacceptable

. When a president is speaking, that about describes it.


TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?