Supporters of President Obama are desperately casting around for something — anything — to feel good about in their guy’s lackluster performance in Wednesday night’s debate against Mitt Romney. “At least he didn’t actually fall asleep!” they’re telling themselves. And he didn’t trip, not even once!
Here’s another consolation prize to which they can feebly cling: His use of the word “irony” — that oft-misused language bugaboo — was pretty on target.
He first used the word when discussing what would happen if one were to enact the “voucher” program endorsed by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “Ironically, if you repeal Obamacare . . . those seniors right away are going to be paying $600 more in prescription care,” Obama said.
Our resident usage expert, Washington Post copy editor extraordinaire Bill Walsh, says that’s a decent use of the word. The president is arguing that a program intended to save seniors money (vouchers) would actually cost them (ding, ding!). “It’s not the delicious, perfect irony of a firehouse burning down or a guy dying in a car crash on the way to accept a safe-driving award,” Walsh tells us. “But it’s close enough for government work.”
Obama dropped a second I-bomb relatively successfully, too, when he underscored that Romney provided a template for the national health-care law that the former Massachusetts governor now criticizes. “The irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well in Massachusetts,” Obama pronounced.
The usage is a little weak here, Walsh says, but “simplify it a little and there is an irony of sorts in a guy fighting against his own good idea,” he says. Language columnist and consultant Merrill Perlman agrees, noting that the second use was “a little closer to a coincidence than true irony.” Still, the former New York Times editor says, “it’s in range.”
And so perhaps we should award Obama the Alanis Morissette Award for Correct Use of the Word “Irony.”
Hey, it’s something.