Isn’t Obama ironic?

Al Kamen
Columnist October 4, 2012

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 good.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

He first used the word when discussing what would happen if one were to enact the “voucher” program endorsed by the Republican challenger’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (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.

Cat and mouse at Gitmo

No one ever said the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was a particularly welcoming place. But still . . .

The latest complaint is that there’s a rat problem plaguing the compound. The alleged infestation — along with the accompanying rat feces and some nasty mold — has prompted attorneys for Khalid Sheik Mohammed to seek a delay in pretrial hearings for the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Miami Herald reports.

Seems conditions in the offices designated for the detainees’ legal teams are less than pleasant. “Defense personnel have complained about the mold, rats, and rat feces for more than a year,” the lawyers said in a filing.

Loop Fans might recall that a while back there were reports of cats at Gitmo — specifically, that a detainee had said that another detainee had been given an adorable kitten as a sort of in-house perk, a reward for cooperation.

And cats are a deterrent to rats. So perhaps the answer at Gitmo is kittens for everyone?

By the book

We were hoping to order retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new memoir, “My Share of the Task,” which was — and still is — due to be available on Amazon on Nov. 12.

But our former colleague Tom Ricks tells us that the Pentagon security clearance office has delayed publication until they give it the beady-eye treatment at least one more time — and there’s no telling when they’ll finish.

McChrystal apparently wrote about a lot of special operations actions, Ricks says, which “wasn’t a problem until ‘No Easy Day’ [former Navy SEAL Mark Bissonnette’s account of the operation that got Osama bin Laden] came out and freaked out everybody in officialdom.”

Ricks wrote on his blog for Foreign Policy magazine that McChrystal’s publisher, Portfolio, sent him a statement saying that McChrystal “has spent 22 months working closely with military officials to make sure he follows all the rules for writing about the armed forces, including special operations.

“The clearance process has been detailed and time consuming,” the statement said, and “McChrystal was extremely careful not to include information that would endanger any military personnel or their mission, and he’s confident the book does not do so.”

President Obama fired McChrystal, the highly regarded former commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, in June 2010 for making some rather inelegant observations about top administration officials in a Rolling Stone article.

The Pentagon’s hold comes awfully late in the process, what with the book to come out next month and all. Makes you wonder whether some copies might be floating around.

If any Loop Fans have a copy, remember, our top-secret clearance is good through next year.

An appeal for quiet

Order in the court!

The only thunking that’s supposed to be heard in the Supreme Court comes from gavels. That’s why, in the latest internal newsletter that circulates among employees of the high court (it’s cleverly titled “Oyez! Oyez!”), there’s this admonishment: “SHHH . . . please remember to be extra quiet in the gym when the Court is sitting. It is located directly above the Courtroom, and sound carries. Playing basketball, weight lifting and noise are prohibited while Court is in session.”

So if there’s heavy lifting going on, it will be only by the lawyers making their cases before the justices.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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