Opinion writer
Hillary Clinton in Pittsburgh. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Rather than focus on the more egregious parts of Donald Trump’s post-Orlando rhetoric, President Obama went after him for criticizing the failure to use “Islamic terrorism”:

What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is, none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. . . . There’s no magic to the phrase, ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.

Well, of course, saying words does nothing, but by the same token it’s fair to say the president does not have a strategy since he refuses to recognize the scope of the problem. Fuzzy rhetoric bespeaks of fuzzy thinking. Without clear thinking our policy is inevitably disjointed and ineffective.

Identifying the problem merely as “terrorism” or “extremism” does nothing to focus the country’s attention or policies on the subset of Muslims, the radical jihadists, who, as Hillary Clinton said on Monday, call for a range of responses. “We face a twisted ideology and poisoned psychology that inspires the so-called ‘lone wolves’ — radicalized individuals who may or may not have contact and direction from any formal organization,” she said. “So yes, efforts to defeat ISIS on the battlefield must succeed. But it will take more than that. We have to be just as adaptable and versatile as our enemies.”

On Tuesday, Clinton sounded more coherent than the president. She recounted:

Yesterday in Cleveland, I once again laid out my plan for defeating ISIS and the broader radical jihadist movement, around the world and online and for combating radicalization here at home, including a special focus on detecting and preventing so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks like we saw in Orlando and San Bernardino.  These attacks are carried out by individuals who may or may not have any direct contact with an organization like ISIS, but are inspired, primarily over the internet, by its twisted ideology.

I reemphasized the importance of working with Muslim communities here at home, who are often the most likely to recognize radicalization before it’s too late.  After the attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, I met with homeland security officials and Muslim community leaders in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, to hear their ideas for building stronger partnerships.  We need to lift up voices of moderation and tolerance.

That’s the answer to the president. Only by identifying the problem can we adapt a national security mission appropriate to the task at hand and domestic policies designed to prevent and curtail radicalization. The problem with Trump is not that he emphasizes the words “radical Islam,” but the rest of what he says. Clinton  slammed Trump for saying Obama is on the side of terrorists. She argued:

Even in a time of divided politics, this is beyond anything that should be said by someone running for president of the United States. And I have to ask – will responsible Republican leaders stand up to their presumptive nominee?  Or will they stand by his accusation about our President? . . . What Donald Trump is saying is shameful. It is disrespectful to the people who were killed and wounded, and their families. And it is yet more evidence that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be commander in chief.

She recounted his prior dabbling in racial conspiracies: “Of course, he is a leader of the birther movement, which spread the lie that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.  I guess he had to be reminded Hawaii is part of the United States. This is the man who claimed a distinguished federal judge born and raised in Indiana can’t do his job because of his – quote –‘Mexican heritage.’ I guess he has to be reminded Indiana is in the United States.” In short, she is telling voters what most already know: Trump is unstable, ignorant and racist.

More specifically, Clinton went on to explain why Trump’s Muslim ban actually hurts us.

“First, we rely on partners in Muslim countries to fight terrorists; this would make it harder. Second, we need to build trust in Muslim communities here at home to counter radicalization; and this would make it harder.  Third, Trump’s words will be, in fact they already are, a recruiting tool for ISIS to help increase its ranks of people willing to do what we saw in Orlando. And fourth, he’s turning Americans against Americans, which is exactly what ISIS wants.”

She also reminded us that “the terrorist who carried out this attack wasn’t born in Afghanistan, as Donald Trump said yesterday. He was born in Queens – just like Donald was himself. So Muslim bans and immigration reforms would not have stopped him. They would not have saved a single life in Orlando.”

So, on one hand you have someone who is willing to identify the enemy and also has a rational approach to combating it. (“We need to go after ISIS overseas, we need to protect Americans here at home, counter their poisonous ideologies, support our first responders, take a hard look at our gun laws and we need to stand with the LGBT community and peaceful Muslim Americans, today and always.”) You can say it’s too vague (she promises more details) or that gun bans are largely ineffective, but it’s rational and includes a lot of bipartisan ideas. All Trump has are words, and some crazy ones at that.

The last couple of days have been illustrative not only of Trump’s temperament and ignorance but also of Clinton’s willingness to edge away from Obama, sound more hawkish and demolish Trump’s lousy arguments. It gives one comfort that Trump won’t get near the White House — and perhaps Republicans may even wise up before the convention.