Grumpy Old Man: By any name you please

Call it what you want, but ‘Speechgate’ was born of foolishness and arrogance. Even reversing it will leave major damage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks Speaker Boehner following his address to a joint meeting of Congress in the Rayburn Room of the US Capitol, May 24, 2011 (photo credit: SPEAKER.GOV)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks Speaker Boehner following his address to a joint meeting of Congress in the Rayburn Room of the US Capitol, May 24, 2011
(photo credit: SPEAKER.GOV)
I recently read a news item about the golfer Tiger Woods and how an overly aggressive cameraman accidentally knocked out one of his front teeth. But it was something else in the item that really caught my eye: that Woods nonetheless would be able to tee off that week at a golf tournament called the Waste Management Open.
Yes, that’s what it’s called. I looked it up. It’s in Phoenix, Arizona, part of the PGA tour.
The official tournament logo says “WM Phoenix Open” in giant letters, and “Waste Management” in itsy-bitsy script somewhere in the middle. In fact, that part is taken directly from the corporate logo of its sponsor, a Houston- based company that goes by the same name and describes itself as the “largest environmental solutions provider in North America.” Which means that even a firm calling itself “Waste Management” prefers to tiptoe around the fact that it’s in the business of the collection, hauling and disposing of garbage.
For public relations purposes, it’s the smart thing to do. After all, so many of us find waste matter, especially the damp, organic variety, to be, well, yucky. It’s so much nicer to speak in euphemisms.
Take Tony Soprano, who actually had no problem with the words in question.
Invoking Barone Sanitation, the business he used as a cover for his more nefarious pursuits, he often called himself a waste management consultant – which certainly was preferable to introducing himself to the new parish priest as a professional thug.
IN POLITE company, we tend to use a lot of euphemisms. These relatively innocuous words help us get ideas and feelings across without upsetting anyone.
I wrote a paper on them in college, focusing in particular on those used in place of profanity, words like “darn,” “cripes” and my all-time favorite, “sugar.”
Doris Day-isms, I called them.
But euphemisms are also useful when we prefer not to face up to reality, whether it’s the way the Obama administration likes to keep “Islam” out of what it calls merely “global terror,” even in reference to the recent atrocities in Paris, or the way some people can’t hold with the label “occupied territories.” They’re disputed, dummy! Liberated, even! This was highlighted by a recent editorial in The Jerusalem Post (“Words matter,” January 11), which tackled a lot of the phraseology employed close to home. It put on its list of “useless terms” such winners as “settlers,” “West Bank,” “Green Line” and “east Jerusalem,” favoring instead, as far as I can tell, “national heroes,” “Judea and Samaria,” the “1949 armistice line” and simply “Jerusalem.”
Which is all fine by me, for none of this can really be debated. It’s not because either side is right or wrong; it’s simply because anyone who insists on one at the expense of the other has an agenda and won’t be swayed. Which is also fine by me.
So to keep on the right side of right-wingers, I’ll put it this way: Many of our national heroes live in Judea and Samaria, beyond the pre-1967 armistice line, which once also cut through our eternal, united capital, Jerusalem.
To those on the Left I’ll say: Many of our Jewish extremists live in the West Bank, the territory under Israeli occupation beyond the Green Line, which cuts through Jerusalem, dividing it into what remain two separate entities.
There. Now everyone’s happy (as long as I get my audiences straight).
WHILE I’M on a roll, let’s find an acceptable word or phrase to describe “Speechgate,” the invitation (wink) extended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of the US Congress, and also – perhaps especially – the way he (wink, wink) went about accepting it.
Was it brilliant, foolish or simply ill-advised? Brave, arrogant or just brash? The right move, dead wrong or merely a wayward error? At minimum, what we have here is two sides meddling in the internal affairs of the other: the US in our elections, and Israel in an altercation between the executive and legislative branches in Washington, a spat whose outcome admittedly can have a crucial bearing on us.
If one is going to get involved in another country’s democratic process or policy-making, there are far more subtle ways. Instead, US House Speaker John Boehner and Netanyahu chose a route that was hardly less noisy, imposing and insolent than that pro-Palestinian demonstrators chose last week when they burst in on the New York City Council during a solemn vote on commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz.
But worse – far worse – is losing what little support we still have around the world, never mind in the US. If even the Fox News Channel avers that Boehner is a bonehead for his invitation, you can be sure what much of conservative America thinks about Bibi and his RSVP.
It’s true that the White House is watched over by Congress. But the Executive Branch is where the action is. It’s where the daily decisions are made. It’s where things are stepped up in terms of US boots on the ground in some far-off, troubled land or in the scope of support for Israel in various world bodies. And it’s where things are wound down – including in the realm of day-to-day backing for us.
What’s more, President Barack Obama still has almost two full years before he leaves office. Look backward two years and notice how many things can happen or change in that space of time.
Now look at Congress, which wants to sanction Iran up the wazoo. Now look at Obama as he signs his veto. Now back at Congress, which probably won’t find it possible to override it. Sound like an Old Spice commercial? It might, but it’s not.
By that point, Boehner will be able to moan all he wants when Obama instructs US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to withhold Washington’s well-exercised UN Security Council veto, or when he decides to hang back if members of the IDF are hauled before the International Criminal Court. But the speaker of the House won’t be able to do a damn thing except express his undying support for Israel and perhaps issue another invitation for our prime minister to bask in the adulation of 535 members of Congress – who won’t be able to do a damn thing, either.
A PRIME MINISTER should know that his actions have an impact on far more than a pollster’s data.
In this case, Netanyahu is playing around with our last true ally. He’s driving a wedge there between supporters of Israel, who until now had been able to view this issue as a rare focal point for unity. In doing this, he is mortgaging our future, apparently just so he can remain at the helm.
Worse, reversing course won’t patch the holes below the waterline. The damage is done.
My fear is that he and his advisers, starting with his ambassador to Washington, really don’t care about any of this, thinking the bridges to our last real outpost of support can be burned as long as this produces an additional round in the Prime Minister’s Office.
With all due respect to Junior Wells, Bibi’s messin’ with the wrong kid.
So it’s no contest. Whatever my audience, there is no need for euphemisms: Speechgate has been foolish, arrogant and dead wrong from the start. (Okay, one Doris Day-ism: It stinks like sugar.) As with much of Netanyahu’s tenure, what a waste. What mismanagement.