Richard Cohen, Oxymoron

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes (6/7/11):

I once worked for an editor who banned the word “oxymoron.” I don’t know why. It’s a good word, meaning a contradiction in terms. The dictionary offers some examples: “wise fool” and “legal murder.” I would like to cite another: Barack Obama. He sends contradictory messages.

That sounds reasonable enough–what are some good examples? Cohen writes:

The fact remains, no matter what Obama says–and almost no matter what he does–the business community deeply feels that he is unsympathetic to them and their goals. They say all they want to do is make an (honest) buck, but to do that they need consistency, predictability and–it would be nice–a pat on the back.

Whatever you think of that, it’s not really an oxymoron. It’s an example of a class of people who have apparently arrived at a conclusion about Obama that doesn’t seem to be rooted in reality. Not even Cohen finds their case persuasive:

My reading of it is not much different than Obama’s, but then I am not a businessman, do not eat in their clubs or fly charter. I do know that many of them feel that Obama is at root a hostile liberal, a former community organizer (this is often cited as if the word “community” was synonymous with communist) who would tinker with God’s most perfect economic system by giving the government an inordinate role. You will look in vain for anything Obama has said to substantiate this view.

Again, interesting observation–but not at all an oxymoron.

Cohen sees the same thing with Israel policy:

Here again Obama’s oxymoronic quality is on display. As with the business community, Obama’s assurances to the pro-Israel community mean little. His precise words are discounted. As with the business community, rumor or anecdote trumps pronouncements or actions–something Obama once said, a pro-Palestinian friend he once had. Something like that. The whisper has more volume than the speech itself. It is an odd state of affairs.

Again, hard to see how this would qualify as an oxymoron.

Maybe Richard Cohen’s old editor banned him from using that word because he didn’t seem to know what it means.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.