It may not be the most dangerous expression to have crept into the political vocabulary in recent times, but it could, perhaps, be the most inane. I’m referring to the habit of our leaders, when faced with a mishap or shortcoming on the part of some local agency or foreign power, to refer to the event as “unacceptable.” For example, Senator Lieberman, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, referred to the recent report that on ten occasions, agents had infiltrated high-level government offices and assembled bombs there, just to see if they could do it, as “simply unacceptable.”
What does he mean by this?
If your eighth grade science teacher gives an assignment, and the report you hand in doesn’t meet the requirements, he might hand it back to you with the remark, “This is unacceptable.” What he means is that it doesn’t meet the stipulated requirements, and you’ll have to do it over or else get a failing grade for the project. But when Senator Liebermann refers to numberous breeches of security as “simply unacceptable,” does he mean that the 13,000 security guards that have been hired in recent years to maintain our security will all be fired? In fact, the expression means nothing in the context of that turn of events. It sounds like the gasping remark of the high school instructor who’s trying to sound tough, “I won’t stand for that kind of behavior!” though he has no idea how to keep it from happening.
The silver lining, if there is one, is this. We thought we were being protected from terrorist attacks by Homeland Security. But it may be that our lives have remained relatively peaceful of late for the simple reason that very few people in the world really want to blow anything up.