But because we humans have an odd fascination with context-free word choice that drives certain narratives, the right wing will now pretend to be outraged about the sentence, "If four Americans get killed in Lybia, it's not optimal", presumably because it highlights—again!—just how horrible and out-of-touch Obama is, goes the right-fueled narrative. What kind of Commander-in-Chief uses the words "not optimal" to describe a national tragedy? He didn't:
Transcript from Today's Daily ShowAny reasonable person with basic grasp of reading and listening comprehension can see that Obama was referring to the administration's communication not being optimal given that four Americans were killed. As in, "when American lives are lost, we need to do a better (more optimal) job of communicating to Americans what exactly happened" or "We could have done a better job of communicating clearly, given the gravity of the situation". Not exactly controversial, and not actually a gaffe. Neither Jon Stewart nor Obama was talking about the deaths not being optimal, as RWNJs are conveniently and uncritically (or, in the case of journalists that know better, manipulatively) claiming.
Jon Stewart: "Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions? Not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within. Because I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page."
Obama: "Here's what I’ll say. If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal. We’re going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up."
But we now get to spend a day or two defending a new gaffe-that-wasn't, because the media loves the drama, the journalists love the traffic, the (prosecuting) campaign loves the distraction, and the readers (us) love the context-free word choice that pushes a narrative and lets us poke fun at the (prosecuted) other side.
At the cost of sounding the false equivalency bell—and there should be no mistake about it, Republicans and conservative right wingers, when it comes to taken things out of context, are savant exploiters and cut-and-pasters to a degree that we on the left do not measurably approximate—when Mitt Romney said, "...and they brought us whole binders full of women", we recognized it for what it was: a tone-deaf and narrative-affirming political gem that could be used against him for what it symbolized about his innate corporate sexism (the ridiculous claim that it is just so hard to find qualified women in the work force to fill jobs) and about Romney's propensity for lying (the binders story turned out to be demonstrably false). But we also know that he actually meant, "...binders full of women's resumes". If he had used those words instead, the episode would probably not have gone viral, and we would have discussed the sexist underpinnings of his statement the way we've been discussing his logically offensive insinuation that single moms are to blame for gun violence: in a way mostly free of humor and sans the pop culture flash. Yet Romney made the word choice gaffe, and we ran with it, because it was more fun, and the internet needed a new, non-bird toy for the week. Context-free word choice meets apolitical internet schadenfreude meets liberal talking points.
The difference, though, is that while Romney's "binders" phrase was an offensive idea wrapped in poor wording, Obama's "optimal" phrase was a sane idea wrapped in conversationally legitimate wording:
RomneySo it It wasn't a gaffe. Jon Stewart asked him a question. Obama responded in kind. But in our political bloodsport of Twitter-friendly sound bytes and boldly-defined political division, we now have to defend our man against the temporary onslaught of pretensive rightwing posturing.
Offensive idea: I couldn't find qualified women, so I needed a damn panel to go out and find some.
Poor wording: They gave me binders full of women <-- this is a gaffe
Sane idea: We need to do a better job of communicating sequences of events.
Legitimate conversational wording: "Q: Was your communication optimal? A: No, it was not optimal."