Guest Voice: Dick Cheney’s “So?” Or The Power of “Little Words”
Vice President Dick Cheney raised many eyebrows — and sparked lots of news stories — when he uttered the word “So?” when asked about opinion polls on the Iraq war. In this Guest Voice post, Watching America translator Dorian de Wind looks at power of little words.
The Power of “Little Words”
By Dorian de Wind
Dick Cheney responded with one word in a recent interview when he was asked what he thought about polls that indicate two-thirds of Americans believe the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, that the cost in lives was not worth the gains.
One single word!
“So?” the vice president said.
So. Even a “little word” is powerful, carries significance and — on many occasions — can and has become a defining moment for the person using that or those “little words.”
When pressed by the reporter whether he cares about the opinion of the American people, instead of bristling at the suggestion, Dick Cheney tried to emend his response by saying “I think you can not be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.” You know, those pesky polls that merely reflect the will of the people.
Much has been written about the power of words, especially in light of Sen. Barack Obama’s extraordinary oratory skills.
Only a few people can recall entire speeches, most of us remember only little “snippets” and “little words.”
Abraham Lincoln: “Four score and seven years ago…”
Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream…”
John F. Kennedy: “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country…”
Words can have consequences. Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
His speech was 2,703 words. We remember six that ushered freedom for millions in Eastern Europe, and eventually in the Soviet Union.
In his 2003 State of the Union address President Bush uttered 16 infamous little words — “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — and a nation was bound for an unnecessary and disastrous war.
Just last year, nine little words in the National Intelligence Estimate—“in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons Program”—helped expose the Bush administration’s misrepresentations and fear mongering about Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities. We are still grappling with their true significance.
As a veteran who honorably served my country for twenty years during the Vietnam War, words such as the following have a special impact on me: “I had other priorities in the sixties than military service.” These were Mr. Cheney’s words when asked in 1989 by the Washington Post why he did not serve in Vietnam. Only Words?
Single little words can also be very powerful because of what they mean or represent; because of what they say about the person uttering them; or because of the impact they have. General Tony McAuliffe‘s reply in 1944 to the German ultimatum to surrender – “Nuts” — reflected and continues to reflect on the valor, honor and dedication of our military.
Condescending? Slip of the tongue? Or a slip in Cheney’s gravitas?
This from a man who assured us “we will be greeted as liberators” … “I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”
From time to time our leaders utter words that not only define their term in office and their legacy, but words that also capture the very essence of their character and personality.
This is certainly one of those occasions. To respectfully quote Sen. Obama, “Just words?”… “Don’t tell me words don’t matter.”
Dorian de Wind is a retired U.S. Air Force Officer, born in Ecuador and educated in The Netherlands. He has written opinion pieces and travel and other articles for the Austin American-Statesman and for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. He also translates Dutch press articles for watchingamerica.com Dorian lives with his family in Austin, Texas.