Those of us who use words for a living, like to play with their nuance, their sound, even play them in our heads long before we put them on paper or speak them.
At least most of us do.
Those who edit my written words have gotten hugely frustrated with me. My syntax, grammar, and even meaning have sometime--in their opinions--been left askew because I wanted to insist on using a certain word, or using it in a certain context, or order of words.
Yet through the writing of three best-selling books, more than a 1000 op-ed columns, and more broadcast show prep than I care to think about, I bet I have used the word optimal less than a dozen times. The reason being that it's just an odd word.
It's not a word that people use often. It's not as flashy as say the word fantastic. It's not as elite as the word excellent. In fact it's kind of a hard word to say, starting with that awkward "ah" sound. A sound that left by itself much mirrors a gag reflex.
Such a reflex was largely invoked on Thursday when within seconds of appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, first the transcript, and then the video itself began pouring out across the internet with President Obama stating that losing four public servants in Libya was not "optimal."
You see optimal is supposedly a declarative assertion of what is best. Yet just saying the word doesn't seem to lend one's thoughts to such an idea. In fact when I think of the word it always strikes me as better than average but not necessarily the very peak of perfection. It's a funny word. Kind of a shadow of what it's own meaning is supposed to imply. Like a bumper that's mostly chrome, except for the rust just on one end.
So using it to describe the brutal assault that killed a beloved ambassador, a retired Air Force officer, and two of our nation's very best--Navy Seals, seems to be a bit of an insult, even if none was intended.
I mean, I think I know what the President meant to say. I think he wanted to say that the taking of our personnel was "awful," "tragic," "a loss and a sting that their families will mourn through for the next year, and beyond that endure sadness on every holiday." Doesn't that sound a whole lot more like what a President should have said?
Maybe it's because law professors tend to be such... eh... law professors, that somewhere along the line the part of them that feels human emotion just completely unplugs from their brain. You know the type. They will sit and argue any issue from every possible perspective, all the while, not really telling you which one they think is right. Because making a moral judgement in court cases may not always be "optimal."
Then again perhaps the idea of current affairs being far from "optimal" is weighing on President Obama more than in the past. More people being out of work than when he took office sure isn't optimal. 500,000 more women being out of work than when he took office isn't optimal. 3,500,000 women now being homeless, some with their children is increasingly "less optimal."
What seems astoundingly crummy in President Obama's case though is that he brought a lot of the less-than-optimal to the table in terms of Libya.
Does anyone remember that he decided to invade that little country, but to do so by "leading from behind?" Any former generals or admirals want to weigh in on just how optimal it is for U.S. forces to be following the direction of other nation's military leaders?
Of course once we invaded not everyone was pleased so we had to send more special forces into Libya to protect the diplomats who were working hard to turn that hellish nightmare of a nation into a representative form of self governance. So how optimal was it for President Obama to draw down the military security, marines, and special ops forces we had on the ground, say in the last thirty days before Al Qaeda carried out the attack it had openly advertised it would make happen?
Was it very optimal to not even repair the outer wall of the security perimeter when Al Qaeda "practiced" carrying out their attack by blowing a chunk of it open with an IED? Was it optimal to not respond--at all?
Yes Mr. President the killing of four Americans was certainly "less than perfect." (If that's really how you want the tape to be played.) It's just that, well... from my own perspective... it just seems like you don't care anymore.
Yes you love the optimal trappings of being President. Air Force One is a hoot. More golf in four years than your predecessor had in eight--very, very, optimal--for you.
But the running the world thing? Making tough decisions that don't start and end with bowing to George Soros, or by expressing worship to the ACLU, the SEIU, or Planned Parenthood -- these are really tough things. And truly difficult for someone who's never really run things before.
Our nation's economy, our national security, the fiscal cliff, the state of the underemployed family, worker, and woman, the cuts you're attempting to make to our military, the lack of attention you give to anything on the border--except the guns you let flow to drug cartels, and the list goes on--none of these things are optimal.
In fact they're pretty bad.
So like the African American gentleman who questioned you in the second debate, (President Clinton said he thought the man was going to start crying) about why he should vote for you again this go around, many are wondering is the current state of America what you would consider to be optimal?
It is such a funny, uncomfortable, and usually forgettable word, but this week Mr. President you've given it a whole new level of meaning.
And to be candid Mr. President, we're not finding it very optimal.