Obama administration official Ben Rhodes has always been clumsy with words. So when he tweeted out something about the obituaries of Republican lawmakers I didn't think anything of it, besides, "here's another liberal believing it's the end of the world that my child tax credit is larger."
Many on Twitter, however, took it as a veiled threat or wish for the imminent death of these GOP lawmakers. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who survived a political assassination attempt by a liberal gunman earlier this year, took the opportunity to knock Rhodes.
Fair enough retort, coming from Scalise.
But the rest of conservative Twitter and media Twitter clutching their pearls over this is too much, in my view. For instance, my colleague Phil Wegmann writes, "Obviously, this is repulsive. And it’s exactly the sort of thing Obama warned against during his final year in office when he bemoaned the lack of generosity and charity in politics."
I don't think it's repulsive. Writing about a major action in someone's life as a thing that will appear in their obituary is a standard way to convey its importance — for good or for ill.
This New York Times piece by Peter Baker refers to "what will surely be the first line in Mr. Obama’s obituary, his barrier-shattering election as the first African-American president."
Consider this article about the New York Giants. In a line about owner Tom Mara, the writer says, "the first line of his obituary will include the phrase 'owner of the New York Giants.'" Mara is only 63 years old.
The charitable and, in my view, simplest way to read Rhodes' tweet is the same way you read these lines on Mara and Obama — a prediction of what their legacy will be when eventually they die.
And if we're to take to heart Obama's lamentation about "the lack of generosity and charity in politics," as Wegmann puts it, then we ought to read other people's words fairly charitably. Specifically, we should pass on the opportunity to make an ambiguous or poorly-worded tweet into a weapon and a rallying flag for social media mobs.
Would Rhodes extend the same courtesy to Scalise, Wegmann, or me? Maybe not. But nobody ever said on his deathbed that they wished they had picked more Twitter fights.