Aides who think they can con their boss into deciding an issue their way employ a sneaky maneuver known around the White House as "the Option 3 trick."
You submit a memo presenting a range of five choices: the top one amounts to Abject Surrender and the bottom one to Nuclear Strike. In this way, the chief executive is induced to choose the one in the middle -- Option 3, the most sensible, or at least the most centrist, choice. I tried to get away with the Option 3 trick once with President Nixon, but his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, intercepted my decision memo and panicked me by musing, "Interesting you should bring up the nuclear option."
That was the first time I heard that phrase, now on the tips of wagging worried tongues in Washington, as an extended metaphor. In its original, horrific sense, the phrase was coined in the March 1962 issue of The American Political Science Review: "The strategic nuclear option was a policy for which both the weapons and a doctrine existed." Ten years later, Nixon charged that the defense policy of his opponent, George McGovern, would strip the US of conventional forces and would leave us "with only a nuclear option."
Now the term is used to mean "an action that invites a really bitter battle." In March 2003, the Mississippi Republican Trent Lott was troubled by the Democrats' use of the threat of a filibuster, or Senate-stopping "extended debate," which prevented a vote on some of President Bush's judicial nominees. Charles Hurt of the Washington Times wrote that Lott told him of a plan that might allow Republicans to confirm a judge with a simple 51-vote majority -- rather than the 60 votes needed under the present rules to "break" a filibuster. Lott "declined to elaborate, warning that his idea is `nuclear.'" This led Michael Crowley of The New Republic to ask rhetorically: "What might Lott's `nuclear' option be?"
It might be to change Senate rules to allow cloture (thereby ending debate) with a majority of 51 on judicial nominations, though not on legislation, on the theory that the US Constitution's requirement that the Senate "advise and consent" on a nomination calls for a vote that the minority should not block. Opponents cite recent precedents to the contrary. (This column, straining mightily to be nonpartisan, focuses on the phrase that has caught on, as political confrontation looms.)
Both sides are girding loins for the judicial jousting. "If we have a nuclear option," said the Senate Judiciary chairman, Arlen Specter, "the Senate will be in turmoil, and the Judiciary Committee will be hell." The Democrat Charles Schumer said it would turn the Senate "into a nuclear waste -- into a legislative wasteland." (The New York senator drew back from a further extension of the scary metaphor.)
Through the centuries, those in the minority have thought of the filibuster as the Senate's barrier to the tyranny of the majority, while those in the majority think of it as a subversion of democracy's majority rule. I asked Lott if he was indeed the coiner of this year's most radioactive phrase, and he demurred: "I don't recall being the first to use the word `nuclear.' This is a matter of the rules of the Senate, which sets its own rules. I prefer calling it the constitutional option. The other side is acting like we're going to blow the place up."
Thus we have a clear lexical signal to show voters which side the speaker is on. In the Social Security debate, supporters of individual retirement accounts call them personal, and opponents call them private; in the coming senatorial cloturekrieg, the majoritarians say constitutional option and the minoritarians prefer nuclear option.
THE NUKULAR OPTION
Why is it that President Eisenhower pronounced the word nukular, as does Bush II (and President Carter nu-kyir), when most educated speakers know that the word is pronounced NU-klee-er? It can't be ignorance; they were each corrected a thousand times. Is it some mysterious force in the air of the Oval Office -- or does the linguistic area of presidential brains create a synapse that snaps differently from most of us?
We are dealing here with a phenomenon called metathesis (pronounced mih-TATH-uh-sis), the switching of two adjacent sounds within a word. Many of us replace an unfamiliar sequence of phonemes (the smallest units of speech sounds) with a familiar one. The only other common English word that rhymes with nuclear is the unfamiliar cochlear. But in our spectacular language, there are dozens of words like secular, vascular, jocular and molecular, and our brains are tempted to make nuclear fit that familiar pattern. (I can even hear a variant "cochular option.")
The Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker informs me that "a person mishears a sonorant consonant (like l or r or y) followed by a vowel as a vowel followed by a consonant. This can happen because the two sounds are acoustically similar -- they literally look alike on an oscilloscope. Presumably the respective neural patterns that arise when a person hears them are similar as well." (I'll have to test this on my home magnetoencephalograph.)
Pinker says he thinks that the brain may represent the "set" of speech sounds separately from their "order." Sometimes that order gets lost. "When this happens in the production of speech (as opposed to comprehension)," he points out, "the result is a Spoonerism such as 'It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.'" That's what caused a radio announcer to introduce President Coolidge's successor as "Hoobert Heever."
"When it happens consistently in comprehension," Pinker notes, "the person might file away in his mental dictionary an incorrectly ordered pronunciation for the word: nuky'lr instead of nukly'r. He will then consistently pronounce the word with the alternative order of phonemes."
The way to straighten out your mental dictionary, if you have this "nukular" problem, is to train your brain to think of the word not as three syllables but as two words: new and clear. Or you can wait until they bring back atomic.
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday last week announced it would impose sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a vast paramilitary organization that is directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has been linked to human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The sanctions follow US travel bans against other Xinjiang officials and the passage of the US Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorizes targeted sanctions against mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials, in response to Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation on the territory. The sanctions against the corps would be implemented
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose