(CNN) – I remember first hearing the phrase “a target-rich environment” during the first Gulf War back in 1991. I was then CNN’s Pentagon correspondent. U.S. military planners had half a million troops in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region ready to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s occupation. In advance of the start of the air war, they kept telling me there was “a target-rich environment” in and around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. The Iraqis would soon learn that the United States meant business.
Flash forward 20 years. There’s a mass shooting in Arizona. People are killed and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is shot and severely wounded. A few months earlier, when Giffords was running for re-election, Sarah Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC, had made a point of saying they were targeting Giffords for defeat and even had a map with crosshairs over her district. “We’ll aim for these races and many others,” Palin said. “This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington.”
After the shooting in Tucson, many people quickly said that it was time to tone down the rhetoric even though there is no evidence the shooter was motivated by politics. Still, in my opinion, there are too many crazy people out there who take the words of politicians literally.
Let’s be very careful with our words.
That’s why I was surprised the other day when I was reading Politico and saw this quotation from Michael Cole-Schwartz, the communications director for the group Human Rights Campaign. “Michele Bachmann is the very definition of a target-rich environment, and given her husband’s positions and things she’s said in the past she’s going to have a really hard time appearing as a reasonable mainstream candidate.”
There is nothing wrong with the group criticizing Bachmann’s record on gay rights. As I pointed out in The Situation Room the other day, I may be overly sensitive to the power of words, but I wish Cole-Schwartz would have used a different phrase.
I called him up. In retrospect, he told me, he wishes he would have used a different phrase. But he still, of course, wants to draw attention to what he said were lots of opportunities to discuss Bachmann’s record on gay rights.