Ad­jec­tively speak­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATHLEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer might owe Melissa McCarthy a thank-you note. The ac­tress, who mocked Spicer in her “Saturday Night Live” car­i­ca­tures of his an­gry, anti-me­dia per­sona, seems to have breathed new life into the man — as only a woman could do?

To his credit, Spicer didn’t curl up in a fe­tal ball, as one might have ex­pected af­ter McCarthy’s hi­lar­i­ous take­downs of him as a hu­mor­less human melt­down. Nor has he been fired, as many pre­dicted af­ter a shaky start.

Rather, he seems to have rein­vented him­self — more con­fi­dent, bet­ter versed, more lik­able and even at times joc­u­lar. No longer the lectern-driv­ing avenger, he seems to be en­joy­ing him­self as reporters find hu­mor in the oc­ca­sional ri­poste. (Note to Sean: Ri­post­ing is good.)

Sure, he still tries to dodge or fi­nesse ques­tions. And he’s still a scold, telling reporters Thurs­day to raise their hands “like big boys and girls,” if they want to be rec­og­nized. A lit­tle rub­bing al­co­hol with that pa­per cut?

The high­light, how­ever, was when Spicer tried to in­ter­pret Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­marks about re­cent im­mi­gra­tion raids, which the pres­i­dent re­ferred to as “a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion.”

Ex­cept, not really. Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly told reporters in Mex­ico City that no mil­i­tary forces would be used to de­port il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Then it was Spicer’s turn. Ac­tu­ally, he said, the pres­i­dent was us­ing the word “mil­i­tary” as an “ad­jec­tive” to mean with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion. He was speak­ing ad­jec­tively, not noun-ly.

In the an­nals of spin, this one mer­its top billing. Might we ex­pect more such ad­just­ments in tweak­ing Trump’s unique speech pat­terns? Such as:

Spicer: The pres­i­dent didn’t mean that ALL un­doc­u­mented work­ers are “bad dudes.” He was speak­ing, um, well, di­a­bol­i­cally, I mean, hy­per­bol­i­cally. He meant that bad dudes, where and to the ex­tent they ex­ist, will be ex­ported to Mex­ico, where bad dudes ob­vi­ously be­long.

Reporter: Even if they’re not Mex­i­can?

Spicer: Yes, we’re work­ing with Mex­ico on that and will have a plan soon. Reporter: Soon? Spicer: Ish. Suf­fix-ly. What­ever Trump may have meant by “mil­i­tary oper­a­tion,” thus far the raids and ar­rests by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) agents cer­tainly have had the look and feel of a mil­i­tary op by any other name.

Spicer is also cor­rect that these de­ten­tions and de­por­ta­tions ap­pear to have been per­formed with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion. To a fault, one might ob­serve.

While a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans sup­port greater im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment, as well as ma­jor re­forms aimed at greater se­cu­rity, the vis­ual ef­fect of raids that don’t al­ways tar­get “bad dudes” is dis­com­fit­ing. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who de­ported more than 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple dur­ing his term, was no slouch but also no show­man.

Therein lies a key dis­tinc­tion. Whereas Obama made con­ces­sions to peo­ple who weren’t bad dudes, Trump’s net is wider and has fewer holes.

In one Ari­zona case, a woman who faked her iden­tity more than a decade ago to get a job as an amuse­ment-park jan­i­tor was al­lowed to stay un­der Obama. When she showed up re­cently for her usual ICE re­view, she was put on a bus to Mex­ico.

Not ex­actly a “bad dude,” though some drug deal­ers and gang mem­bers have also re­port­edly been rounded up since Trump took of­fice.

Mil­i­tary oper­a­tion or some­thing else?

If you’re a Trump sup­porter, you don’t care. If you’re an im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cate, you see Gestapo tac­tics and human rights vi­o­la­tions.

And then there are the rest — peo­ple who sim­ply want straight talk, hon­est answers and law en­force­ment with com­pas­sion, es­pe­cially to­ward un­doc­u­mented work­ers who are here in good faith.

One might even con­cede that this dis­cus­sion about words and mean­ing is much ado about noth­ing, a dis­trac­tion for the sake of dis­trac­tion. To give Spicer the ben­e­fit of the doubt, his job must be the hard­est in the his­tory of press sec­re­taries. Ex­plain­ing Trump is a re­lent­less, thank­less task for which he will be pun­ished one way or the other.

Un­like most press sec­re­taries, who typ­i­cally come from the re­port­ing world, Spicer is a vet­eran flack with a flack’s con­tempt for the me­dia. What’s miss­ing — and also a missed op­por­tu­nity — is the ca­ma­raderie and mu­tual re­spect that of­ten de­velop in the me­dia brief­ing room.

Spicer would do well — and would be well served — if he’d treat all reporters with the same re­spect he wishes for him­self. They’re a loath­some bunch, to be sure (she said proudly). But they’re also suck­ers for pros who are self-aware enough to not take them­selves or this busi­ness too se­ri­ously.

Ad­jec­tively speak­ing.

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