Mostly people care whether the Chief Executive and Commander in Chief uses the word ‘terror’ because Patriot Act. We can torture terrorists, lock them up forever and really do anything we want. Except don’t call it torture. We don’t torture. Shut up, we don’t.
Nobody cared about the word ‘terror’ when Bush stood in front of smoking towers because back then there was nothing special about terrorists or terrorism. When people attacked us, we brought them to justice using the regular legal system or we used some combination of international relations and war to discourage them from attacking us again. Those approaches are time-consuming, uncertain and only give so much catharsis to bloody-minded people who want vengeance, including and especially the pre-emptive kind. At the same time the moral authority that such an approach confers (and the small question of whether the cowboy strategy accomplishes a damn thing) only has value in retrospect, when emotions have cooled and when you want to help cool someone else’s hot violent passions. Now all the president has to do is say the magic ‘t’ word and the world is our sandbox. It’s no wonder that people who get a hard on with every fiery death get so hung up about it.