Nearly 25 years ago, Ronald Reagan condemned the bombing of the United States Embassy in Beirut as a “cowardly act.”
It wasn’t the first time those words were used. (Jimmy Carter chose the same phrase to denounce the the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro nearly five years earlier, for example.)
But Reagan made the words stick, creating the lead quote for virtually every act of mass violence—from domestic shootings to global terrorism—ever since.
Tragically, the same was true today, following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Within hours, George Bush, Gordon Brown and others all issued statements condemning the “cowardly” perpetrators.
The soundbite—once sharp—has lost its teeth. It’s time for world leaders to change the script, because the bad guys just aren’t getting the message.