All a politician really has are words. They are his only weapon, his only sword, his only shield.
Even should he rise to the presidency and thus be able to command actual troops, he finds himself still needing words to justify to the nation why he is putting American lives at risk.
And if our nation itself is attacked, the words our president speaks are the words the nation turns to for comfort and solace — and for the assurance that punishment will be meted out and vengeance unleashed against the evildoers.
Franklin Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941 — the day of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor — "a date which will live in infamy."
Those words still live in history. Less recollected but equally important were the words that followed. "Always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us," Roosevelt said. "I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us."
When Harry Truman authorized dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, some American church leaders were horrified and asked him to show mercy in the future.
Truman was unmoved. "When you have to deal with a beast, you have to treat him as a beast," Truman said.
He had never forgotten Roosevelt's words after that day of "infamy," and Truman wanted the Japanese and the rest of the world to know it.
Words matter. Words uttered today shape the actions we take in the future.
American and European citizens go to the Middle East, get "radicalized" and return as killers and sometimes as suicide bombers. What words could persuade them to do that?
And what words, what cause, could make a young mother put her 6-month-old baby in the hands of the child's grandmother and then put on black tactical gear, pick up an assault rifle and, with her husband, massacre 14 people in San Bernardino, California?
What words can a president then use to address the nation about this slaughter? What can he say?
"Our success won't depend on tough talk or abandoning our values or giving in to fear," President Barack Obama said Sunday night from behind a lectern in the Oval Office. "That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power."
Those words cannot calm every fear or provide easy answers. But they resonate: "strong and smart, resilient and relentless."
The Republican opposition had its own answers.
When President Obama said that people on the no-fly list should be unable to buy firearms, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz reacted by saying that the president should not be "attempting to take away the constitutional liberties of millions of innocent Americans."
John Kasich wants boots on the ground. "Without taking the fight to ISIS on the ground, ISIS won't be defeated," he said. "We must stop delaying and do it."
Marco Rubio said terrorism is part of God's plan: "What we may interpret as bad, and most certainly is in the case of Paris or 9/11, even that is part of a broader plan for the universe and for our lives that we're just not going to know the answer to. God's ways are not our ways."
Donald Trump live-tweeted during the speech with deep thoughts such as "Wish Obama would say ISIS, like almost everyone else, rather than ISIL," and "We need a new President - FAST!"
Rand Paul said: "We should be advocating for more concealed carry ability for law-abiding Americans." (One killer in San Bernardino had been a law-abiding American — until he started shredding people with an easily obtained assault weapon.)
Ben Carson called the killings a "hate crime." Asked to explain, Carson said: "Well, it's hard to imagine that you would shoot a bunch of people if you didn't hate them, right? You don't do that to people you love."
But Cruz, who passes for an intellectual in the Republican field, used his words thoughtfully. "If I am elected President," he tweeted, "I will direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS."
Gosh, I wish I had thought of that.
Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist. His new e-book, "Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America," can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Ted Eytan