“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
A single, succinct quote can capture the character of a president and illuminate his legacy.
Ronald Reagan’s famous exhortation revealed a great man’s grand vision of a world without tyrants where all men are free.
Bill Clinton’s pedantic demurral was the quibble of a small, dishonest man trying to avoid the consequences of his recklessness.
Though we’re not inclined to split hairs as finely as the man who “did not have sex with that woman,” we do agree with our former, impeached president that definitions matter.
They matter a lot. Proper definitions are what keep the rule of law from degenerating into the rule of men.
The proper definition of “tributary,” for instance, is all that insulates Wood County landowner Ron Foster from the predations of rogue regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The meaning of tributary is not abstruse. We all learned it in geography class as kids: a stream or river that flows into a larger body of water.
The rainwater that comes down the spout on your house and erodes a shallow trench across your lawn is not a tributary. The muddy ruts your teenage son made with the car on either side of the driveway are not a tributary. The drainage ditch you dug yourself to dry out a wet spot in the yard is not a tributary.
But try telling that to the EPA.
Of course, there is another definition of tributary, that being a person or people required to pay tribute or subject to another’s control. Perhaps this is the definition the EPA has in mind, and the tributary in this particular case is not the alleged “stream” on Ron Foster’s land, but Foster himself.
Is the EPA our conquering foe? Are we all captives, walled in by misconstrued words?
Someone needs to tell EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to tear down that wall.