THE GREAT ‘KINETIC’ FREAKOUT OF 2011…. Last week, hoping to draw a distinction between coalition efforts in Libya and an actual, literal war, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes used the “k” word with reporters.

“I think what we are doing is enforcing a resolution that has a very clear set of goals, which is protecting the Libyan people, averting a humanitarian crisis, and setting up a no-fly zone,” Rhodes said. “Obviously that involves kinetic military action, particularly on the front end.”

Soon after, Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, “I think as we are successful in suppressing the air defenses, the level of kinetic activity should decline.”

And with that, The Great “Kinetic” Freakout of 2011 got underway.

Rush Limbaugh flipped out over the use of the word “kinetic,” insisting the Obama administration had “come up with the ludicrous term,” which he called “pathetic” and “surreal.” Tucker Carlson was equally outraged on Fox News this morning, and in my personal favorite, Frank Luntz said he’s never heard anyone use the word “kinetic” in military contexts. (thanks to V.S. for the tip)

These folks really need to calm down.

George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld used the “k” word all the time to describe military efforts, as did top military leaders like Gen. Tommy Franks, then-Brig. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and then-Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Conservative Byron York didn’t seem especially pleased with the Obama administration’s use of the word, but he nevertheless noted:

“Kinetic” is a word that’s been used around the Pentagon for many years to distinguish between actions like dropping bombs, launching cruise missiles or shooting people and newer forms of non-violent fighting like cyber-warfare.

Remember, Frank Luntz told a national television audience he’s never heard anyone use the word “kinetic” in military contexts, and Limbaugh thinks the word itself is “ludicrous.”

Operations in Libya are obviously controversial, and deserve intense scrutiny. Given the gravity of the situation, I’m glad the right is interested in having a debate.

Except we’re not having a debate; we’re watching conservatives hyperventilate over pointless trivia for no apparent reason.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.