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Reclaim the Language

Like many of you, I’ve been obsessed for much of past last year or two with the presidential campaign. And of course, this obsession necessarily involved a whole lot of depressing and mind-numbing exposure to the political media. As far as TV goes, I stayed with MSNBC, mainly out of a weird allegiance to Keith Olbermann, who started ringing the bell of opposition in mid-2006 with his at-the-time stunning and courageous “special comments.” But the schtick got increasingly tedious over time, with Olbermann’s expert “guests” reduced to trotting out to sycophantically agree with Olbermann’s theories de jour. Even the “special comments” lost their luster.

But I hung in with MSNBC, because there was nowhere else to go.

Anyway, I am glad it’s all over. For the present, I’m keeping the TV quiet; maybe I’ll check in on Rachel Maddow now and then, because she’s flat-out great, but that’s about it. And by the time the 2012 campaign cranks up, should anyone have the temerity to challenge King Barack I, I hope things are a little different.

Specifically, I hope—I demand—that a number of grammatical terms disappear from the lexicon of the pundit class. These folks, some of whom show flashes of humanity and human decency from time to time, all lapse into a weird kind of unblinking shorthand of descriptive phrases when describing the events of the day. Unfortunately, it’s a shared weird kind of shorthand; it’s almost like the use of these phrases is a mandatory feature of being in the pundits’ club. And it leads to unimaginative discourse, a swarmy and almost childish sameness to what is supposed to be enlightened, independent insight. Which it never is.

Here are some of the phrases I want to see banished henceforth and forever from our political commentary:

flip-flop: a Karl Rove term concocted to unfairly malign John Kerry 2004, an unnecessary exercise since there are plenty of things that could be used to fairly malign John Kerry. Like John Kerry. Anyway, this became a ridiculous word that lazy, fabulist journalists seized on whenever a candidate made the unthinkable decision to change his/her position. About any damn thing. It’s a toxic term. We got into the mess we’re in precisely because we’ve had a cretin in power who refuses to reflect, to capitulate, or change course. I’m just waiting for one public figure to say to some journalist, “Look, asshole, I changed my mind. Bite me.” Then, and only then, “flip-flop” will be rightfully relegated to the dumpster of history.

close the deal: This is where the pundits mind-meld with The American People from their perches at the bar at the Hay-Adams, or wherever they go to be seen, and determine from on-high whether or not a candidate has, simply, convinced everybody. Obama was constantly accused by the pundits of not having “closed the deal” with The American People as if public-policy advocacy was the equivalent of selling The American People a 2003 Hyundai Sonata with a few nicks but low miles. Huh? As if an appreciable percentage of The American People weren’t white-trash cracker racist rat-bastards with whom Obama couldn’t close a deal on free Girl Scout Thin Mints with ice-cold milk on a hot day. It’s a meaningless term. What if, prior to the election, Obama had, in fact, “closed the deal”? What would we have done then?

thrown under the bus: I guess this is a pretty good phrase, but I heard it used 5, 10, 15 times a night on pundit panels, especially in reference to infighting within first Hillary’s, and then McCain’s, incompetent campaign staffs. Somebody needs to be blamed for (a) a primary loss; (b) a gaffe; (c) bad polling numbers; (d) false claims of dodging gunfire; (e) an inexplicable wardrobe expense, etc., so, usually through a “leak” from an unattributable campaign source, some poor bastard gets “thrown under the bus”—that is, blamed, royally screwed, humiliated, and fired

blame game: a term that has its roots with Bush butt-boy turned neocon traitor Scott McClellan. During a 2005 press conference, McClellan, then-Bush press secretary, was trying to avoid talking about Bush’s complicity in the murder of the City of New Orleans. He blabbered the term “blame game” like a fat stupid third-grader caught stealing candy about 90 times during the course of a 15-minute press conference. This year the term was usually used in conjunction with “thrown under the bus” during descriptions of infighting among white Hillary and McCain people who couldn’t figure out how to stop that black man Obama from becoming our President.

Maverick: a word that became a meaningless brand as soon as McCain accepted the nomination and whored out his soul. The term then became even less than meaningless when Bible Spice, the Tool of Wasilla, started using it to describe herself.

comeback kid: This term comes with the nightmare vision of Bubba Clinton and that phony squinty smile saying “Yeah, I’m the comeback kid” in 1992. And lazy, stupid pundits have used it every single time some pathetic candidate wins something he or she wasn’t supposed to. John McCain’s up by one-half percent among rural, uneducated white women over 80! Could he be the comeback kid?

The answer is no, he could not.

—Paul Rapp


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