More Political Clichés–Live!

Wild Bill notes that many speakers, including academics, like the phrase “undermine the very fabric of our society,” and he asks how fabric can be undermined.

I am listening to and watching (not really) a U.S. evening cable-TV pundit-show, and so far I’ve heard the following phrases and terms, some of which qualify as clichés (and please note that these phrases and terms appear immediately after they have been uttered during just one show, and please note that the political persuasion of the show really doesn’t matter):

1. “Draw a line in the sand.” I suspect this weary metaphor is supposed to suggest something like an ultimatum. But really, if one draws a line in the sand, the wind or water will likely erase it soon.

2. “The public option.” Why is health-care for the public an “option”? This question must have occurred to observers not from the U.S.

3. “Moves the ball an inch forward.” A familiar politics-as-American-football metaphor, although I guess it could also refer to rugby. Ironically, although it involves a small unit of measurement, it is hopelessly imprecise when applied, for example, to health-care reform.

4. “Americans voted for change.” Indeed. With the economy the way it has been, we could hardly have voted for more than (pocket) change. Nyuck, nyuck.

5. “Executing on their game-plan.” More sports. Why the “on”? And how lovely that it’s a game.

6. “The log-jam is so bad.” I’ve actually looked at fir-tree logs floating in the Puget Sound, where they “wait” to be moved to a pulp-plant. A log-jam in this instance is a good thing. It means all the logs are together.

7. [A commercial advertisement during the show says that a car-making corporation “speaks car.” I presume the company can imitate the sounds of engines and horns. I am happy for them.]

8. “Out-sourcing.” I’m too exasperated with this term to analyze it. I offer it up to you.

9. “I have indicated . . . .” George Carlin didn’t like this word, especially as uttered by politicians, I think because he thought it was pretentious, and it may well be. It doesn’t bother me because I think of it as suggesting the index-finger–and pointing. But, as they say, it was and is dangerous to disagree with Samuel Johnson–and with Carlin.

10. “Multi-pronged deliberative process.” So . . . the process looks like a fork. If so, I’m worried.

11. “Support the troops.” Tax-payers support the troops indirectly. People entertain the troops and buy food for the troops’ families back home. So there are direct means of supporting troops. But most deployers of the term are just gas-bagging, to use something of a cliché.

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Posted in Cliches. 1 Comment »

One Response to “More Political Clichés–Live!”

  1. Wild Bill Says:

    Let’s consider each of these from the point of view of the writer or deployer.

    1. “Draw a line in the sand.” Anyone who recalls the Saturday Night Live skit in which Qaddafi proclaims “This is the line of death,” then draws lines farther south and calls them lines of death as he retreats must chuckle at lines in the sand. I’ve known commentators who preferred “laid down a marker.”

    Orwell would probably counsel us to substitute a demand that has been phrased and any sanctions threatened. I leave unremarked what the media usually leave unremarked: Is the demand practicable or the sanction believable?

    2. “The public option.” If Dr. Frank Luntz worked for the Democrats, he’d select a phrase that emphasized community or family. The deployer of “public option” wants the reader to stress “optional.” Such options often will be as optional as breathing.

    3. “Moves the ball an inch forward.” Again, Orwell would suggest that we’d say what we mean. If we mean that some progress is hard to achieve and minimal, say that. After all, the referee when spotting the ball moves it inches forward or backward.

    4. “Americans voted for change.” And Madoff’s clientele invested for profit. And Jim Jones’s congregation longed for salvation. Here, the writer has no point but may not know that. Richard Nixon promised in 1968 that, if elected, he would appoint a new attorney general. John Mitchell was a change.

    5. “Executing on their game-plan.” The writer might play offf this metaphor: executing the author of the game plan. Here an important philosophical authority was Mike Tyson. “Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit.”

    6. “The log-jam is so bad.” O. makes a good point about log-jams. If you are downstream, the prospect of one log per minute propelled by current must daunt you. Worse, legislation delayed by jams is often bad legislation. This metaphor may suggest that lawmaking should be expected to work like an assembly-line. That only happens when legislators are afraid to deliberate — e.g., after 9/11.

    7. [A commercial advertisement during the show says that a car-making corporation “speaks car.” I presume the company can imitate the sounds of engines and horns. I am happy for them.] How much advertising and propaganda abound in content-free communication?

    8. “Out-sourcing.” Yes, our raw materials and productive inputs have never come from abroad before. The writer at the least must inform us why comparative advantage and global organization of resources should be ignored this time when so many of us profit from other “out-sourcing.”

    9. “I have indicated . . . .” I agree that this usage puts on airs [to use a metaphor I presume to be dead], but I see less harm from this choice than from most.

    10. “Multi-pronged deliberative process.” This means a log-jam with all the logs pointed in the same direction. In other words, a menace to navigation riding a swift current.

    11. “Support the troops.” This is an epitome of shibboleth. We are called to unify behind authorities without thinking or asking.


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