P

purple state

A term used for a swing state on an electoral map. It is purple because it could either go blue or red. They are sometimes shown as gray on a map instead of purple.

Purple states tend to vary from election to election. When the election actually happens, they will either swing blue or red (Democrat or Republican), but until that is decided, they remain purple.

Typically, states that would be shown as purple on an electoral map include Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. In many cases, states like North Carolina, Iowa, or Colorado could be considered purple, but would depend on the context of the race.

political football

To take an issue that is non-partisan and turn it into a partisan one. Political parties do this to gain an advantage over the other party, tossing an issue back-and-forth as a “football.”

The term can refer to the game of political football, where parties do this, or the issue itself. In the former case, parties are playing political football; in the latter, the issue is a political football.

The first known use of the term dates back to 1857, where it was used in a Maine newspaper.

pussyfoot

To sidestep an issue as to not take a side.

The term was popularized in politics by Teddy Roosevelt. Contrary to what some may believe, the term is not meant as a gendered insult. It is called pussyfooting due to the quiet and stealthy way cats walk.

If a politician were to remain noncommittal on an issue in order to avoid backlash, it could be said they were pussyfooting.

Potomac fever

The condition where a politician is gripped by a desire to stay in government, whether to make a change or for power’s sake.

The term describes a politician who never intended to stay in Washington, D.C. (which is adjacent to the Potomac River) but eventually “gets infected” and decides to stay for a long time.

puppet state

A country that claims to be independent, but is controlled by an outside state or other power. Puppet states are not recognized by international law.

A puppet state has the appearance of being independent. It typically has things like its own flag, constitution, system of government, etc., but still cedes control to another power.

Examples of puppet states include countries that were under the Soviet bloc, like Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Mongolia. Some puppet governments are implemented through military force, like Vichy France in WWII. Many colonized countries in Africa and Asia would become puppet states controlled by their colonizers. Examples of this are pre-1960s Vietnam, India, and the Congo.

pol

A shorthand word for politician. Occasionally, it is used to describe anyone active in politics, including experts and political junkies.

plumbers

A task force who worked for Richard Nixon to stop classified information from getting out and gather information on political enemies. They were known as plumbers because of their attempts to plug leaks out of the White House.

The plumbers were involved in many covert and illegal activities, from stealing information to discredit the leaker of the Pentagon Papers to the Watergate burglary. The agents worked to protect the Committee for the Re-Election of the President as well.

Time ranks the activities of Nixon’s plumbers as one of the top 10 abuses of power of all time. Although Nixon denied knowledge of the plumbers activities, tapes subpoenaed during the Watergate investigation revealed years of political espionage and illegal surveillance.

play in Peoria

A phrase meaning how well something will appeal to the heartland or mainstream America. In politics, it is a gauge of how the average American will react to a policy or proposal.

Peoria is an actual city in Illinois. The phrase originated in the late 19th century, when vaudeville performers would say that if a show could be successful in Peoria, it could be successful anywhere (because Peoria was seen as an unremarkable city).

Richard Nixon popularized the phrase in political circles. He would ask how something would play in Peoria to ask how the average voter would respond to whatever he was planning.

peace at any price

A term outlining the philosophy of appeasement, in which supporters argue that peace is worth the cost asked by an enemy. It was once used as a positive term, but became an attack on appeasement after World War II.

Peace at any price is often linked with former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who is famous for attempting to appease Nazi Germany before WWII. He signed the Munich Pact, which gave Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. The failure of Chamberlain’s attempt for peace, combined with the cost of an entire nation in that attempt, turned “peace at any price” into an attack on appeasement.

It is also sometimes referred to as “peace at any cost.”

peace through strength

The idea that increased military power can promote peace.

The idea posits that with more military power, it will deter countries from declaring war. It can also be associated with a global peacekeeping nation, when one country can use their military might to patrol the globe and promote peace.

Peace through strength was most famously used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but it actually dates back to the first century AD. It was first said by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Reagan used the phrase to describe his military plans in the Cold War. The phrase has appeared in every Republican Party platform since 1980.

party line

The ideology or the agenda of a political party. The party line consists of most core tenets of a party, as well as anything they are attempting to accomplish.

The phrase is most often used in terms of a party-line vote. A party-line vote is when most or all politicians vote with their party on a proposal. For example, if there are 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the Senate, a party line vote would be 51-49 Republican.

Forbes: “Party-line voting has become the new normal. As recently as the early 1970s, party unity voting was around 60% but today it is closer to 90% in both the House and Senate.”

party faithful

Those who have been loyal supporters of a party for a long time and make up the party’s base.

Vox points out that the appeasing party faithful can be difficult, as they are sometimes opposed to bipartisanship: “Immigration in particular puts a key slice of the party faithful in conflict with the national agenda — nationally, support for immigration reform tends to be high and bipartisan.”

patronage

Patronage is the power of a political official to fill government positions with people of their choosing. In many cases this leads to nepotism and favoritism.

In the U.S., there have been many fights against patronage since the mid-1800s. After the assassination of James Garfield by a man who was overlooked for a patronage-given position, many laws were formed to force officials to be qualified to do their job. Major patronage systems in the U.S. lasted until about the 1970s, when Chicago ended theirs.

Although often associated with corruption, patronage is not always seen as a negative. Many government positions are allocated through the patronage system, including many appointed by the President.

poison the well

A rhetorical device often used by politicians where adverse information is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing what another politician intends to say.

The origin of the term lies in well poisoning, an old wartime practice of pouring poison into sources of fresh water before an invading army, to diminish the attacking army’s strength.

plausible deniability

The ability to deny blame because evidence does not exist to confirm responsibility for an action. The lack of evidence makes the denial credible, or plausible. The use of the tactic implies forethought, such as intentionally setting up the conditions to plausibly avoid responsibility for one’s future actions.

The term was coined by the CIA in the 1960s to describe the withholding of information from senior officials in order to protect them from repercussions in the event that certain activities by the CIA became public.

press gaggle

An informal briefing by the White House press secretary that is on the record but video recording is not allowed. It can occur anywhere, such as on Air Force One, but it often describes the informal interactions between the press and the press secretary that occur before a formal White House briefing.

The term likens the members of the press corps to  a “gaggle of geese” honking.

Washington Monthly: “Gaggles historically refer to informal briefings the press secretary conducts with the press pool rather than the entire press corps. They used to happen in the morning, they were more or less off the record, and their purpose was mostly to exchange information – the president’s schedule and briefing schedule, from the administration side; heads-up on likely topics or early comment on pressing issues, from the news side. Briefings were what everybody knows them to be.”

pen and pad briefing

A press briefing held by lawmakers or White House officials at which video and photography is not allowed.

While reporters used to gather around the person doing the briefing with their pads of paper and pens, they now typically use a voice recorder.

ping pong

Reconciling the differences between a House-passed bill and a Senate-passed bill by amendments between the chambers, rather than forming a conference committee.

The New Republic: “With ping-ponging, the chambers send legislation back and forth to one another until they finally have an agreed-upon version of the bill. But even ping-ponging can take different forms and some people use the term generically to refer to any informal negotiations.”

professional left

Left-leaning pundits, paid activists, and heads of liberal institutions.

The term “professional left” was coined by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in an interview with The Hill when he dismissed the concerns of liberals frustrated with President Obama: “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it’s crazy. They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Gibbs later clarified he was primarily referring to the people “who chatter on cable TV news.”

permanent campaign

First explored by Sidney Blumenthal in his 1980 book, The Permanent Campaign, which explained how the breakdown in political parties forced politicians to govern in different ways. Instead of relying on patronage and party machines, politicians increasingly used political consultants to help them monitor their job approval numbers and media exposure.

However, the theory of the permanent campaign is also credited to political strategist Patrick Caddell who wrote a memo for President-elect Jimmy Carter just after his election in 1976 in which he asserted “governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.”

Time: “Thus Caddell gave a name — the Permanent Campaign — to a political mind-set that had been developing since the beginning of the television age. It has proved a radical change in the nature of the presidency. Every President since Lyndon Johnson has run his Administration from a political consultant’s eye view. Untold millions have been spent on polling and focus groups. Dick Morris even asked voters where Bill Clinton should go on vacation. The pressure to “win” the daily news cycle — to control the news — has overwhelmed the more reflective, statesmanlike aspects of the office.”

push card

A small, easy access, wallet-sized campaign sign typically given to a potential voter during door-to-door canvassing or at an event.

They’re also sometimes called palm cards because they’re designed to be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

political suicide

An unpopular action that is likely to cause a politician’s subsequent defeat at the polls or be cause for him or her to resign from public office.

However, as William Safire notes in Safire’s Political Dictionary, “these suicides, like the report of Mark Twain’s death, are usually exaggerations. Actions unpopular on their face can be take as evidence of courage.”

politics ain’t beanbag

A response to politicians who complain about the rough and tumble of the campaign trail, below-the-belt shots from their opponents or unfair treatment from the media.

It was first uttered by Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne in an 1895 newspaper column. The full quote: “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.”

psephology

The scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

patriot

A person who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.

However, a patriot does not necessarily support their leader’s actions or a nation’s policies. For example, the colonists who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution also called themselves “patriots” when they declared the United States of America an independent nation on July 4, 1776.

Because of this history, the term also has a uniquely American meaning which is embedded in the reverence for the principles established in the Declaration of Independence.

petitioning

A phase in a campaign where organizers collect signatures to put a candidate’s name on the ballot. How many signatures are needed depends on the jurisdiction and the office sought; some states allow candidates to pay a fee instead of submitting signatures. In areas with popular initiatives, signatures are needed to put a measure on a ballot.

push poll

A push poll a seemingly unbiased survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate that intends to disseminate negative or misleading information about an opponent. Its intent is primarily to distribute propaganda rather than to understand the views and opinions of the public.

Stuart Rothenberg notes push polls “are really advocacy calls aimed at thousands of recipients. They are like television or radio ads, except they are delivered over the telephone. They seek to convey positive or negative information to influence a voter’s final vote decision.”

Mark Blumenthal: “A true push poll is not a poll at all.  It is a telemarketing smear masquerading as a poll.”

pocket veto

A legislative tactic that allows the President to indirectly veto a bill.

The U.S. Constitution requires the President to sign a bill within the 10 days if Congress is in session. If Congress is in session and the president fails to sign the bill, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns before the ten days are up and the President does not sign the bill, it will not become law. Ignoring it, or putting it in your pocket, has been called a pocket veto.

photo-op

Short for a “photo opportunity,” an event specifically staged for television news cameras or photographers to increase a politician’s exposure.

The term was reportedly coined during the Nixon administration by Bruce Whelihan, an aide to Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Ziegler would say, “Get ’em in for a picture,” and Whelihan would dutifully announce to the White House press room, “There will be a photo opportunity in the Oval Office.”

pro forma session

A brief meeting (sometimes only several seconds) in which no business is conducted. It is held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

Pro forma sessions can also be used to prevent the President from making recess appointments, pocket-vetoing  bills, or calling the Congress into special session. During a 2007 recess, for example, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, planned to keep the Senate in pro forma session in order to prevent further controversial appointments made by the Bush Administration. Said Reid: “I am keeping the Senate in pro forma [session] to prevent recess appointments until we get this process on track.”

pork barrel projects

Wasteful government expeditures that lawmakers secure for their local districts in an attempt to gain favor with voters.

The term first came into use as a political term just after the Civil War. It’s derived from the practice of plantations distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from large wooden barrels as a reward or for special occasions

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