P

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