Latest Entries

blue-slipping

If the Senate initiates appropriations legislation, the House practice is to return it to the Senate with a blue piece of paper attached citing a constitutional infringement since all measures are supposed to originate in the House. The practice of returning such bills and amendments to the Senate without action is known as “blue-slipping.”

C-SPAN: “Without House action, Senate-initiated spending legislation cannot make it into law. So in practice, the Senate rarely attempts to initiate such bills anymore, and if it does, the House is diligent about returning them. Regardless of one’s opinion of the correct interpretation of the Constitutional provision, the House refusal to consider such Senate legislation settles the matter in practice.”

turkey farm

In politics, a “turkey farm” refers to a government agency or department that is staffed primarily with political appointments and other patronage hires. In particular, it is used to refer to hires that are underqualified but are put in positions of power because they either support the appointer politically or financially.

A 2010 Vanderbilt University study noted that “In every administration certain agencies acquire reputations as ‘turkey farms’ or ‘dead pools.’ Positions in these agencies get filled with less qualified administrators, often by presidents under pressure to find political jobs for campaign staff, key donors, or well-connected job-seekers.”

Often, turkey farms are places where sycophants are rewarded for their political loyalty with stable or high-profile government jobs.

But in other cases, turkey farms are places to put “non-performers,” bad employees, or federal workers considered “turkeys,” so that managers can avoid the lengthy process of other alternatives, as outlined in Washington Monthly: “Not infrequently, federal managers use two traditional means of shedding non-performers. By writing glowing letters of recommendation, a boss can get a turkey promoted to a different office. Fortunately, most civil servants are too ethical to use such tactics, and anyway, you can only do that once or twice before your credibility in the bureaucracy is shot. More typically, bosses place non-performers in ‘turkey farms,’ ‘dead pools,’ or (if it is a single person) ‘on the shelf.’ By quarantining non-performers, a good manager can save the rest of the organization from their influence.”

This method of stashing subpar employees was described as a “turkey farm” during the Nixon Administration in a document referred to as the “Malek Manual,” named after Nixon’s special assistant. He first outlined this method of dealing with unwanted employees while still staying within the confines of the federal merit system.

One agency in the federal government that’s frequently accused of being a “turkey farm” is FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During the administration of George W. Bush, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA’s handling of the disaster exacerbated an already bad reputation, as highlighted here: “FEMA had gone through periods of obsession with unrealistic nuclear war planning, thereby making it unprepared for the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew in 1989 and 1992. The agency became known as the ‘Turkey Farm’ because of its management by third-rate political appointees.”

A federal report noted the agency “is widely viewed as a political dumping ground, ‘a turkey farm’…where large numbers of positions exist that can be conveniently and quietly filled by political appointment.”

Other agencies also have a history of being labeled “turkey farms” as well. From FCW: “Political turkey farms — agencies filled with former campaign staffers with thin resumes — made the headlines in the 1990s. In the George H.W. Bush administration, the Commerce Department became known as “Bush Gardens.”

Election Administrator’s Prayer

The Election Administrator’s Prayer is “Please, please, please let the winners win big.” or “Lord, let this election not be close.”

Doug Lewis, Executive Director of the National Association of Election Officials, was quoted by USA Today using another variation in November 2000: “God, please let the winner win in a landslide.”

Election law professor Rick Hasen used the phrase in an op-ed for Australia’s Canberra Times in 2008 noting how the American electoral system “remains haunted by the ghost of the democratic meltdown of 2000, which culminated in a US Supreme Court decision that handed the presidency to George W. Bush…”

“The main bulwark against this kind of problem is not the American political establishment, which has proven itself incapable of enacting a fair and nonpartisan electoral system befitting a mature democracy. Instead, we put our faith in the law of numbers. We should all utter the US election administrator’s prayer: “Lord, let this election not be close.”

incumbent rule

The “incumbent rule” is a rule of thumb used by pollsters that says incumbents rarely get a higher percentage in the election than they receive in polls, and that voters still undecided on the very last poll tend to “break” disproportionately for the challenger.

Michael Barone: “The assumption has been that voters know an incumbent, and any voter who is not for him will vote against him.”

Polling Report: “It seems that undecided voters are not literally undecided, not straddling the fence unable to make a choice – the traditional interpretation. An early decision to vote for the incumbent is easier because voters know incumbents best. It helps to think of undecided voters as undecided about the incumbent, as voters who question the incumbent’s performance in office. Most or all voters having trouble with this decision appear to end up deciding against the incumbent.”

Nonetheless, empirical data suggests the rule may be a myth. Nate Silver notes that it is “extremely common for an incumbent come back to win re-election while having less than 50 percent of the vote in early polls.” In addition, “there is no demonstrable tendency for challengers to pick up a larger share of the undecided vote than incumbents.”

teabaggers

A term “teabaggers” is a derogatory nickname used to refer to supporters of the conservative “Tea Party” movement.

CBS News: “It’s the sort of word you might expect to hear from a smirking 14-year-old boy: Critics of the Tea Party movement like to refer to its members as ‘teabaggers,’ a reference to a sexual act known as ‘teabagging,’ which we’re going to refrain from explaining here. To give you an idea of both the meaning of the word and the juvenile way it gets used, consider this comment from MSNBC’s David Shuster: ‘…the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals. They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending.'”

According to the Huffington Post, CNN’s Anderson Cooper also had fun with the term, noting “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.”

Interestingly, President Barack Obama is quoted using the word in Jonathan Alter’s book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, noting that the unanimous House Republican vote against his economic stimulus bill “helped to create the teabaggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

gypsy moth Republican

A “gypsy moth Republican” is a pejorative term used by conservative Republicans to describe a moderate members of their party who represent a Northeastern or Midwestern urban part of the United States — an area that is also the habitat for the invasive Gypsy moth, which damages trees.

The implication is that the gypsy moth Republicans damage the Republican Party by occasionally siding with Democrats.

A gypsy moth Republican is related to a RINO.

bundling

“Bundling” is the practice of rounding up contributions from friends and associates to bypass campaign finance limits.

San Antonio News-Express: “Welcome to the world of bundlers: a semi-secretive though perfectly legal practice in which super-duper fundraisers deliver bundles of campaign contributions to their favorite candidates that they induce, entice or, some would say, strong-arm others to make. Bundling allows candidates of both parties to finesse the federal caps on individual political contributions and allows the bundlers to gain more-than-ordinary access to presidents and presidential hopefuls.”

gobbledygook

“Gobbledygook” is a term coined by Rep. Maury Maverick (D-TX) for obscure and euphemistic bureaucratic language.

World Wide Words: “He used the word in the New York Times Magazine on May 21, 1944, while he was chairman of the US Smaller War Plants Committee in Congress, as part of a complaint against the obscure language used by his colleagues. His inspiration, he said, was the turkey, ‘always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity’. The word met a clear need and quickly became part of the language. It is sometimes abbreviated slightly to gobbledygoo.”

bunk

“Bunk” is empty or nonsense talk.

In 1820, Rep. Felix Walker from Ashville, North Carolina justified his long-winded and somewhat irrelevant remarks about the Missouri Compromise by arguing that his constituents had elected him “to make a speech for Buncombe.” One member said that his pointless speech “was buncombe” and soon “buncombe” became synonymous with vacuous speech.

As the new meaning of buncombe grew in use, it was eventually shortened to the now familiar word “bunk.”

Bradley effect

Bradley effect

The “Bradley effect” is a polling phenomenon involving high support for non-white and non-female candidates in opinion polls not reflected by election results.

Origins and History

This phenomenon was coined following Tom Bradley’s (D) run for California governor in 1982. Bradley, an African American and the mayor of Los Angeles, was ahead of opponent George Deukmejian (R) entering the final days of the election. On Election Night, Deukmejian defeated Bradley by less than 2% of the vote. Political observers posited that some white voters voiced their support for Bradley in phone polling to avoid appearing politically incorrect or racist.

Additional examples of the Bradley effect followed the namesake’s narrow loss. Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington won a more narrow victory over a white opponent than polling indicated. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential campaign received a smaller vote share from white voters than their expectations from polls. Colin Powell considered a Republican presidential run in 1996 but was advised that the Bradley effect would be prominent in an increasingly white party.

The Bradley effect has weakened over time thanks to polling precision and changing cultural values. U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford (D) received roughly the same amount of white support in polling as he received on Election Night. Barack Obama (D) flipped the Bradley effect on its head in the 2008 presidential election by winning white voters in previously Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina.

FiveThirtyEight’s study of the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton showed the signs of a reverse Bradley effect. Obama received 3.3% more of the vote across all primaries than was indicated by polling including a higher proportion of the white vote. The publication acknowledged that hidden racial motivates may have existed but did not impact Obama’s chances in the aggregate.

The concept of the Bradley effect has been called different names and expanded in scope since 1982. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Douglas Wilder (D) won narrowly in 1989, leading state observers to call it the Wilder effect. David Dinkins (D) won one term as mayor of New York City and lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 with some attribution to a Dinkins effect. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Donald Trump has been attributed to something similar to the Bradley effect. Pew Research Center noted that polls may have underestimated Trump’s support and overestimated Clinton’s support due to concerns by respondents about their level of support.

Examples

Vanity Fair (November 3, 2016): “A more significant Bradley effect was visible among certain demographic groups, however. Morning Consult found that voters with a college degree supported Clinton by a 21-point margin in phone interviews, but only by a 7-point margin online.”

The New Republic (October 12, 2008): “But now Lance Tarrance, the pollster for Bradley in that race, has an article up at RCP suggesting that the Bradley Effect was merely a case of bad polling — and that his campaign’s internals had shown a dead heat.”

Politico (October 9, 2008): “There was, in the primary, clearly a ‘reverse Bradley Effect’ among black voters, whose support for Obama was consistently understated in the polling.”

heck of a job

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.

The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”

Brown resigned ten days after he was praised by Bush.

goo-goos

The term “goo-goos” refers to good government groups that support political reform.

The term was first used by detractors of political reformers in the late 19th century when urban municipal governments were controlled by political machines. It’s still used today as a slightly derisive label for modern day reformers.

Eleventh Commandment

Eleventh Commandment

Ronald Reagan famously said that the “eleventh commandment” was, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

The phrase was coined in the 1960s by Gaylord Parkinson, who was the state chairman of California Republicans at the time. Parkinson added, “Henceforth, if any Republican has a grievance against another, that grievance is not to be bared publicly.”

Reagan first talked about the “eleventh commandment” in 1966, when he was running to be governor of California. At the time, Reagan had just recently switched parties and his Republican opponents seized on that as a way to attack him. Some of them called him “temperamentally and emotionally upset” and hinted that his switch of parties “might indicate instability.” Through it all, Reagan said he didn’t believe in speaking ill of other Republicans. 

Parkinson apparently proposed the rule against Republicans attacking each other because he believed that it would keep Reagan’s opponent, San Francisco mayor Mayor George Christopher, from attacking Reagan; more generally, Parkinson wanted to achieve party unity ahead of the general election.

Reagan continued to invoke the “eleventh commandment” throughout his political career. After he became governor, Reagan also used his new position to advise other Republicans on what he saw as proper decorum. In 1968, for example, Reagan spoke up when George Romney challenged Richard Nixon to a debate presidential primary. Reagan said, “I don’t think that’s necessary. Whenever you do that, you return to the atmosphere of violating the 11th commandment, which we originated in California, that you should speak no ill of another Republican.”

Much later, Reagan referred to the rule in his autobiography, An American Life. Speaking of the eleventh commandment, he wrote, “It’s a rule I followed during that campaign, and I have ever since.”

In the decades since Reagan’s administration, journalists and pundits have periodically complained that Republicans don’t seem to be following Reagan’s eleventh commandment any more. In 2011, for example, the New York Times fretted that a recent Republican debate had “led to the biggest display yet of combativeness among candidates who often evoke Ronald Reagan, but did not heed his 11th commandment, not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.”

A few years later, in 2015, the Dayton Daily News lamented that the Republican presidential hopefuls were not living up to Reagan’s example. The newspaper wrote,

“The 11th commandment prevails, and that is, ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,'” Ronald Reagan said.  If these past few weeks are any indication …“Donald Trump is a narcissist and an egomaniac,” Bobby Jindal said. “Jeb Bush is a low-energy person,” Donald Trump said. “I think Donald Trump’s a disaster,” Rand Paul said on Fox News.

The Republican candidates Wednesday night won’t be in observance.”

Even after the 2016 election, some Republicans were lamenting that members of their own party were engaging in pointless Twitter wars with each other and refusing to work effectively with one another. The answer, one op-ed read, was a return to Reagan’s vision: “Republicans should take a look at Reagan’s speeches, read about him, and try to learn from a politician who brought a nation together in so many ways.” 

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.”

filling the tree

“Filling the tree” is a procedure used by the Senate Majority Leader to offer a sufficient number of amendments on legislation to “fill the tree” so that no other senator can offer an amendment.

Congressional Institute: “By tradition, the Majority Leader is recognized first at the start of a debate. This enables the Leader, from time to time, to block the minority from offering any changes to a bill. To accomplish this, the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree with extraneous or meaningless amendments thereby blocking the introduction of any legitimate amendments by any other Senator (including those in his own party). It is a form of parliamentary obstruction used by the majority.”

flake rate

“Flake rate” is a calculation of people who sign up to volunteer for political canvassing or events but do not participate.

Flake rate is presented as a percentage of volunteers who initially sign up for campaign activities but ultimately decline to attend. The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment suggests that 50% of volunteers recruited for an event will not participate.

A low flake rate shows strong buy-in by volunteers in a campaign’s message and structure. A high flake rate can be attributed to superficial campaign development or lack of engagement with supporters beyond their initial sign-up. A negative flake rate occurs when more volunteers show up for a campaign action compared to the original sign-up list.

The Campaign Workshop provides a representative sample of suggestions for campaigns seeking to reduce their flake rates. These suggestions include frequent confirmations with volunteers and encouraging participation as part of daily routines. Recognition for volunteer performances and a variety of work can also encourage higher participation rates.

This term is largely used by political operatives, nonprofit leaders, and other experts. Google’s Ngram Viewer does not register the term in English texts to 2012. The Google Trends interest chart shows brief spikes around presidential elections but relative interest below 50%. Recent usage of the term comes from the dating app scene with users calculating flake rates based on planned dates that do not occur.

Examples

The Daily Beast (February 25, 2020): “‘We had a 75 percent flake rate,’ Leo said. ‘A good field plan can add on the margins but it can’t do it for you all by itself. You’ve got to be in the conversation, you’ve got to be on people’s minds.’”

Slate (September 6, 2012): “The metric of the day for Barack Obama’s field team is ‘flake rate’: the percentage of supporters who had registered to attend his open-air stadium speech but won’t show up for one of the replacement events the campaign is scrambling to arrange in its place after moving tonight’s convention session indoors.”

 

thrown under the bus

To be “thrown under the bus” is to be sacrificed by someone hoping to avoid blame themselves, often in order to make political gain.

Newsweek: “In general, ‘thrown under the bus’ is a metaphor for what happens when someone takes a hit for someone else’s actions. But unlike its etymological cousins, ‘scapegoat’ and ‘fall guy,’ the phrase suggests a degree of intimacy between the blamer and the blamed.”

Word Detective: “I think the key to the phrase really lies in the element of utter betrayal, the sudden, brutal sacrifice of a stalwart and loyal teammate for a temporary and often minor advantage.”

chum

“Chum” is campaign gear such as bumper stickers, lawn signs, and campaign buttons.

The term is derived from the bait used to catch fish because in a political campaign these items are frequently used to entice volunteers and voters to get more involved in a campaign or bringing them to events. The distribution of chum is organized by a candidate’s advance man.

Time notes that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s campaign “set up little tabletop trinket shops, known as ‘chum stores’ because all those little Obama-branded doodads aren’t only keepsakes; they are also bait. Every person who buys a button or hat is recorded as a campaign donor. But the real goal of the chum operations was building a list of workers, supporters and their e-mail addresses.”

push card

A “push card” is 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.

strange bedfellows

Two politicians are “strange bedfellows” if they have made an unusual political alliance.

The term comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest when a storm causes Trinculo to seek shelter under a sheet with Caliban, whom he regards as an enemy. “There is no other shelter hereabout: misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.”

stemwinder

A “stemwinder” is a rousing political speech that galvanizes a crowd to take action.

The Word Detective notes the term is “one of those grand old words that have traveled so far from their origins that nearly all traces of their beginnings have faded from popular culture.”

Slate: “The term dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when the stem-winding watch came into vogue. The newfangled timepiece was a vast improvement over its predecessor, the key-wound watch, because the mechanism for setting it was a stem actually attached to the watch, rather than a key that was easily and frequently misplaced. This technological advance was so widely appreciated that, by the end of the 1800s, the term stemwinder had taken on the figurative meaning of ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding,’ or, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, ‘a person or thing that is first rate. …'”

political suicide

“Political suicide” is 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.”

carpetbagger

A “carpetbagger” is a politician who runs for office or tries to appeal to a constituency in a geographic area where he or she has no roots or connection.

The term traces its roots back to the Civil War era, when it was first coined as a way of deriding someone from the northern states who migrated to the Confederacy to opportunistically benefit from the Reconstruction. Southerners who resented these interlopers started referring to them as “carpetbaggers,” a reference to the satchel – or cheap carpet bag – that held their meager belongings.

At the time, these so-called “carpetbaggers” headed south because the Confederate states needed significant capital investment, and there were financial opportunities that that didn’t exist in the north. Over time, this influx of northerners began to alter the political realities in the south, and the term “carpetbagger” became synonymous with an ill-intentioned foreigner who aligned with slaves, and had an aspirations to hold office in a region in which they were either not welcome or not part of the community.

Often confused with the term “scalawag,” the History Channel explains the difference. While a “carpetbagger” was an interloper who imposed their views on the south, a “scalawag” referred to someone already living in the south who was sympathetic to the northern cause, or specifically in this case, was anti-slavery.

Taken broadly, all northerners who went south in search of opportunity could be called carpetbaggers, but in reality the label didn’t apply to just anyone. To quote a 2014 Mother Jones article: “If you came South and joined up with the Democrats, you were a gentleman, not a carpetbagger.” Hence, it was a mostly partisan label, hurled by Democrats at Republicans.

Famous Restoration carpetbaggers included Adelbert Ames, Hiram Revels, Albion W. Tourgee, and Daniel Henry Chamberlain.

In more modern times, satchels made of carpet are no longer in vogue, and the term carpetbagger can refer to a member of any political party; nor is it limited to Republicans who migrated south. Modern carpetbaggers are sometimes accused of “district shopping.”

One of the most noted examples of modern carpetbagging occurred in 1964, when Bobby Kennedy sought the New York Senate seat. As noted by American Heritage: “…For controversy, comedy, and sheer audacity, no act of carpetbagging is likely to measure up any time soon to what happened when Robert F. Kennedy invaded the Empire State in 1964.” Of course, Kennedy ultimately appealed to New York voters, and he won the seat he sought.

High profile carpetbaggers abound. In 2014, when Republican Scott Brown from Massachusetts decided to run for office in New Hampshire, instead of eschewing the charge, he embraced it. As reported in the Washington Post, Brown said “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever.”

In 1999, when Hillary Cilnton ran for the New York Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, charges of carpetbagging accompanied her bid, but were mostly shrugged off by voters. Hillary went on to win to election by 12 points.

snollygoster

snollygoster

A “snollygoster” is a political operative or candidate who uses cunning or ethically questionable behavior to achieve power.

The term snollygoster is traced back to 1846 by Merriam-Webster with a strong preference for the word among Southern politicians starting in the 1850s. Georgia legislator H.W.J. Ham is often credited with popularizing the term in the late 19th century. He used snollygoster in 1893 to describe fellow Georgians who had “an unquenchable thirst for office with neither the power to get it nor the ability to fill it.”

By the 20th century, there was a belief that snollygoster evolved from the mythical snallygaster. This creature was believed to roam Maryland in search of children to eat. Merriam-Webster dispelled this connection, however, noting that snallygaster was not found in publications until after snollygoster.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows relatively low usage for the term in English publications from the late 19th century to the 1940s. A spike in usage occurred in the 1950s thanks to President Harry Truman’s application of snollygoster to his Republican opponents. He invoked the term in a 1952 speech in West Virginia to refer to politicians who use their religious background to gain political support.

Snollygoster remained a novelty to political observers through the early 20th century. Safire’s Political Dictionary revised between 1968 and 1993 included an entry for the term. Publisher William Safire used snollygoster in a 1980 article in The New York Times on the power of presidential words. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly used the term in his Word of the Day feature.

Merriam-Webster removed snollygoster from its Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 because it was considered an archaic term. The publication added the term again in 2017 due in part to O’Reilly’s invocation of the word in reference to Democratic politicians. The term has gained currency among those who want to show a deep knowledge of political history. WOSU, a public radio network in Ohio, has a weekly podcast called Snollygoster that covers politics in the Buckeye State. Snollygoster’s revival came from its unusual sound and the continued presence of figures who match the definition.

Examples

The Huffington Post (December 6, 2017): “Seriously, how much harder do we have to be hit on the head before we realize that this “snollygoster” destroys the essence of who we are as a people.”

Slinging Mud (2011): “Ham claimed to have first heard the word during an 1848 political debate. He defined a snollygoster as a ‘place-hunting demagogue’ or a ‘political hypocrite.’”

The New York Times (September 2, 1952): “President Truman revived an old American word today when he taunted the ‘Republican snollygosters.’”

cuff links gang

According to Time, a “cuff links gang” refers to the group of friends who helped Franklin D. Roosevelt run for Vice President in 1920 “and to whom he gave sets of cuff links in remembrance of that unfortunate political campaign.”

The gift of cuff links to political operatives has since become a sign of being an early insider with a politician.

favorite son

A favorite son candidate is one who draws their support from the home state or from the broader region. Sometimes the term is also used for someone with little to no support outside of their own region. 

In the past, state delegations sometimes nominated “favorite son” candidates as a bargaining tactic. After nominating their own local candidate, state leaders were in a position to make deals with the leading candidates, trading their support for whatever privilege they wanted for the state. The process was described in detail in a piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 1928. The Post-Gazette described the “favorite son” procedure as a way for “professional politicians” can be sure of “securing what they want at a national convention.” 

The term “favorite son” kept its original and negative connotation for many years. In 1968, for example, the New York Times wrote about Ronald Reagan’s decision to run for president: “Another declared opponent entered the field against Mr. Nixon when Gov. Ronald Reagan of California announced he was a real, rather than a favorite-son, candidate.”

In the same electoral cycle, Spiro Agnew started out as a “favorite son” candidate but agreed to drop out of the running; he later became Nixon’s running mate.

In modern times, brokered conventions have been replaced by primary elections, which means that the kind of explicit deal-making described in the Post-Gazette no longer takes place. Today, “favorite son” is most often used to mean “hometown hero.” (Female politicians are sometimes called “favorite daughters.”)

An article written after George H.W. Bush passed away, for example, was headlined “Connecticut mourns the death of favorite son, George H.W. Bush.” The piece cited Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei, who called Bush a “hometown boy.”

“The Town of Greenwich, like the nation and the world, mourns the loss of one of its own — a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Tesei said. “President George H.W. Bush was a true hometown boy, that regardless of his position in the global sphere of political power, he remained forever tied to his family roots here in Greenwich.”

Similarly, Barack Obama was often described as “Chicago’s favorite son,” or as “Illinois’ favorite son.” After his election, many in Chicago held out hope that their “favorite son” would thank them for their support by doing more to help the troubled city. 

A favorite son or daughter can also help put a location on the map, when it might otherwise be overlooked. That was the hope when Grace Meng, a member of the New York State legislature, decided to run for Congress. As WNYC said, a win for Meng would be also be a win for her whole community:

“Besides winning the straw poll for political Ms. Congeniality, Meng’s immigrant family and political do-it-yourself background has positioned her as the aspirational candidate in the race. She represents that classic New York political storyline of a rising community that, through the success of its favored daughter or son, can say it’s finally made it, even as questions linger about her readiness for a promotion to Congress.”

cattle call

cattle call

In politics, a public event at which a big group of political candidates all speak.

The term comes from the acting world, where a “cattle call” is a massive audition to fill a part in a movie or play. Merriam Webster notes that the term was first used in 1952.

The event serves as an audition for the part of presidential candidate. A cattle call allows all the candidates in a race to make their stump speech, to be heard, and to get the media exposure they so badly need. It’s also good practice for the advance team.

Typically, a cattle call takes place early in the election cycle, in a state with an early primary contest like New Hampshire or Iowa. Cattle calls are especially common in Iowa, where voters traditionally put a lot of value in being able to meet the candidates face to face. The events are usually organized by advocates of specific causes, or by political party organizations.

Tim Albrecht, a long-time GOP strategist in Iowa, explained the benefits of the cattle call this way: “You have a megaphone from the inside out. There’s no other place these candidates can go where they will see 200 media confined to one location. That’s potentially 200 stories they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. With these kinds of events, it’s a very low bar to participate and to even be invited.”

In theory, a cattle call gives candidates the chance to distinguish themselves from their rivals and stand out from the crowd. In practice, this can be trickier than expected. When the field is crowded, candidates can start to blur into one another, at least in the mind of the audience. The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich, a veteran of many Iowa cattle calls, has grumbled that the events tend to be “mind numbing,” with hours of speeches and little opportunity to get to know the candidates.

In June 2019, 19 Democratic candidates took the stage in Iowa to speak to prospective voters. As Time Magazine reported, most of the audience seemed to have trouble telling the candidates apart. “When are we going to start seeing some real contrast?” an Iowa Democratic operative reportedly complained, adding, “Somebody’s gotta throw a punch.”

Cattle call is often used in a slightly negative way, implying that an event is not very serious. During the 2019 primary season, for example, The Washington Times ran an op-ed describing one of the Democratic debates as little more than a cattle call. The piece argued that not only was the stage crowded, but the candidates failed to stand out from each other:

“The goal in a real debate is to arrive at a conclusion which best solves a problem. This is what is so frustrating about these badly constructed cattle calls; either no one proposes a workable solution to a real problem or the problem is ignored altogether.”

It’s worth noting that years before “cattle call” had its current political meaning, it was a hit song recorded by Eddy Arnold, full of nostalgia for the cowboy’s way of life. And before that, of course, it was just a way of calling in the cows.

 

Checkers speech

The Checkers speech was a nationally-televised address made by Sen. Richard Nixon (R-CA) on September 23, 1952 as he was fighting to retain his spot on the national Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his supporters to reimburse him for his political expenses. In an attempt to stem the controversy over the fund, Nixon spoke to about about 60 million Americans about his humble upbringing which led to an outpouring of public support for him. He was retained on the ticket by Dwight D. Eisenhower who won the election in November 1952.

During the speech, Nixon said that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog which was named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name.

The speech was an early example of a politician using television to appeal directly to the electorate, but has since sometimes been mocked or denigrated. “Checkers speech” has come more generally to mean any emotional speech by a politician.

politics ain’t beanbag

“Politics ain’t beanbag” Is an old-fashioned way of saying that politics can be rough. People express roughly the same idea when they call politics “hardball” or a “contact sport.”

The term originally comes from a 19th century novel by the writer Finley Peter Dunne. One of Dunne’s characters is an Irish American named  Mr. Dooley, who likes to sit in his favorite Chicago bar and talk about politics. The full quote from Mr. Dooley reads, ““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.”

The phrase is a little archaic, but it’s still used periodically, especially by political commentators who want to lend extra gravitas to their declarations. In 2014, for example, New York Post columnist Bob McManus wrote a piece discussing Andrew Cuomo’s re-election as the governor of New York. McManus wrote that Cuomo had used some dirty tactics to get elected but,

Big deal: Politics ain’t beanbag, as the Irish used to say, and Andrew Mark Cuomo woke up Wednesday morning sitting right where it matters most – in the catbird seat.

In 2018 the columnist Arlene Jones, writing in Austin Weekly News, used the phrase in a piece about Chicago politics. Jones described the plight of Ja’mal Green, a Chicago mayoral candidate who was having a tough time navigating the system. Jones concluded, ruefully,

“The coming weeks will reveal if Ja’mal makes it on the ballot or not. But knowing the way this city works, I’m not going to put too much money on it. Politics ain’t beanbag, and when you run, you need to learn how to play the game!”

Politicians use the expression too, of course. In 2013 Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor to denounce what he saw as a particularly nasty trick carried out by the Democrats. Cruz began by saying, “we all know the old saying that politics ain’t beanbag. But the nastiness with which the Democratic majority responded to Senator Vitter… was extraordinary.”

In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for president, New York magazine poked fun at him for getting the famous phrase wrong, again and again. Romney repeatedly said that “politics ain’t bean bags” and once said that it ain’t “the bean bag.” Newt Gingrich, who also ran for president that year, tried to turn the expression back on Romney at one point.

What is bean bag, anyway? Today, the game is often referred to as a “bean bag toss” and is generally seen as a kids’ game; it’s the kind of game you might play in the back yard during a birthday party, for example. In some parts of the country, the game is referred to as “cornhole.”

The rules are very simple. Competitors hold small bags filled with dried beans (beanbags) and toss those bags into baskets, or into holes in a specially-made beanbag board. Whoever makes the most shots wins the game. It’s a gentle, friendly game – very much unlike presidential politics.

nattering nabobs of negativism

nattering nabobs of negativism

A phrase used by Vice President Spiro Agnew to refer to the members of the media with whom he had a very acrimonious relationship.

Said Agnew while speaking to the California Republican state convention on September 11, 1970: “In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'”

While the phrase is generally attributed to Agnew, it was actually written by White House speechwriter William Safire.

As Will Bunch wrote:

The words that William Safire penned and that Spiro Agnew mouthed actually had enormous impact that has lasted until this day. They helped foster among conservatives and the folks that Nixon called ‘the silent majority‘ a growing mistrust of the mainstream media, a mistrust that grew over two generations into a form of hatred.

It also started a dangerous spiral of events — journalists started bending backwards to kowtow to their conservative critics, beginning in the time of Reagan, an ill-advised shift that did not win back a single reader or viewer on the right. Instead, it caused a lot of folks on the left and even the center to wonder why the national media had stopped doing its job, stopped questioning authority.

Another memorable Agnew line was calling anti-war protesters “effete snobs.”

military industrial complex

military industrial complex

The “military industrial complex” refers to the comfortable relationship between the military, the federal government and the defense contractors that produce weapons and equipment for war.

The term was immortalized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961. In the speech, Eisenhower cites the military-industrial complex as a warning to the American people not to let this dictate America’s actions at home or abroad.

Said Eisenhower: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

netroots

“Netroots” is grassroots political activism organized through blogs and other online social media.

The term was coined by Jerome Armstrong and is used in his 2006 book co-authored with Markos Moulitsas, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, in which they note “the netroots activist, much like the new generation of grassroots activist, is fiercely partisan, fiercely multi-issue, and focused on building a broader movement. It’s not an ideological movement — there is actually very little, issue-wise, that unites most modern party activists except, perhaps opposition to the Iraq war.”

triangulation

The act of a political candidate presenting his or her views as being above and between the left and right sides of the political spectrum. It’s sometimes called the “third way.”

The term was first used by political consultant Dick Morris while working on the re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton in 1996. Morris urged Clinton to adopt a set of policies that were different from the traditional policies of the Democratic Party in order to co-opt the opposition.

Morris described triangulation in an interview on Frontline in 2000: “Take the best from each party’s agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn’t be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn’t believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.”

Morris also offered a definition in his book Power Plays: “The idea behind triangulation is to work hard to solve the problems that motivate the other party’s voters, so as to defang them politically… The essence of triangulation is to use your party’s solutions to solve the other side’s problems. Use your tools to fix their car.”

gaffe

A “gaffe” is an unintentional comment that causes a politician embarrassment.

The term often refers to a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say because it is politically damaging.

Michael Kinsley: “It used to be, there was truth and there was falsehood. Now there is spin and there are gaffes. Spin is often thought to be synonymous with falsehood or lying, but more accurately it is indifference to the truth. A politician engaged in spin is saying what he or she wishes were true, and sometimes, by coincidence, it is. Meanwhile, a gaffe, it has been said, is when a politician tells the truth — or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head. A gaffe is what happens when the spin breaks down.”

New York Observer: “In a world of YouTube, where everyone’s a video camera, publicized moments of misstatement and accusation presumably will only increase. But why do some public people in these cross hairs self-immolate while others endure and prevail? Maybe it’s because they ignore a few simple rules.”

inside baseball

The term “inside baseball” refers to any subject matter which is considered too highly specialized to be appreciated by the general public. In politics, inside baseball usually refers to the technical details and the finer points of political strategy, as opposed to big ideas and emotional appeals.

Inside baseball began, of course, as a term describing a particular way of playing baseball. In the 1890s, inside baseball meant relying on bunts, small hits, and stolen bases to win games, instead of trying for home runs and other dramatic plays. Today, that kind of approach is usually called “small ball.” Edward Hugh Hanlon, a turn of the century baseball player and manager, was considered the father of inside baseball.

Over time, the term took on a broader meaning. It came to be used often in political coverage, where it referred to the kinds of issues that only political junkies really care about. The details about how Congressional hearings are run, for example, could be classed as inside baseball. So could the specific rules at a campaign event. Any aspect of politics which is “wonky,” or “nerdy” can also be described as inside baseball.

The term is often used in a negative sense, to criticize an elitist or overly narrow focus. William Safire noted that by 1978, the Washington Post was poking fun at Senator Ted Kennedy for making “inside baseball” jokes in the middle of “boring hearings” in the Senate. Merriam Webster argues that the term is a few decades older than that and, in fact, dates back to at least 1952. In that year, an article in Boston Traveler wrote, “The evidence indicates the Eisenhower staff is going to have to learn their ‘inside baseball’ the hard way.”

William Safire also noted that politicians on the campaign trail often grumble about reporters who, in their view, focus too closely on the details: “In politics, candidates who say they want to discuss larger issues look down their noses at the journalists and think-tankers who bedevil them with questions about campaign techniques, fund-raising plans and poll results. To them, inside baseball has a pejorative connotation that the phrase never gained in the baseball world.” Similarly, journalists sometimes agonize over whether it’s worth reporting on the nitty-gritty of how Washington operates.

At the same time, some journalists argue that reporting on inside baseball is crucial, since it gives the public a window into how the government actually operates. Inside politics can mean the details of how fundraising and lobbying are carried out. It can also include reporting on the nitty-gritty of how bills get passed into law: pork barrel spending, earmarks, logrolling, and other backroom maneuvers can all be described as inside baseball.

In its more positive sense, inside baseball political reporting can mean covering third party politics in detail. It can also mean illuminating an area of politics which would normally be overlooked because it may not be of interest to the general public.

William Safire: “From its sports context comes its political or professional denotation: minutiae savored by the cognoscenti, delicious details, nuances discussed and dissected by aficionados. In politics, candidates who say they want to discuss larger issues look down their noses at the journalists and think-tankers who bedevil them with questions about campaign techniques, fund-raising plans and poll results. To them, inside baseball has a pejorative connotation that the phrase never gained in the baseball world.”

sacred cow

A “sacred cow” is any program, policy, or person that is regarded as being beyond attack or untouchable. The term references the status held by cows in Hindu culture, where the cow is regarded as a sacred animal.

For instance, in American politics, Social Security has been considered a sacred cow because it is so politically popular that most politicians would never support ending the program.

“Sacred Cow” was also the nickname of the first military aircraft used to transport a United States president.  According to the National Museum of the Air Force, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew in the Sacred Cow to meet Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin in the USSR for the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

psephology

Psephology is 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.

soft power

Soft power is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option rather than the use of coercion.

The phrase was first coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in the late 1980s and is now widely used in international affairs.

From Nye’s book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics: “Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade. Whereas hard power — the ability to coerce — grows out of a country’s military or economic might, soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.”

advance man

The “advance man” is someone who makes arrangements and handles publicity for the candidate during a campaign. The advance man travels to a location ahead of the candidate’s arrival and sets everything up so that things run smoothly for the candidate’s media appearance, or for whatever event the candidate is participating in.

As Time reports, “There is no such thing as a spontaneous campaign appearance. Every candidate has his advance men, the harried unsung experts who go from town to town to make as sure as humanly possible that the crowds will be out, the schedule smooth, the publicity favorable.”

According to Merriam Webster, the phrase dates back to at least 1882.

An advance man can also be compared to a fixer. He, or she, plans every moment and every detail of the candidate’s day in order to make sure that the upcoming appearance is completely successful. It’s similar to a body man who handles a politician’s personal and logistical issues through the day.

This means figuring out where a rally will take place and organizing the local fundraisers. It also means deciding where the candidate will sleep at night, and how he’ll travel from place to place within the area. An effective advance man plans out even the tiniest details, like where exactly the candidate’s car will pull up to the event, and who will stand next to the candidate on stage.

In today’s media-saturated world, candidates are subjected to greater scrutiny than ever before. This means that the work of an advance man is more difficult than ever before.

Josh King, who served as an advance man under Bill Clinton, compared his job to that of a roadie or of a movie director. King told PopSugar that his job boiled down to making sure “that something that is designed to entertain and impress and inform comes off without a hitch.”

Marc Levitt served as advance man for Bernie Sanders in 2016; Levitt also worked as an advance man on the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama. Levitt said that he was astonished when he first saw what intense planning went into organizing John Kerry’s days.

He later said that an advance man does all of the behind-the-scenes work which people tend not to even notice. Levitt said, “at every place that a presidential candidate goes and every event that he appears at, I think there’s a perception that these things just happen magically. When, in fact, they are the most planned and coordinated aspect of the campaign.”

Most of the time, advance men stay out of the public eye — the very nature of their work means that they avoid the spotlight. When they do get media attention, it’s usually because something has gone wrong – or because they’re retiring. But an effective advance man cultivates a close relationship with the candidate and occupies a position of trust.

Donald Trump was known for sometimes “namechecking” his advance man, George Gigicos, from the stage. In 2016, for example, candidate Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Pensacola, Florida. Frustrated at the sound quality, Trump yelled, “The stupid mic keeps popping! Do you hear that, George? Don’t pay ’em! Don’t pay ’em!”

Gigicos also worked as an advance man for George W Bush and for the Mitt Romney campaign; he joined the Trump campaign in 2015 and was one of the longest-serving members of the team.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands as he arrives for a town hall meeting, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Ottumwa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

glad-hander

A glad hander is a highly extroverted person, who makes a point of acting friendly in an over-the-top way. In politics, especially, the term glad-hander connotes insincerity and opportunism.

Glad-handers are also referred to as back slappers. To “glad-hand” is also a verb.

Merriam Webster claims that the first known use of “glad-hand” was back in 1903. The phrase grew out of the older expression to “give the glad hand,” which meant to extend a warm welcome to a friend. The phrase has often been used in a cynical sense.

Some political scientists have argued that in fact, most politicians in modern history have been morose and depressive. The cheery, glad-handing exterior is nothing more than a façade, aimed to hide the sadness within. If anything, some analysts say, glad-handing could be one of the ways that narcissistic politicians seek an emotional boost in the form of public affirmation.

In 2020, the reality of COVID-19 and social distancing meant that politicians had to stop glad handing. In some cases, this turned out to be a challenge. In March 2020, Fox News noted that President Trump had glad-handed a whole rope line of his supporters, as they waited to see him speak at an event in Florida.

This wasn’t just a one-time event. The Times of Israel noted that, at least as of March, Trump was continuing to hold meetings with other heads of state:

President Donald Trump is flouting his own government’s advice on how to stay safe. He continues to shake hands with supporters and visitors, hold large events and minimize the threat posed by a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 115,000 people and killed over 4,000 worldwide.

The Times of Israel reported that the vice president, Mike Pence, had defended Trump for shaking hands and vowed that the glad-handing would go on.

“In our line of work, you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand,” Pence said. “And I expect the president will continue to do that. I’ll continue to do it.”

The Washington Post reported that the Democratic presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, was also struggling to adapt to the new norms of social distancing:

Joe Biden is a personal kind of politician. He’s a glad-hander, a back-slapper, a shoulder-squeezer and a hair-nuzzler — sometimes to a fault. Yet with the presidential campaign essentially in suspended animation and all of us practicing social distancing (or at least we should all be), Biden can’t interact with voters the way he’d like. So what should he do?

The Post recommended that Biden should take a break from glad-handing and turn to making video announcements from his home – an appropriate measure in the age of social distancing. The Post suggested that Biden should set out his platform in a series of friendly, accessible video announcement.

cookie-cutter campaigns

A “cookie-cutter campaigns” are political campaigns run by political consultants who use virtually identical strategies in different jurisdictions. The typical sign of such campaigns are websites or direct mail advertisements that use identical layouts and stock photographs.

The increased number of cookie-cutter campaigns in recent years is due, in large part, to the rise of political consulting on the local level.

But they’re also due to consultants having found campaign tactics that work again and again.

Walter Shapiro: “There is another intriguing reason why campaign tactics in both parties are about as creative and innovative as those employed by the French general staff during World War II. No major candidate is willing to risk his or her political future on untried campaign plans built around embracing new media and playing down TV spots. With a Senate seat or a governorship at stake, the political herd instinct is as powerful as it is debilitating. So every campaign resembles every other campaign with cookie-cutter ads since the creative potential of 30-second spots was exhausted decades ago.”

Farley file

A Farley file is a log kept by politicians on people they have met previously.

It’s named for James Aloysius Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley kept a file on anyone Roosevelt met allowing him to “remember” key personal details such as the name of their spouse and children or anything useful which might have come out of earlier meetings.

Farley files are now commonly kept by politicians.

Mugwumps

In American politics, the term “mugwumps” was first used to describe those who left the Republican party in favor of the Democrats in 1884 to vote for Glover Cleveland instead of the GOP nominee James Blaine.

At a contentious 1884 Republican convention, Blaine beat out Chester Arthur for the nomination on the 4th ballot. But Blaine had his detractors and was perceived as financially corrupt by a significant number of Republicans, who would ultimately flee the Republican party and vote for his Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland. There were enough defectors (estimated to be 60,000), particularly in New York State, to swing the election to Cleveland, who became the 22nd president.

In a sense, Mugwumps were the original independents, eschewing their party for the things they believed in strongly.

Mugwumps earned their colorful nickname when New York Sun’s editor Charles Anderson Dana first referred to them as such, citing their fence sitting posture: “Their mug sat on one side of the fence and their wump on the other.”

The nickname, however, actually had a dual meaning, as the term was originally derived from an Algonquian word that referred to a “war leader” or someone who considered himself “self-important.” Ironically, it was Blaine’s sense of self-importance that the mugwumps were rebelling against.

At the time, the Mugwump nickname was meant to be derogatory. From The Daily Kos: “The bolters were called man milliners, hermaphrodites, turncoats, amateurs, delusional public moralists. By claiming themselves above partisan interests, Mugwumps were seen as sanctimoniously arrogant.”

But the term was actually embraced by these independents who were proud to be “aloof from party politics.” Some of the most notable Mugwumps still have a firm place in American history, such as Carl Schurz , Henry Adams, Charles Eliot Norton and Henry Ward Beecher.  Two of the most notable Mugwumps were Mark Twain and Louis Brandeis.

These days, a general misunderstanding of what a Mugwump really was has led to more questionable uses of the word, including a 2017 Boris Johnson rhetorical attack on Jeremy Corbyn, when the British PM called Corbyn a “mutton-headed old mugwump.”

And the term has crossed over from politics to pop culture, finding a place in Harry Potter’s universe.

In 2016, the controversial candidacy of Donald Trump caused some, like political consultant and writer David Frum, to long for the days of the Mugwumps, where principles trumped party.

Indeed, a direct analog to the Mugwumps of 1884 can be found in the “Never Trumpers,” who all but left the Republican party under the 45th president in favor of any possible alternative. Such contemporary “mugwumps” include Jeff Flake, Bill Kristol and Rick Wilson.

Shermanesque statement

Shermanesque statement

A Shermanesque statement is a clear and direct statement by a potential political candidate indicating that he or she will not run for a particular office.

The term is derived from a remark made by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman when he was being considered as a possible Republican candidate for president in 1884. Sherman declined, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

In modern times, President Lyndon Johnson famously declared he would not run for a second term in 1968 by saying, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Likewise, Gen. David Petraeus made a similar pledge in 2010 saying, “I thought I’ve said ‘no’ as many ways as I could. I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you of that.”

RINO

Republican In Name Only (RINO) is a disparaging term that refers to a Republican candidate whose political views are seen as insufficiently conforming to the party line.

The phrase, without the RINO acronym, became first popularized during the Theodore Roosevelt presidency, as he was often labeled a “Republican in name only” by both critics and proponents, as his trust-busting policies were at odds with long-standing Republican Party ideologies.

By 1992, the acronym “RINO” had shown up in print, with an article in the New Hampshire Union Leader, written by John Distaso, being cited as the first instance of RINO in print.

“The Republicans were moving out and the Democrats and ‘RINOS’ (Republicans In Name Only) were moving in.”

The use of the term RINO arose as polarization increased in the political parties. Prior to the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the Democratic and Republican parties had been in a long process of realignment where conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans were quite common. With the election of Bill Clinton, Republican ideological unity became increasingly fixed. This is exemplified by Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which called upon signatories to reject and oppose all measures to increase tax rates. By 2012, nearly every Republican presidential candidate was a signatory to this pledge.

The increasing ideological unity of the Republican Party made holdovers from the previous political alignment look like outliers. Whereas historically liberal Republicans comprised a wing of the Republican Party, they had (by 1992, and especially by 2020) become incompatible with the Republican Party itself.

Therefore, in an age of party unity, the term RINO was often used as a political weapon. It could be used as a threat: vote how your party wants or be branded a RINO. It could also be used as an effective tool in a primary campaign: the incumbent is a RINO, vote for the challenger. Indeed, in the 2010 Congressional Elections, the Tea Party effectively used the term RINO as a way to “primary” Republican Incumbents whose policies were not conservative enough.

RINO is also related to the historical term “Rockefeller Republican” which referred to (traditionally) Northeast Republicans who championed business friendly practices while remaining relatively socially liberal. Named after Nelson Rockefeller who served as the Governor of New York before running unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1960, 1964, and 1968. This term has largely died out as the Rockefeller family’s political successes have dwindled.

whisper campaign

A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumors, innuendos or other sneaky tactics to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, a campaign might create use automated phone calls or anonymous flyers attacking the other candidate.

The speed and anonymity of communication made possible by modern technologies like the Internet has increased their ability to succeed.

While the manner in which you conduct a whisper campaign will depend on your ultimate goal, eHow lists a few general tips about how to get a whisper campaign underway.

Mama Grizzlies

“Mama Grizzlies” is a metaphor used by 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for conservative women.

In speeches during the 2010 midterm election campaign, Palin challenged these “mama grizzlies” to rise up and “take this country back” and invoked her 2008 acceptance speech where she compared herself to a pit bull.

Said Palin: “You don’t want to mess with moms who are rising up. If you thought pit bulls were tough, you don’t want to mess with mama grizzlies.”

As Salon noted, “These mama bears are the same hockey moms Palin targeted in her vice presidential bid, only now they’re angry.”

full Ginsburg

The “full Ginsburg” refers to an appearance by one person on all five major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, State of the Union on CNN and Fox News Sunday.

The term is named for William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer during the Clinton scandal, who was the first person to accomplish this feat, on February 1, 1998.

patriot

A patriot is 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.

killer amendment

The use of a “killer amendment” is a legislative strategy of using an amendment to severely change a bill’s intent for the purpose of killing a bill that would otherwise pass.

The member proposing the amendment would not vote in favor of the legislation when it came to the final vote, even if the amendment were accepted.

boll weevil Democrat

A Boll weevil Democrat was a conservative southern Democrat in the mid 1900s, largely known for his opposition to civil rights. They used the term because the boll weevil, a southern pest, could not be eliminated by pesticides – politicians therefore thought of them as a symbol of tenacity.

The term fell out of use in the 1980s, and conservative Democrats are now known as Blue Dogs.

Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” refers to the news media, especially with regards to their role in the political process.

The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates. The media was first called the fourth estate in 1821 by an essayist who wanted to point out the press’ power. The term is now somewhat dated, but is used to stress journalists’ importance to politics.

well

The “well” of the U.S. House of Representatives is the area in front of the rostrum.

Members wishing to speak generally do so from the well, and Congressmen who are censured are required to stand in the well to hear the resolution condemning them. Generally, presidents who address Congress do so from the rostrum, but Franklin Roosevelt’s last speech to Congress was given from the well, in a rare acknowledgment of his disability.

The origins of the term are unknown, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives one definition of ‘well’ as “The space on the floor of a law court (between the judge’s bench and the last row of seats occupied by counsel) where the solicitors sit.” It is possible that, as legislatures used to serve judicial functions, the term was transferred to legislative bodies.

body man

A “body man” is an assistant who follows a political figure around the clock, providing logistical assistance for daily tasks ranging from paperwork to meals. This is different than the advance man who typically prepares solely for campaign events.

The term body man typically refers to the closest personal aide to a president or presidential candidate. This assistant stays with the official at all times save for sensitive meetings and personal moments. Body men work with political advisors, administrative staff, and family members to manage the president’s time. The president typically selects a body man from their campaign or previous office to ensure confidentiality.

Political observers have only used this term in public recently with the earliest published reference dating back to 1988. In The Boston Globe, Susan Trausch described the body man as someone who “makes sure the candidate’s tie is straight for the TV debate, keeps his mood up and makes sure he gets his favorite cereal for breakfast.”

Google Trends found a steady increase in searches related to this term since 2004. The trend line has grown from relative interest ratings of 35 in January 2004 to 85 in February 2020. Increased media coverage of presidential inner circles over time has boosted body man into the forefront of political terminology.

Duties for the president’s body man have evolved over time. Reggie Love, a body man for President Barack Obama, said that he was hired without a job description. Blake Gottesman helped President George W. Bush handle his dog, pay for meals during campaign stops, and manage autographs on rope lines. Love played basketball with Obama in addition to handling gifts, documents, and scheduling.

The post-presidential careers of past body men show why the position is so valuable to young politicos. Stephen Bull went from a role as President Richard Nixon’s body man to roles with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Salvation Army. Tim McBride served as a body man for President George H.W. Bush before moving up the corporate ladder to a vice presidency with United Technologies Corp. Kris Engskov went from President Bill Clinton’s body man to a vice president of operations for Starbucks within a decade of service.

Public familiarity with the body man has been solidified by portrayals in popular TV shows. Characters like Gary Walsh in the HBO political comedy Veep and Charlie Young in the NBC drama The West Wing added dimensions to real-life descriptions of the role.

William Safire: “The informal job title is not be confused with the man with the briefcase, the ever-present carrier of the codes needed by the president to respond to a hostile missile launch. It is more specific and intimate than gofer, a term applied to any aide ready to ”go fer” coffee or do other menial tasks.”

Examples

CNBC (October 27, 2016): “Band had begun his career as Bill Clinton’s ‘body man’ – the young staffer who carried bags, took notes and navigated Clinton through the day.”

Politico (February 9, 2015): “Love was that oddity in politics: the ‘body man’ – part valet, part buddy, part whatever.”

The New York Times (July 19, 2008): “Mr. Engskov says the body man’s job was a study in diplomacy, politics and world affairs rolled into one: ‘It allowed you to see everything the president sees, without the responsibility.’”

czar

A “czar” is an unofficial title used to refer to high-ranking executive branch appointments.

Czars are usually given responsibility for a specific policy area and do not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They usually have an official title, but are referred to as czars by the media: For example, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is simply known as the drug czar.

Bernard Baruch, appointed by Woodrow Wilson to head the War Industries Board in 1918, was the first to be called a czar. The usage of the term, only one year after the Russian Revolution, was originally derogatory, although it is less so today.

The term czar was used more frequently in reference to appointed executive branch officials under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. In 1942, the Washington Post reported on the “executive orders creating new czars to control various aspects of our wartime economy.”

Committee of the Whole

The Committee of the Whole is a procedural device used to expedite debates in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To use it, the House adjourns and enters into a committee, with all representatives being members – this procedure allows congressmen to debate legislation subject to the simpler committee rules, and is often used to dispense with funding bills quickly. Non-voting delegates can vote in the Committee of the Whole, although their votes cannot be the deciding ones.

The U.S. Senate used the Committee of the Whole as a parliamentary device until May 16, 1930, when the practice was abolished with respect to bills and joint resolutions. The Senate continued to utilize the Committee of the Whole for consideration of treaties until February 27, 1986.

fusion voting

fusion voting

Fusion voting allows a candidate’s name to appear on multiple parties’ ballot lines, and to combine his or her votes from those lines.

The practice was widespread in the 19th century, as Democrats benefited from fusion tickets with populist parties, but now remains legal in only eight states. In those states, minor parties will often agree to cross-endorse a major party’s candidate in exchange for influence on the candidate’s platform.

maiden speech

The “maiden speech” is the first speech a legislator gives.

A maiden speech is often a non-controversial tribute to the politician’s state or district, and often pays tribute to his or her predecessor. Especially in the Senate, which prides itself on being the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” senators are expected to wait to deliver their maiden speech until they are familiar with the rules of the body.

While most maiden speeches are relatively uncontroversial, that’s not always the case. One of the most famous was Richard Nixon’s first speech to the House of Representatives, where he praised the communist-hunting efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

petitioning

Petitioning is 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.

sergeant-at-arms

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have a sergeant-at-arms, whose job it is to maintain order in the legislative chamber.

In the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms can also be instructed to request the presence of senators if not enough senators are present to meet a quorum.  If the motion to instruct the sergeant-at-arms does not bring in enough senators, the sergeant-at-arms can be instructed to write arrest warrants for all absent senators and is then required to hunt them down and bring them to the floor.

vote-a-rama

U.S. Senate rules include a special section for consideration of the annual Budget resolution. The Budget is not subject to filibuster, but all amendments must be germane and are voted on consecutively without real debate.

During a vote-a-rama, each amendment is considered and voted on for about 10 minutes until they are finished with all amendments. It’s an exhausting process that many senators have said makes it impossible to know what is actually being considered.

Keith Hennessey: “The vote-a-rama is an unusual cultural institution within the Senate. All 100 Senators are on the floor, in the cloakrooms, or right outside the Senate Chamber for hours and hours upon end. Another 100-ish staff are packed onto tiny staff benches in the rear of the Chamber, one for Republican staff and another for Democratic staff. Everyone is usually exhausted during the vote-a-rama, which comes near the end of an arduous and usually conflict-ridden legislative battle.”

Shivercrats

Shivercrats were a conservative faction of the Texas Democratic Party in the 1950s named for Texas Gov. Allan Shivers (D).

The term was first used in 1952 after Shivers backed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

Interestingly, Lyndon B. Johnson initially aligned himself with the Shivercrats as a U.S. Senator but increasingly sided with liberals on domestic policy after becoming president in 1963. Most of the Shivercrats ended up leaving the Democratic party as the liberal-moderate faction took control of the state party after 1970.

Copperheads

The Copperheads were Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted a peace settlement with the Confederates.

Republicans started calling them Copperheads, likening them to the poisonous snake. Interestingly, they accepted the label but because the copperhead to them was the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore as badges.

Perhaps the most famous Copperhead was Ohio’s Clement L. Vallandigham. Many counties in Ohio and Indiana continued to exist as a kind of solid south in exile for years along the Ohio River.

aardvarking

Aardvarking is recruiting candidates for public office with the main objective of having their names begin with the letter A.

GOP consultant Roger Stone: “In the late 1970’s a Republican consultant and I examined a series of races on Long Island when two candidates who were complete unknowns and who had no campaign resources to raise their profile. In 90% of the races the candidate who’s name began with A won. We called this phenomena ‘Aardvarking’ and urged GOP leaders to recruit candidates for lower office who’s names started with the first letter of the alphabet. Why does Adam Alberts beat Ricky Jones 90% of the time? Who knows.”

stump speech

stump speech

A stump speech is a speech that a politician makes again and again as they travel to different places during a campaign.

The expression dates back to early American history, when candidates would travel through the countryside building support for their campaigns. Most of the time, there weren’t any formal stages where a politician could address a crowd, so candidates stood on tree stumps to give their speeches. Today, candidates still travel around the country delivering standardized speeches to win over voters.

A typical stump speech has a lot of distinctive elements, all woven together into an appealing whole. The speech sets out the candidate’s values and their overarching plans, as well as specific campaign promises and talking points. And of course, the speech also needs to forge an emotional connection between the candidate and the voters.

Stump speeches are not intended to be newsworthy or dramatic. Normally, a candidate repeats the same stump speech, word for word, at every one of his campaign stops. The speech might change slightly depending on the audience – for example, the candidate might add a few words to the speech to mention local politicians, or to refer to a local specialty. For the most part, though, candidates deliver the same stump speech at every campaign stop, giving the audience time at the end to ask questions.

In 2015, the FiveThirtyEight blog created two “perfect” stump speeches – one for Republicans, and one for Democrats. The speeches weren’t real, but they imagined what highly pandering possible speeches for each party would look like, based on the values reflected by the majority of voters from each party.

The Republican speech, as written by former Republican speech writer Barton Swaim, focused on the need for smaller government, reduced Federal spending, and free trade. The Democratic speech, written by Democratic speechmaker Jeff Nussbaum, talked about social inclusion, income inequality, and education.

Even in the age of social media, the old-fashioned stump speech continues to be important during a campaign. During the 2020 presidential campaign, most candidates continued to use standardized stump speeches to present their talking points and to reach out to voters. President Trump’s stump speech clocks at just over an hour and touches on issues like the economy, conservative values, and tax cuts.

Some candidates, though, seemed to be moving away from the classic stump speech. After all, stump speeches are also full of potential pitfalls, since they present opportunities for candidates to make gaffes or lose their audience’s attention. Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination, shortened his stump speech to just 15 minutes. And Senator Elizabeth Warren replaced her own stump speech with a town hall format.

The Atlantic once cited this speech by one Phil Davidson, the would-be GOP nominee for treasurer in Stark County, Ohio, as the worst stump speech in American history. The speech is striking because of Davidson’s highly emotive delivery, even when he is discussing non-controversial subjects like his own biography. At moments, Davidson seems enraged or on the verge of tears.

unanimoua consent

unanimous consent

Unanimous consent is a legislative procedure whereby a legislator requests approval by all legislators to approve rule changes and bills.

Unanimous consent rules have been used in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate since their first meetings in 1789. A representative or senator requests unanimous consent from the presiding legislator to bypass quorum calls, approve routine bills, and activate unanimous consent agreements. Any legislator can object to this request in order to trigger debate prior to further consideration. The presiding officer waits for objections and approves passage if there is consent by all members.

Behind the scenes, legislators of both parties can create unanimous consent agreements that dictate proceedings. This agreement typically requires legislators to provide consent on time limits, rules, and other structural concerns so that substantive business can take place.

The U.S. House of Representatives has standing rules that allow unanimous consent to speed debate of floor measures. The chamber’s size makes it necessary to achieve consent from all present members to avoid legislative logjams. Members can ask for unanimous consent to suspend the rules, which means that floor debate is limited to 40 minutes prior to a vote.

The first unanimous consent agreement in the U.S. Senate is attributed to William Allen of Ohio. In 1846, Allen and other senators approved an agreement to allow debate on the addition of the Territory of Oregon. This one-off agreement turned into a regular practice of the U.S. Senate despite concerns by senators of stifling debate.

Informal unanimous consent agreements evolved into a standard procedure in 1914 that can only be altered by new agreements addressing immediate concerns. The practice of invoking cloture to end Senate debate was created in 1917 as the body created more formal mechanisms for managing floor proceedings.

Politifact found that 206 of 254 substantive measures considered by the U.S. Senate during the 110th Congress were approved by unanimous consent. The party that holds the majority in the U.S. Senate often blocks high-profile bills from receiving unanimous consent. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R) blocked three bills offered by Senate Democrats to deal with 2020 election security. Sen. James Inhofe (R) prevented unanimous consent on a 2020 resolution using the “war crimes” label for military strikes on culturally significant locations.

Examples

Q13 Fox (February 24, 2020): “Last year, the Senate passed via unanimous consent the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, which made lynching a federal crime by establishing it as a civil rights violation.”

CNN (July 18, 2019): “Paul was not the only senator who objected to the attempt to pass the bill by unanimous consent on Wednesday. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah ‘alerted the cloakroom that he objected to the bill passing without a vote,’ Lee’s communications director Conn Carroll told CNN.”

The Hill (June 27, 2019): “More than two dozen GOP lawmakers on Thursday lined up on the House floor to call for a unanimous consent vote on the bipartisan Senate-passed bill to provide emergency humanitarian border aid.”

split ticket

A split ticket is when a voter chooses candidates from different political parties in the same election.

straight ticket

Straight ticket voting allows voters to choose every candidate on a single party’s slate by making just one ballot mark.

Over the years, many states that once allowed straight ticket voting have abolished it. In 2020, only seven states will allow straight ticket voting in the presidential election. Those states are Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah.

There are a number of concerns about straight ticket voting. Some pundits have argued that, while straight ticket voting makes this easy for uninformed voters, it makes it easier for inexperienced candidates to win office. Political parties have little incentive to vet the candidates at the bottom of the ticket, the argument goes, which means that less qualified politicians can be swept into office along with the rest of their party.

Other critics of straight ticket voting say that the practice unfairly benefits the two major political parties. It’s harder for third party candidates to get a fair chance in states which allow straight ticket voting, some say.

Some people also have expressed concern that the ballots are confusing and that in states which allow straight voting, voters may not actually cast a ballot for president. That’s because in certain states, straight ticket voters still have to make a separate mark to indicate their choice for president – something which many voters don’t realize.

Informally, “straight ticket voting” is often used to describe the practice of voting for every candidate from a single party, even in states where there is no specific straight ticket ballot option.

The opposite of straight ticket voting is “split ticket voting.” A voter who votes a split ticket chooses candidates based on their individual merit, from several political parties. Some analysts argue that split ticket voters are seen as more intelligent and discerning than straight ticket voters.

Still, straight ticket voting has been on the rise in recent years, perhaps in line with the increasingly polarized electorate. In 2016, the Washington Post notes, the highest percentage of straight-ticket voting in over a century took place. 100 percent of states that held Senate elections voted for the same party for Senate as for president.

Split ticket voting has been on the decline for decades. Studies have shown that voters are identifying candidates, even in local and municipal races, with the party leadership. One study, carried out by Saint Louis University, looked at how voters select their state lawmakers. It turned out that most voters weren’t looking at the lawmakers’ platforms or their voting records. Instead, they were basing their vote on what they thought of the US president.

So during the Obama administration, voters who were unhappy with the president voted Republican in local elections. During the Trump administration, voters who are unhappy with the president vote Democrat in local elections.

In 2016, straight ticket voting appeared to reach a peak. Each state that selected a Republican senator went on to vote for Donald Trump. At the same time, each state that had voted for a Democratic senator also voted for Hillary Clinton.

push poll

A “push poll” is a form of interactive marketing in which political operatives try to sway voters to believe in certain policies or candidates under the guise of an opinion poll.

More akin to propaganda than an actual unbiased opinion survey,  a push poll is most often used during a political campaign as part of a candidate’s election strategy or by a political party to gain advantage over a rival or rivals.

While push polls are not illegal, many consider them to be unethical, and they generally fall under the umbrella of “dirty” or “negative” campaigning. They often include personal attacks, fear mongering, innuendo, and other psychological tactics to lead those being polled to believe a specific point of view or turn against a specific candidate.

Most push polls are concise and to the point, so that a large number of people can be called in a relatively short period of time, so as to have a maximum effect on public opinion.

As noted by the New York Times, a large number of reputable associations have denounced push polling as a sleazy tactic, and in certain states push polling is regulated.

In fact, over the years, many jurisdictions have tried to enact legislation to control the use of push polls, but such laws have come up against opposition from those who swear by the practice. In 2012, a proposed “push poll law” in New Hampshire ran into head winds from pollsters concerned that such laws would “outlaw message testing, preventing firms from deploying legitimate survey research on behalf of their clients.”

In 2007, a Roll Call opinion piece suggested that the term itself is misleading, noting: “The term ‘push poll’ never should have entered our lexicon, since it does nothing but confuse two very different and totally unrelated uses of the telephone.”

Richard Nixon was one of the pioneers of the push poll, and in his very first campaign in 1946, he used the practice by hiring operatives in his California district to call Democrats and warn them that his opponent was a “communist.”

Most agree that push polling is a negative tactic, but not all campaigns agree on when a survey is actually a true measure of political opinion, and when it is in fact a push poll.

During the 2000 Republican primaries, the campaign of John McCain accused the George W. Bush campaign of push polling in South Carolina by asking questions such whether you would be more likely to vote for or against McCain after learning that his “campaign finance proposals would give labor unions and the media a bigger influence on the outcome of elections.” The Bush camp denied that its survey was in fact a push poll. As described in Slate magazine: “This controversy, which has consumed the media for the past week, misses the point. Every campaign poll that asks about an opponent’s flaws is a push poll.”

This point of view was reiterated by a CBS News article 7 years later, when it was alleged that Mitt Romney’s campaign was a victim of push polling centering on his Mormon faith: “A push poll is political telemarketing masquerading as a poll. No one is really collecting information. No one will analyze the data.”

open primary

An “open primary” is an election that allows voters to select candidates on one party’s ballot without declaring their own party affiliation.

It’s not to be confused with a blanket primary or jungle primary, in which all candidates appear on the same ballot and the two highest voted candidates proceed to the runoff, regardless of party affiliation.

mudslinging

In politics, “mudslinging” is a tactic used by candidates or other politicians in order to damage the reputation of a rival politician by using epithets, rumors or mean-spirited innuendos or insults. The term is often used interchangeably with the more descriptive phrase “negative campaigning.”

The term is most often used in the context of a political campaign in which one candidate “mudslings” in order to damage an opponent’s political prospects and gain an advantage with the electorate. Mudslinging is typically not geared towards exposing a difference in policy position, but is usually associated with insulting an opponent’s character or deriding them as a person.

Decried in this 2016 Chicago Tribune article, mudslinging has a long tradition in American politics, first witnessed in the heated election of 1800, in which Adams and Jefferson hurled mean-spirited epithets at each other.

While the tactic of attacking opponents with character assassinations and epithets goes back hundreds of years, the term “mudslinging” itself wasn’t coined until the late 1800s. It was derived from the Latin phrase “Fortiter calumniari, aliquia adhaerebit,” which means “to throw a lot of dirt and some of it will stick.” As a political term, “mudslinging” picked up steam after the Civil War.

Variations of the term included “dirt throwing,” “mud throwing” and “mud-gunning.”

The presidential campaign of 2016 is often cited as one of the dirtiest of all-time, with mudslinging used by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to gain advantage. A Time magazine article published just before that election ranked it in the top 5 dirtiest campaigns of all-time, but was also quick to note that mudslinging is a time-honored tradition in politics. The article singles out the elections of 1800, 1828, 1876, 1928 and 1988 as some of the most notable when it comes to mudslinging.

Described in detail in this Wall Street Journal article, the election of 1828 was particularly vicious and dirty, and is often cited as having set a standard for mudslinging that might never be matched. In that election, supporters of John Quincy Adams, running against Andrew Jackson, accused Jackson of being a cannibal and eating American Indians that were slaughtered in battle. By comparison, the mudslinging of today can seem a bit tame.

Mudslinging is related to the more modern term swiftboating, which was derived from attacks directed towards 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry by swift boat captains he served with in Vietnam, and orchestrated by supporters of his opponent, president George W. Bush.

The efficacy of mudslinging is the subject of much debate, with some believing that negative campaigning turns off voters, while others arguing that it’s a necessary component of a successful political campaign.

 

 

exit polls

An exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose.

Exit polls are conducted by media companies to get an early indication of who actually won an election, as the actual result sometimes may take many hours to determine.

Electoral College

The Electoral College is a constitutionally mandated process that determines who serves as president and vice president of the United States every four years. It was a compromise between having Congress elect the president and a direct election by popular vote.

Americans actually vote for the electors who then vote for president when they convene after the election. Electors are chosen in processes defined by state law, creating a patchwork of selection processes.

Each state gets a number of electors equal to its number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives plus one for each of its two U.S. Senators. While most states award their electoral votes based on the winner of the popular vote in the state, there are two states which split their electors according to the vote in each congressional district.

The electoral map depicts which political party won which state in the presidential election. Over the years, red and blue states have come to mean Republican and Democratic states, respectively.

electoral map

The 2016 electoral vote map

The term “electoral college” actually does not appear in the U.S. Constitution and was derived from the concept of electors used by the Roman empire. However, in the early 1800’s the term “electoral college” came into general usage as the unofficial designation for the group of citizens selected to cast votes for President and Vice President. It was later written into Federal law in 1845.

There have been many attempts to reform the Electoral College over the years, but those efforts have typically fallen short. One notable exception was the 12th Amendment’s separation of electoral votes for president and vice president.

A more promising reform effort in recent years is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact which takes a state-by-state approach to electoral reform that is distinct from the long history of attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution. States that sign on to the compact promise to award their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote nationally, regardless of which way their state votes.

dark horse

In politics, a “dark horse” is a candidate for office for whom little is known or for whom expectations are low, but who then goes on to unexpectedly win or succeed. While history is replete with examples of dark horse candidates who went on to win local, regional, state or national office, the term is most often used in the context of presidential politics.

As described by a local Massachusetts reporter: “In many ways the allure of the dark horse mirrors that of the American Dream: An unknown candidate, the little guy, overcomes incredible odds to pull a shocking victory from the hands of an establishment favorite.”

The term is borrowed from racing, where it was first used to describe a horse that was unknown to bettors and was therefore impossible to handicap. From Benjamin Disraeli’s 1831 novel The Young Duke: “A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.”

The first known political use of the term was in 1831, with the unlikely ascendancy of James K. Polk to the Presidency. As noted by White House historians, in the particular case of Polk, his “dark horse” status was due to his unlikely nomination to higher office:” When Whig opponents changed “Who is James K. Polk” throughout the presidential election of 1844, it was more an attempt to influence perception than a reflection of reality. The image of Polk as an obscure protégé of Andrew Jackson stood in contract to the successful career of the nationally known governor of Tennessee and speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Polk’s ‘dark horse’ status was based not on his political obscurity, but on his unexpected selection by the Democratic Party.”

As outlined in the Washington Post, the other nominees who started out as dark horses were: “Horatio Seymour, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Warren Harding and John W. Davis. Of the five, Hayes, Garfield and Harding were elected president.

  • Seymour, the former governor of New York, said over and over that he had no desire to be a candidate, but he nevertheless found himself nominated at the 1868 Democratic convention on the 22nd ballot.
  • Ohio Gov. Hayes won the Republican nomination in 1876 on the seventh ballot.
  • Congressman Garfield, an Ohio Republican who was the last person to go directly from the House to the White House, won the 1880 GOP nod on the 36th ballot.
  • Harding was nominated during a 1920 smoke-filled room meeting in which Republican leaders settled on the Ohio senator on the 10th ballot.
  • The 1924 Democratic convention was the longest in American history, going 103 ballots – and 17 days – before settling on former West Virginia congressman Davis.”

Often, Abraham Lincoln is considered a dark horse, in his case because he left the arena, only to return over a decade later: “Even Abraham Lincoln, who had left politics entirely after serving a term in Congress in the late 1840s, but would win the presidency in 1860, has sometimes been called a dark horse candidate.”

In modern times, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Donald Trump were all in their own ways considered dark horses.

convention bounce

A convention bounce refers to the surge of support a presidential candidates may enjoy after the televised national convention of their party.

The size and impact of a convention bounce is sometimes seen as an early indicator of party unity.

blanket primary

A blanket primary is a primary election whereby each voter can select one candidate per office regardless of party. This primary is different from open or closed primaries, which require each ballot to only feature votes for candidates from one party.

In a blanket partisan primary, one candidate from each ballot-qualified party is guaranteed a spot in the general election. The terms blanket primary and jungle primary are often conflated; however, a jungle primary guarantees general election spots to the top two candidates of any party.

Supporters of the blanket primary suggest that it reduces partisanship by allowing voters to avoid party registration. Voters in a blanket primary can stay independent, nonpartisan, or unaffiliated without sacrificing their say in elections. Blanket primaries also allow voters from one party to select candidates from opposing parties as protests or out of concern about candidate qualifications.

Opponents of the blanket primary argue that primaries are selection processes dictated by parties rather than state governments. Parties are also concerned that protest voters warp the selection process, undermining voter options in the general election.

As of February 2020, no states used the blanket primary system. Three states – Alaska, California, and Washington – used this system In the 20th century. Alaska voters approved the blanket primary in 1947. In 1996, Californians approved a switch from a closed primary to a blanket primary through Proposition 198. The Washington State Legislature approved a legislatively-referred initiative authorizing the blanket primary in 1935.

The California Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom Parties sued the state to overturn Proposition 198. In 2000, a 7-2 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the blanket primary was unconstitutional in California Democratic Primary v. Jones. The majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia argued that state government should not influence the intraparty selection of candidates.

Alaska abided by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, converting its 2000 primary election into a primary determined by each party. The Alaska Supreme Court previously ruled in 1996 that the blanket primary was constitutional, which was not heard by the highest court in the country. This system was briefly replaced by open primaries from 1960 to 1967 and 1992 to 1996.

The Washington State Democratic Party sued to overturn its state’s blanket primary after the California decision. A federal appeals court ruled in 2003 that the primary system was unconstitutional in compliance with California Democratic Primary v. Jones. California and Washington later moved to top-two jungle primaries for state and federal elections.

Examples

Las Vegas Review-Journal (February 4, 2020): “The proposal, which was submitted to the Nevada secretary of state’s office Friday by state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, would create a blanket primary system for partisan races in which all candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, would appear on the ballot.”

The Brookings Institution (October 10, 2014): “A central argument in favor of the blanket primary system is that it gives third-party candidates more of a chance to make it to Congress.”

The Spokesman-Review (October 22, 2004): “The majority of voters seemed peeved that the old blanket primary had been dumped, but predictions of a low turnout were overblown.”

bandwagon

bandwagon

To be on the “bandwagon” is to follow a group that has a large and growing number of followers.

A bandwagon is literally a wagon which carries the band in a parade. The phrase “jump on the bandwagon” first appeared in American politics in 1848 when Dan Rice, a famous and popular circus clown of the time, used his bandwagon and its music to gain attention for campaign appearances. As campaigns became more successful, more politicians strove for a seat on the bandwagon, hoping to be associated with the success.

The term itself is derived from the era of P.T. Barnum, when it referred to a literal wagon that carried a marching band on it, as part of a larger circus show.

Its first use in a political sense was in 1848 when Dan Rice, described here as “The Clown Who Ran For President,” “invited future-president Zachary Taylor to campaign on his circus wagon, using its music to attract attention for the candidate. Taylor later made Rice an honorary Colonel.”

This raucous method of getting attention became increasingly popular, as more and more politicians began to angle for a seat on the bandwagon, hoping to be associated with its success. By the turn of the 20th century, candidates such as William Jennings Bryan in 1900 were using bandwagons and loud musicians to garner enthusiasm for their campaigns. That’s when the term started being used in a derogatory way, implying that people were associating themselves with the success without considering what they associated themselves with.

Eventually the term lost its literal meaning and took on a more figurative one, and soon the idea of a “bandwagon effect” became a staple of political science.

A 2015 article in Psychology Today described “the bandwagon effect” this way: “Researchers have long identified the impact of social conformity in shaping how people think and act. Along with explaining new trends in fashion or popular fads, this bandwagon effect can also influence how people would be likely to vote on important issues. Many voters often prefer not to make an informed choice before voting and simply choose to mimic the behavior of other voters instead. If a poll predicts that a certain candidate will win by a landslide, could voters actually be persuaded to vote for this candidate themselves?”

The so-called “bandwagon effect” in politics has been a topic of much debate and study over the years, particularly during presidential campaigns, with papers such The Washington Post and New York Times using the term to analyze candidate momentum and how it can impact election results.

Of course, the term applies to more than just politics, and has been used to describe everything from geopolitical relationships to trends on Wall Street to consumer and business behaviors.

The most common use of the term “bandwagon” is arguably in sports, where it’s used to describe people who become fans of a team only when they become successful. NPR described the bandwagon effect on the popularity of the Washington Nationals during their 2019 World Series run: “We’ve all done it. We’ve jumped on the bandwagon because something became popular. Many people in the region are now jumping on the Nationals’ bandwagon as they head to the World Series this week.”

The article went on to quote a fan: “It’s not about sports, it’s about human nature. People like to have something to get excited about and like to connect with people.”

absentee ballot

absentee ballot

An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable to visit the official polling place on Election Day.

This type of vote is normally submitted by mail.

Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots are seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some jurisdictions require that a valid reason, such as sickness or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot.

morning business

Morning business is routine business that is supposed to occur during the first two hours of a new legislative day in the U.S. Senate.

This business includes receiving messages from the President and from the other legislative chamber, reports from executive branch officials, petitions from citizens, committee reports and the introduction of bills and submission of resolutions.

In practice, this sometime occurs at other convenient points in the day.

hopper

Legislators introduce bills by placing them in the bill hopper attached to the side of the clerk’s desk.

The term derives from a funnel-shaped storage bin filled from the top and emptied from the bottom, which is often used to house grain or coal. Bills are retrieved from the hopper and referred to committees with the appropriate jurisdiction.

hideaways

Hideaways are personal, unmarked offices in the Capitol originally assigned to senior senators. They are conveniently located near the Senate floor.

The hideaway location of an individual Senator is a closely held secret, most with no names on the doors. They are hidden from view with some even tucked away behind large statues. Due to recent renovations, all 100 Senators have for the first time been assigned their own hideaway. There is no public information on the cost of renovating and furnishing these offices.

The secrecy surrounding hideaways has generated considerable media interest, with provocative article titles, such as: “Senate’s Biggest Secret: Lush Hideaways for Lawmakers“, and “Congressional Perks: How the Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers“.

germane

germane

In politics, if you want to follow legislation that’s introduced both on the local and national levels, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term “germane.”

“Germane” is typically defined as “in close relationship, appropriate, relative or pertinent to.” In the case of legislation, it commonly refers to whether or not an amendment or rider to a bill needs to be relevant to the original bill or not, and there are a wide range of rules that govern this in federal and state jurisdictions.

The importance of understanding the term is described in Congressional Quarterly: “Why Understanding the Term ‘Germane’ Can Save You From Heartaches and Headaches.”

The article points out that “only 40 state constitutions require a bill to be ‘germane’ – that is, require a bill to address or contain only a single subject.” The lack of uniform rules about “germaneness” in state government means that life can get difficult for people in various industries who spend their time tracking legislation.

The article goes on: “if you’re tracking state legislation about real estate licensing, you can ignore bills about traffic safety, right?” Then, providing its own answer, “You could if lawmakers were always rationale and lawmaking were a rationale process. But that’s not our reality.”

In the U.S. Senate, the rules about germaneness can be described as follows, as taken from the Senate’s own PDF on the subject: “The Senate requires only that amendments be germane when they are offered (1) to general appropriations bills and budget measures, (2) under cloture, or (3) under certain unanimous consent agreements and certain statutes. Otherwise, Senators can offer amendments on any subject to any bill.”

Broadly speaking, the purpose of the germane rule is to prevent legislators from putting irrelevant or immaterial legislation into unrelated bills as an underhanded way of getting legislation passed.The rules in the U.S. House, as described here, are a bit different: “Clause 7 of rule XVI, called the “germaneness rule,” stands for the simple proposition that an amendment must address the same subject as the matter being amended. The germaneness rule was adopted by the House in 1789 and has remained the same since it was last changed in 1822. The purpose of the rule is to provide for the orderly consideration of amendments to bills and resolutions by requiring a relationship between the amendment and the matter being amended. The existence of this rule is one of the key procedural differences between the House and Senate.”

The word “germane” is also applicable not only to legislation, but to debate as well, with something called the “Pastore Rule,” which requires Senate floor debate to be germane during specific periods of a Senate workday.

In 2003, Roll Call described a violation of this rule: “As Byrd continued Friday to pound away at Bush on many fronts during consideration of the omnibus spending bill, McCain interrupted. McCain asserted that Byrd’s attack on the administration’s policy on North Korea was violating the ‘Pastore Rule,’ which stipulates that debate has to be germane to the matter at hand during the first three hours of debate on a bill.”

franking privileges

Franking privileges allow lawmakers to send mail to constituents without having to pay postage. A copy of the member’s signature replaces the stamp on the envelope. Authentic signatures of famous individuals are valuable collectors’ items.

Franking privileges in Congress date from the First Continental Congress of 1775. Opportunity for abuse exists and has prompted calls for reform. According to “CRS Report: Franking Privilege: Historical Development and Options for Change”:

“… [S]trong criticism of the franking privilege developed regarding the use of the frank as an influence in congressional elections and the perceived advantage it gives incumbent Members running for reelection. Contemporary opponents of the franking privilege continue to express concerns about both its cost and its effect on congressional elections.”

Limits on and oversight of franking exist today. The House has appointed a Franking Commission t0:

“(1)  issue regulations governing the proper use of the franking privilege; (2) provide guidance in connection with mailings; (3) act as a quasi-judicial body for the disposition of formal complaints against Members of Congress who have allegedly violated franking laws or regulations.”

ex officio

The term “ex officio” comes from the Latin phrase “from the office,” and in politics it refers to someone who is part of a political body just by virtue of holding a different elected office.

The most common example of an “ex officio” member of a body is the Vice President of the United States, who is considered the President of the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes, despite never actually being elected to the Senate.

Further examples of “ex officio” members in the United States government are the chairmen and ranking minority members of U.S. Senate committees. These members are able to participate in any of the subcommittees, though they can’t vote.

In 2017, the New York Times noted the presence of Senators McCain and Reed during the highly charged testimony of James Comey in 2017: “Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, also questioned Mr. Comey on Thursday. As the leaders of the Armed Services Committee, they are “ex officio” members of the Intelligence Committee, as are the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer.

The use of the term “ex officio” dates back to the Roman empire, when various councils existed to debate issues and legislative matters, often with a large number of people who held other offices but were involved in the political processes of Roman leadership.  Examples of ex-officio members are common in the structure and set up of many different organizations. In the case of non-profits, most CEOs are also “ex officio” members of the board, and in local politics, elected officials can be ex officio sheriffs, ex officio tax collectors, and ex officio members of committees. In New York City, the speaker of the council and the leaders from each party, are all ex officio members of all the city’s various committees.

In certain cases, the term “ex officio” is used interchangeably with “acting,” as when Baltimore mayor was forced to resign in 2019, and city council president Jack Young became acting, or ex-officio, mayor of the city.

In other countries around the world, many ex officio members play a large role in government. In the U.K., for example, the most senior bishops of the Church of England are ex officio members of the House of Lords, and have equal vote, prompting one website to query: “Why are there Bishops in the House of Lords?”

earmarks

Funds that are allocated to a specific program, project or for a designated purpose. Revenues are earmarked by law. Expenditures are earmarked by appropriations bills or reports.

According to the Office of Management & Budget definition, earmarks include:

  1. Add-ons. If the Administration asks for $100 million for formula grants, for example, and Congress provides $110 million and places restrictions … on the additional $10 million, the additional $10 million is counted as an earmark. However, if the additional funding is to speed up the completion of a project with no restrictions this is NOT an earmark.
  2. Carve-outs. If the Administration asks for $100 million and Congress provides $100 million but places restrictions on some portion of the funding, the restricted portion is counted as an earmark.
  3. Funding provisions that do not name a recipient, but are so specific that only one recipient can qualify for funding is counted as an earmark.

Slate’s “What’s an Earmark” article provides a distinction between earmarks and general budget expenditures:

“For example, if Congress passed a budget that gave a certain amount of money to the National Park Service as a whole, no one would consider it an earmark. But if Congress added a line to the budget specifying that some of that money must go toward the preservation of a single building—definitely an earmark.”

Earmarks can be used for political, pork-barrel spending and considerable debate in Congress has centered on earmark reform. President Obama’s speech on Earmark Reform, March 11, 2009, called for legislation that would create greater transparency and public awareness of proposed earmarks. Acknowledging that earmarks can be useful, the president stated they “must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose.”

one-minute speeches

Also called, “one minutes”, a speech typically given at the beginning of the day by a House member on a chosen topic.

One minutes can also be scheduled at the end of legislative business. It is at the discretion of the Speaker how much time will be allotted for the speeches. Although they are not a rule of the House, one minutes have emerged as a “unanimous consent practice” of the chamber.

One-minute speeches can be used for promoting partisan positions and launching attacks. According to Kathryn Pearson of MinnPost.com, one minute attack speeches are becoming routine (See,”One-minute Attack Speeches Becoming Routine in U.S. House“): “…party leaders have taken an active role in coordinating one-minutes so that they consist of attacks on the other party or a defense of one’s own party… Indeed, the “Republican Theme Team” and the “Democratic Message Group” recruit members to deliver one-minutes to reinforce the party’s daily message”.

As noted in CRS Report, One Minute Speeches: Current Practices, “the usual position of one minutes at the start of day means they can be covered by broadcast news organizations in time for evening news programs …. Some Representatives have made one-minute speeches a regular part of their media and communication strategy.”

The tendency to use one minutes for attack and promotion has prompted calls for reform or complete elimination of the privilege.

mark-up

The mark-up is the committee meeting held to review the text of a bill before reporting it to the floor.

Committee members do not make changes to the text but can vote on proposed amendments.  In conclusion, members vote on a motion to send the bill with accompanying amendments, to the House.

There is room for political maneuvering during the mark-up meeting, as quoted by one lobbyist familiar with the process: “Committee’s often abruptly cancel congressional mark ups, such as in this case and instead schedule hearings in an attempt to regain support for a bill.”

The desk

The desk is another name for the rostrum where the presiding officer and various clerks of the chamber sit.

According to recent practices, most bills, resolutions, and committee reports are delivered to the clerks at the presiding officer’s desk for processing throughout the day.

Up until the 1960’s, measures delivered to the desk could be held, unprocessed, for days to allow the addition of new signatures. This unpopular procedure has now been discontinued.

Dear Colleague letter

A “Dear Colleague letter” is an official communication distributed in bulk by a lawmaker to all members of Congress.

Dear Colleague letters typically include issues related to co-sponsoring or opposing a bill, new procedures or upcoming congressional events.

Although Dear Colleague letters have been used by members for over a century, technological advances in recent years have facilitated their distribution. In 2008, the House introduced a web based e-“Dear Colleague” system, streamlining topic headings and distribution lists.

codel

A “codel” is short for “Congressional Delegation”, and defined as a trip abroad by a member or members of Congress.

casework

casework

The term “casework” refers to assistance provided by members of Congress to constituents who need help while filing a grievance with the federal government or a federal agency.

In a lot of cases, constituents don’t know how to get help if they have an issue relating to federal government services or a problem with federal programs. “Casework” gives these constituents a chance to seek that help from their representatives in Washington.

Casework is an extensive and all-encompassing term that covers a lot of ground: “Each year, thousands of constituents turn to Members of Congress with a wide range of requests, from the simple to the complex. Members and their staffs help constituents deal with administrative agencies by acting as facilitators, ombudsmen, and, in some cases, advocates. In addition to serving individual constituents, some congressional offices also consider as casework liaison activities between the federal government and local governments, businesses, communities, and nonprofit organizations.”

In 2016, the MinnPost described casework as Congress’ most important function (that almost no one uses),” adding: “An enormous amount of time, effort, and resources flows toward casework, and many members of Congress will tell you that helping constituents is their most important responsibility.”

A 2017 report issued by Congressional Research Service highlighted some areas which see the most frequent use of casework:

Tracking a misdirected benefits payment; filling out a government form; applying for Social Security, veterans’, education, and other federal benefits, explaining government activities or decisions; applying to a military service academy; seeking relief from a federal administrative decision; and seeking assistance for those immigrating to the United States or applying for U.S. citizenship.

To let Americans know about the availability of casework, certain members of Congress provide information on their websites about how their constituents can seek out help, as seen here on Maryland Rep Jamie Raskin’s site. And here on the site of South Dakota Senator John Thune.

Of course, casework only goes so far. As explained by the New York Times, “caseworkers are wary of promising too much on this front. They are not supposed to talk to your lender; they can only speak to its regulator, often the comptroller of the currency. And they will usually do so only if they believe a legitimate question has gone unanswered.”

As Congress Foundation points out, Congress has its ways of making sure a constituents request for casework is legitimate: “Though many constituents come to their congressional office to ask for legitimate help with an agency issue, there are plenty of inquiries that are not serious or require a caseworker to step in. Asking constituents to sign a Privacy Release Form is a professional way a caseworker can ensure a constituent is serious about their problem and willing to provide the necessary information to pursue a solution.”

logrolling

logrolling

Logrolling refers to a quid pro quo exchange of favors. In politics, “logrolling” generally refers to vote-trading by lawmakers to ensure that each legislator’s favored provisions have a higher chance of passing.

Specifically, logrolling means combining several provisions into one bill. Each of the provisions in the bill is supported by just a few members of Congress, and would not be able to pass through Congress on its own. But when the provisions are combined, or rolled together, they can secure a majority vote.

The term grew out of an old American custom in which neighbors helped each other to roll logs into piles for burning. Logrolling is also an obscure sport in which contestants balance on a log in water and try to make each other fall off.

In politics, logrolling usually comes into play when legislators need votes on a bill that would help out their home districts. Projects like Federally funded bridges, highways, and hospitals, which benefit people in the district but might be funded by federal taxes, are often pushed through thanks to logrolling.

Logrolling has a long history in the United States. It can be traced back as far as 1790, when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson presided over a deal known as the “Compromise of 1790.” Politicians at the time were struggling to decide how the debts incurred during the Revolutionary War would be paid off. At the same time, they were trying to reach a deal about where the nation’s capital should be. Finally, at a dinner party hosted by Thomas Jefferson, Virginia representative James Madison agreed to Alexander Hamilton’s request that the Federal government should take responsibility for the war debt, in exchange for putting the nation’s capital on the Potomac.

President Lyndon Johnson is often described as a master of logrolling and of political deal-making. Johnson was a consummate politician who prided himself on knowing where every lawmaker’s interests were. He was famous for taking to the telephone or buttonholing Congressmembers in person in order to trade votes and get his favored legislation through Congress.

Logrolling, earmarking, and “pork barrel” spending all tend to be criticized by good-government groups and by watchdogs. The conservative-libertarian group Freedom Works, for example, is sharply critical of logrolling by both political parties.

But some pundits argue that logrolling is just the simplest way to push big, complicated laws through Congress. They argue that, by its nature, logrolling forces politicians to compromise and to make deals, abandoning more extremist positions in order to find a middle ground.

In 2014, a study found that “backroom deals” and political methods like earmarking and logrolling could actually be beneficial to government. The study found that such practices lead to greater understanding among political parties, by forcing them to interact with each other for prolonged periods of time. The study also found that closed-door meetings lead to more compromise, while increased transparency can lead to political rigidity and posturing.

leader time

Leader time is the ten minute time allotted to majority and minority leaders at the start of the daily session.

Leaders use the time to discuss any important issues or the day’s legislative agenda. All or part of the leader time may be reserved for use later in the day.

lay on the table

To “lay on the table” is to make motion for the permanent disposal of a bill, resolution, amendment, appeal, or motion.

One of the most widely used parliamentary procedures, tabling can be effected through unanimous consent — where the Chair states: “without objection, the matter is laid upon the table” — or put to a vote. However, tabling a resolution can be controversial because it permanently ends debate on an issue.

“Lay on the table” should not be confused with the same term used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries where “tabling” refers to beginning consideration of a resolution or issue.

king of the hill

The “king of the hill” is a special rule in the House for sequencing different amendments. If more than one version receives a majority of votes, the last one to win a majority prevails.

An excerpt from The American Congress explains:

“Special rules are highly flexible tools for tailoring floor action to individual bills. Amendments may be limited or prohibited. The order of voting on amendments may be structured. For example, the House frequently adopts a special rule called a king-of-the-hill rule. First used in 1982, a king-of-the-hill rule provides for a sequence of votes on alternative amendments, usually full substitutes for the bill. The last amendment to receive a majority wins, even if it receives fewer votes than some other amendment. This rule allows members to vote for more than one version of the legislation, which gives them freedom both to support a version that is easy to defend at home and to vote for the version preferred by their party’s leaders. Even more important, the procedure advantages the version voted on last, which is usually the proposal favored by the majority party leadership.”

Also see:  Partisanship or Protection: Examining the King of the Hill Rule.

junket

A junket is a pleasure trip taken by a politicians with expenses paid for with public funds.

President Obama was accused of wasteful spending on a junket to New York in May, 2009 for dinner and a show with his wife.

aisle

The aisle refers to the space which divides the majority side from the minority on the House and Senate floor. When debating, members frequently refer to their party affiliation as “my side of the aisle.”

When facing the front of the chamber, Democrats sit on the left side of the aisle; Republicans on the right.

K Street

K Street

K Street refers to the area in downtown Washington, D.C. where many lobbyists, lawyers and advocacy groups have their offices. It’s become a term to refer to the lobbying industry as a whole.

In fact, the Washington Post has noted that most major lobbying firms don’t operate out of K Street any more. Only one of the top twenty lobbying companies still has a K Street address. The move away from K Street started in the 1980s, but the term still retains its original meaning as a shorthand for the lobbying industry.

“K Street” is generally a derogatory term. It’s used as a synonym for influence peddling and for the power of special interests. In fact, the term K Street is widely used as a symbol for the problems that many people see with the federal government.

K Street is widely criticized for the influence it exerts over politicians. Analysts argue that lobbyists working for, say, the pharmaceutical industry are influencing legislation in a way that benefits the industry, rather than ordinary Americans.

In 2019, the top spenders on lobbying included healthcare and insurance companies, tech firms, and broadcasters. Americans of all political stripes tend to distrust lobbyists, seeing them as favoring “special interests” over the good of the broader population.

K Street also comes under widespread criticism because of the so-called “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the leading lobbying firms. The complaint is that former federal employees get jobs as lobbyists, consultants, and strategists; at the same time, one-time lobbyists get jobs as federal employees. The result, some say, is a permanent ruling class that can easily turn into an echo chamber.

Lobbyists argue that, in fact, they are exercising a key first amendment right. The first amendment protects five key rights and forbids Congress from enacting any laws that would restrict those rights. The fifth right protected by the first amendment is the right of the people to petition their government for redress of grievances.

Lobbyists argue that they are simply the professionals charged with allowing people to exercise their first amendment rights to petition their government and advocate for their cause. As the government grows bigger and more complicated, petitioning the government also becomes more and more complicated. It’s not something that an ordinary citizen can do; in the modern world, petitioning the government needs to be done by a professional lobbyist.

The term “lobbyist” dates back to 18th century England, when men known as “box-lobby loungers” began hanging around in the lobbies of London theaters. The lobby loungers weren’t there to watch a play – they were there to meet the wealthy and powerful Londoners who attended the theater. It wasn’t long before lobby loungers appeared in American theaters too. The term “lobbyist” was first used in a political sense in the 1810s; it was first seen in print when a New York newspaper described a man named William Irving as a “lobby member” of the New York legislature.

cats and dogs

Cats and dogs are are leftover “stray” bills on minor subjects saved for days when the House or Senate have light floor schedules.