staffer

cuff links gang

According to Time, this 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.

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.”

advance man

An “advance man” is a staffer sent ahead to prepare for the arrival of a politician at a campaign rally, media appearance or other large event.

Time: “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.”

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.

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.’”

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