strategy

alternative facts

alternative facts

Alternative facts was a phrase coined by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway to defend a false statement by press secretary Sean Spicer about the attendance of President Trump’s inauguration.

When pressed during an interview to explain why Spicer would “utter a provable falsehood”, Conway stated that Spicer was simply giving “alternative facts.”

As the Washington Post noted, this “wasn’t the first time the Trump team and its supporters have responded to journalists calling out their falsehoods by claiming the truth isn’t so black and white or that it’s not a big deal.”

Indeed, many said it’s part of a broader “gaslighting” strategy used by Trump and his allies to control public discussion.

In discussing the origins of the phrase, Psychology Today notes that George Orwell wrote the novel 1984 “which portrays a totalitarian state that limited freedom of thought by creating its own language called ‘Newspeak.’ The political purpose of of Newspeak was to reduce the English language to simple concepts that reinforced the totalitarian dominance of the State. Moreover, words with negative meanings were removed, such that ‘bad’ became ‘ungood.'”

Many news reports also described Conway’s use of the phrase as “Orwellian.” Within four days of the interview, sales of George Owell’s book 1984 had risen by 9,500%.

gaslighting

gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group. It makes them question their own memory, perception and sanity.

The tactic relies on persistent denial, contradiction and lying in an attempt to delegitimize the victim’s belief.

gaslightingThe term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play, and subsequent 1944 film adaptation, in which a murdering husband manipulates and confuses his wife by dimming the gas lights in their home and then denying it’s happening.

Psychology Today: “It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.”

Psychologist Bryant Welch, who wrote a 2008 book entitled State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, told NBC News that President Donald Trump uses the tactic regularly with the American people.

Said Welch: “The very state of confusion they are creating is a political weapon in and of itself. If you make people confused, they are vulnerable. By definition they don’t know what to do.”

He added: “You come in and undercut their trust in the established sources of information. It tells them to go ahead and hate this person who is delivering bad news. Then you begin to substitute your own news, your own version of reality. If Donald Trump can undercut America’s trust in all media, he then starts to own them and can start to literally implant his own version of reality.”

For a related discussion, see “alternative facts.”

running between the raindrops

To dodge or deflect repeated political attacks. “Running between the raindrops” is used to describe actions taken by politicians to avoid political aggression from other candidates or the media.

In other circumstances, “running between the raindrops” may be used to describe politicians who are able to deflect scandals or pass blame onto others while still in office.

salami tactics

“Salami tactics” refers to a divide and conquer approach, which aims to split up the opposition. The expression evokes the idea of slicing up one’s opposition in the same way as one might slice up a salami.

The phrase was coined by the Hungarian communist leader Matyos Rakosi as a way to describe his technique of dividing and isolating opposition parties during the 1940s. The phrase was also used a few decades later, in Czechoslovakia, to describe the gradual process of chipping away at the reforms that had been introduced by Alexander Dubcek before the Russian invasion in 1968.

The phrase is strongly associated with Josef Stalin, who used salami tactics to divide the anti-communist opposition groups in order to realize his goal of creating more and more communist states near Russia. Some analysts believe that Stalin’s salami tactics were simply a re-purposing of Hitler’s “piecemeal” strategy of decimating his opposition so that he and his cohorts were left as the only viable option.

During World War II, Hitler used salami tactics to slowly but surely annex other countries. The German leader eliminated his opponents piece by piece (or slice by slice), working strategically and timing his operations with the utmost care. The slow, precise approach meant that nobody ever felt alarmed enough to take decisive action in response.

Salami tactics can be compared to the idea of a “frog in hot water,” which similarly imagines an attack that comes on very slowly and by degrees. The image is of a frog immersed in water – the water’s temperature is slowly, and almost imperceptibly increased until finally the frog is boiled to death. Because the attack came on so gradually, the frog never had the opportunity to defend itself or to flee.

Salami tactics can also be compared to the old saying, “if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” The Nobel-prize winning economist Thomas Schelling argued, in his book “Arms and Influence,” that salami tactics are typical childish behavior:

“Salami tactics, we can be sure, were invented by a child […] Tell a child not to go in the water and he’ll sit on the bank and submerge his bare feet; he is not yet ‘in’ the water. Acquiesce, and he’ll stand up; no more of him is in the water than before. Think it over, and he’ll start wading, not going any deeper; take a moment to decide whether this is different and he’ll go a little deeper, arguing that since he goes back and forth it all averages out. Pretty soon we are calling to him not to swim put of sight, wondering whatever happened to all our discipline.”

In modern times, pundits on the left and right have accused various governments of using “salami tactics” against the opposition. On the left, some have accused the US government of using police power, facial recognition technology, and surveillance tactics to weaken and intimidate opposition groups. Taiwanese writers have sometimes accused the Chinese government of using salami tactics against Taiwan. Western writers have also criticized what they say are “salami tactics” being carried out by Beijing in the East China Sea.

Rumsfeld’s rules

Rumseld's Rules

“Rumsfeld’s Rules” are a series of aphorisms, sayings, and observations about life in leadership, business, and politics by Donald Rumsfeld, who was a Congressman, Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense during his long, storied career.

These rules were collected over a period of time on 3×5 index cards, and were eventually compiled, typed up, and circulated throughout Washington and beyond.

The Wall Street Journal once referred to these rules as “required reading,” and they were touted in a New York Times review in 1988: “Rumsfeld’s Rules can be profitably read in any organization…The best reading, though, are his sprightly tips on inoculating oneself against that dread White House disease, the inflated ego.”

Over the years, Rumsfeld’s observations have been a staple of Washington, and in 2013 were published into a book: Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.

From the book: “These eminently nonpartisan rules have amused and enlightened presidents, business executives, chiefs of staff, foreign officials, diplomats, and members of Congress.”

While the lion’s share of Rumsfeld’s rules are apolitical, they are not without controversy, as some that criticize Rumsfeld’s leadership style have wondered why his leadership rules have caught on. As it was diplomatically put by Forbes Magazine in an article called Rumsfeld’s Rules: Seriously?: “The question that students of leadership may raise when reading Rumsfeld’s Rules is this: is it okay to listen to some who writes well but does not hold himself to the same standards? My response is yes. When it comes to leadership you can learn as much from rascals, maybe even more so, than from saints. The challenge for readers is to read what he writes through the lens of history.”

From the Washington Post: “Dick Cheney, George P. Schultz, and Henry Kissinger – all very bright men with long establishment resumes – endorse the book on the back cover. Chenery reveals that he was ‘an early practitioner of Rumsfeld’s Rules….I came to regret it on the few occasions I violated them.’”

In 2004, 9 years before the Harper Collins book was published, The Atlantic put together a short list of the rules that they call “worth revisiting,” essentially creating a “best of”:

  • “Establish good relations between the departments of Defense and State, the National Security Council, CIA and the Office of Management and Budget.”
  • “Don’t divide the world into ‘them’ and ‘us.’ Avoid infatuation with or resentment of the press, the Congress, rivals, or opponents. Accept them as facts. They have their jobs and you have yours.”
  • “Don’t do or say things you would not like to see on the front page of the Washington Post.”
  • “If you foul up, tell the president and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes.”
  • “Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance.”
  • “Your performance depends on your people. Select the best, train them, and back them. When errors occur, give sharper guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help them move on.”
  • “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.”

As has been noted by many, that last rule resonates in light of Rumsfeld’s involvement in orchestrating the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War.

strategery

Strategery is a fictional word coined by comedy writer Jim Downey in a now famous Saturday Night Live sketch written to lampoon former president George W. Bush during the election cycle of 2000, when he was still a candidate. The sketch, which first aired on SNL on October 7, 2000, simulated a debate between candidate Bush and his rival, Al Gore, and mocked Bush as an intellectual lightweight, playing off of his propensity for misspeaking and using neologisms.

In the skit, Will Ferrell, impersonating the former president, says “strategery” when the moderator asks the candidates to “sum up, in a single word, the best argument for their candidacy.” The sketch is also noted for fellow cast member Darrell Hammond’s impression of Gore, who is depicted as stiff and pedantic, presenting the word “lockbox” as his sole policy position.

Always one to embrace satire and be self-effacing, the Bush White House later appropriated the term and eventually consultants within the 43rd president’s orbit became affectionately referred to as “The Department of Strategery,” as reported in the Washington Post in 2004.

Over the years, the word became synonymous with “Bushspeak,” or a repeated pattern of verbal gaffes (like when Bush used the term ”misunderestimated” in a press conference soon after the 2000 election). Eventually, “strategery” became a symbol of the Bush presidency itself, embraced and even celebrated by conservatives, while simultaneously used by the left as a symbol of the president’s failed policies, particularly when it came to the Iraq War.

The word has become so deeply associated with Bush and his presidency that in 2017, in an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Bush recalled a story in which he claimed to have invented the word himself, only to be corrected by Lorne Michaels when the two met in person.

To this day, Bush maintains his sense of humor about the sketch and his depiction by Ferrell, saying “it’s important not to take yourself too seriously,” and claiming that the impressions of him presented on SNL never bothered him a bit. Bush himself used the term in a 2001 interview with CNN, presumably as a self-deprecating nod to the comedy sketch.

Indeed, in 2019, the Bush presidential library embraced the term even further when they launched a politically-themed podcast called The Strategerist.

As one of the most enduring catchphrases to emerge from SNL’s long history, “strategery’ continues to be remembered, beloved, and used in political circles. A 2017 Rolling Stone article ranked the Bush-Gore debate sketches as one of the top 20 of all-time, and a year later a petition was even launched on the website charge.org to make the word a permanent entry in Encyclopedia Britannica.

The petition failed to get the support it needed – perhaps the creators needed a better “strategery.”

plausible deniability

Plausible deniability is the ability to deny any involvement in illegal or unethical activities, because there is no clear evidence to prove involvement. The lack of evidence makes the denial credible, or plausible. The use of the tactic implies forethought, such as intentionally setting up the conditions to plausibly avoid responsibility for one’s future actions.

The term is used both in law and in politics. In politics, plausible deniability usually applies to the practice of keeping the leadership of a large organization uninformed about illicit actions that the organization is carrying out. The leaders then have “plausible deniability” if they are ever questioned about those illicit actions. In other words, they truly don’t know about any illegal actions, and so they are automatically clear of blame.

The term was first coined when the Church Committee, a committee of the US Senate, was investigating US intelligence agencies during the 1970s. The committee found that the CIA had carried out a plot to try and assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro; the Church Committee believed that the president was supportive of the action. However, the president was able to plausibly deny any knowledge of the plot against Castro, since he truly had no knowledge of the specifics of the plan.

Of course, the concept of plausible deniability goes back further than the Church Committee. Likewise, the roots of the term also go further back, at least as far as a National Security Council paper which was issued in 1948, during the presidency of Harry Truman. That paper notably defined covert operations as “all activities…which are conducted or sponsored by this Government against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups but which are so planned and executed that any US Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.”

In modern politics, the term plausible deniability often comes up in discussions of political campaigns.  Plausible deniability allows candidates to keep their hands clean when their campaigns, or their supporters, use unsavory campaign tactics and launch dirty attacks against other candidates. For example, some journalists charged that George W Bush’s first presidential campaign deliberately used surrogates in order to smear Bush’s political rivals; by giving the surrogates the dirty work, the campaign escaped public backlash.

Plausible deniability can also refer to a politician’s attempt to test the waters, by quietly trying out how the public might respond to certain acts. In 2015, journalists wrote that Joe Biden wanted to maintain plausible deniability even as he explored a possible White House run. Biden quietly visited certain states and met with certain political power players, without definitively committing himself to throw his hat in the ring. This allowed the former vice president to evaluate his chances of winning the race, without risking the humiliation or loss of faith that could come with trying and failing.

During the Trump administration, some pundits have argued that the president took the concept of plausible deniability to a new level. They argue that the president speaks with a deliberate lack of clarity, implying damaging things but never actually saying them. They believe that the president uses a combination of nonverbal communication, dog whistles, and implication in order to make allegations about his political enemies.

stalking horse

A candidate put forward in an election to conceal an anonymous person’s potential candidacy. If the idea of the campaign proves viable, the anonymous person can then declare their interest and run with little risk of failure.

A stalking horse candidate is also sometimes used to divide the opposition in order to help another candidate.

Daryl Lyman: “The expression originated hundreds of years ago in old English hunting practices, especially among fowlers. Many kinds of game that would flee at the first sign of humans would not be alarmed by the approach of a horse. Therefore, fowlers trained horses to serve as covers during hunting.”

entryism

A political tactic of joining an organization with which you do not agree with the intention of changing it from the inside.

In his 1959 book Masters of Deceit, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described entryist tactics by Soviet agents to infiltrate school boards, trade unions, and major party precinct organizations.

leak

The spread of secret, often unfavorable, news about a politician to the media by someone in his or her inner circle.

Some leaks by politicians are intentional, also called a trial balloon, so that they can judge the reaction to a proposed policy change before publicly committing to the new position.

Sister Souljah moment

Sister Souljah moment

A “Sister Souljah moment” is a public repudiation of an extremist person or statement perceived to have some association with a politician or his party.

It’s a strategy designed to signal to centrist voters to show that the politician is not beholden to traditional, and sometimes unpopular, interest groups associated with the party.

In 1992, riots swept across Los Angeles following the acquittal of five LAPD officers for the allegedly brutal beating of Rodney King. Writer and rapper Sister Souljah expressed sympathy for the rioters and said that she wanted to see an end to black people killing each other – instead, she said, black people should start killing white people.

“I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? In other words, white people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?” Souljah told the Washington Post.

Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time. During a meeting with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, Clinton spoke out against Sister Souljah’s comments, saying that her comments were full of hate. Clinton compared Sister Souljah to the white nationalist David Duke, calling them racist.

At the time, pundits said that Clinton had denounced Sister Souljah in an attempt to court suburban and blue collar white voters. Those groups were often described as “Reagan Democrats” at the time, and Clinton’s strategists believed that he needed their votes if he stood a chance of winning the election. The Sister Souljah moment was widely seen as an attempt to prove to those key groups that Clinton was on their side and would take a strong stand on issues like welfare reform.

Joan Vennochi wrote, “This so-called ‘Sister Souljah moment’ — a calculated denunciation of an extremist position or special interest group — wrapped Clinton in a warm centrist glow just in time for the general election.”

A decade later, in 2002, President George W Bush had a “Sister Souljah moment” when he publicly denounced Majority Leader Trent Lott. Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, gave a speech in which he said that the country would be in a better place if the segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the 1948 presidential election. President Bush’s aides said at the time that Bush felt that if he didn’t speak out against Lott, he would not be able to reach out to the African American community.

Obama had his own “Sister Souljah” moment when he was a candidate for the presidency. Obama was asked about his connection to Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of the church which Obama attended in Chicago. Wright was known for his fiery sermons and for remarks which appeared to denounce the US government as racist. Obama first tried to explain his nuanced views on Wright, but as clips of the pastor’s speeches circulated, Obama disowned Wright and left the church.

In 2015 Sister Souljah, now a best-selling novelist, gave an interview to Time Magazine. She suggested her own definition of what the term Sister Souljah moment should mean: “when you meet a beautiful, powerful woman – and you just can’t forget her.”

Washington Monument strategy

Named after a tactic used by the National Park Service to threaten closure of the popular Washington Monument when lawmakers proposed serious cuts in spending on parks.

Roll Call calls it “an old legislative ploy where an agency threatens to close popular services first.”

The strategy is used at all levels of government in an attempt to get the public to rally around government services they take pride in or find useful. Closing libraries on certain days of the week or reducing days of trash pick up  appears to have the same effect.

Rose Garden campaign

rose garden campaign

A Rose Garden campaign is when an incumbent president takes advantage of the power and prestige of his office to help him run for re-election.

The phrase originally referred to a president staying on the grounds of the White House to campaign as opposed to traveling throughout the country. However, it’s taken on a broader meaning in recent years.

The term “Rose Garden campaign” was first used by then-candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976. At the time, Carter was challenging the incumbent president Gerald Ford. Carter complained that Ford was using a “Rose Garden strategy” to get himself free publicity, staying in the public eye by signing bills and making pronouncements. Meanwhile Carter, a relatively unknown peanut farmer from Georgia, had to work much harder to get attention.

President Ford’s “Rose Garden strategy” was not literally confined to the White House Rose Garden. In October of 1976, President Ford invited Queen Elizabeth to visit him at the White House to celebrate the bicentennial for America’s declaration of independence. Inevitably, the visit garnered a lot of media attention. Ford also held a series of televised interviews with the former baseball star Joe Garagiola.

Rose Garden strategy has both a literal and a figurative meaning. On the literal level, incumbent presidents use the White House Rose Garden as a stage for signing bills and holding media events. The setting evokes presidential power and stability. It’s an iconic location, and being photographed there sends a clear message to the public.

On a metaphorical level, a Rose Garden strategy refers to any time the incumbent president distributes political favors or largesse as part of his re-election strategy. This can mean offering economic packages to certain key states. It can also mean making key announcements about military victories, or about trade, or anything which impacts voters. Ahead of the 1936 election, for example, Franklin Roosevelt famously pushed for more economic support for workers and farmers, telling his aides that he wanted cotton prices to go up and that he didn’t want workers to be laid off.

In the first half of  2019, the New York Times reported that President Trump had held at least 11 events in the Rose Garden – more than twice the number of such events that he held in 2017. The Times concluded that Trump wanted to use his Rose Garden appearances to bolster his public image as part of his re-election campaign.

“He’s an indoor creature, but he wants to be seen outdoors,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, told the Times. “He likes the Oval Office because he could do the big signature and show power. But after a while, it becomes an image of a guy who is locked in a room. This is a deeply image-driven president. In the Rose Garden, he’s able to project that he’s outside and enjoying the compound.”

Also in 2019, The New Republic accused presidential hopeful Joe Biden of employing a “wilted Rose Garden” strategy. The publication argued that Biden, who served as Barack Obama’s vice president, was basing his campaign around his vice presidential past. The strategy, New Republic argued, was one born out of weakness, rather than strength. Its goal was to bypass Biden’s problematic voting record in the Senate and to keep voters focused on his two terms serving under a popular president.

red herring

A political diversion which draws attention away from something of significance.

Michael Quinlan notes the term likely originates from an article published on February 14, 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the Weekly Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon’s defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare, adding “It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”

netroots

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 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.”

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.

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.

killer amendment

The 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.

aardvarking

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.”

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.

October surprise

october surprise

An October surprise is a news event which takes place shortly before a closely-watched election and which may influence the election’s outcome.

Usually, the term in reference to a presidential election, although it can be applied to any election.

Merriam Webster notes that October surprise wasn’t always a political term. In the early 20th century, it referred to the annual autumn sales held by major department stores. Around 1980, people started using October surprise in its modern political sense.

An October surprise can take many different forms. A natural disaster, an economic downturn, or even a war can all impact elections, especially if they take place just before people go to the polls. All of those count as an October surprise. However, the term is more commonly used for deliberately planned news events. Last-minute revelations about a candidate’s personal life or their finances can also constitute an October surprise.

In 2000, George W Bush was running for president against Al Gore. The two were in a close race, but Bush appeared to have pulled ahead. Then in early November, the news broke that Bush had been arrested and charged with a DUI in Maine back in 1976. The news shook Bush’s support. Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist, later said that if the DUI news had never become public, Bush would have won the popular vote, eliminating the need for a recount.

In October 2004, when Bush was running for re-election, Osama bin Laden released a video that boosted the president’s position in the polls. The video referred to the September 11 attacks and called President Bush a dictator, accusing him of repressing civil liberties by means of the Patriot Act. The video put national security back at the forefront of public discussion and likely inflated support for the president.

Four years later, in 2008, John McCain was running for president against Barack Obama. In October, the stock market crashed, unemployment reached an all-time high, and the global economy seemed to be on the point of collapse. The market crash was widely credited with helping Obama win the election.

The most famous October surprise of them all, however, may be one which never actually took place. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for president against the incumbent, Democrat Jimmy Carter. The Reagan campaign was reportedly afraid that Carter would orchestrate a last-minute deal to free the American hostages that had been held in Iran since 1979. Reagan’s staffers feared that if the hostages were released, Carter would get a huge bump in the polls.

In the event, though, Iran waited to free the hostages until just after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president. Since then, theories have abounded as to what happened. Many Democrats believe that Reagan himself made a deal with Iran, asking them not to liberate the hostages until after he won the election. What’s clear is that, in the absence of an October surprise, Reagan was able to sweep to victory.

hardball

A no-nonsense attitude or approach to getting what you want in politics.

From the introduction to Hardball by Chris Matthews: “Let me define terms: hardball is clean, aggressive Machiavellian politics. It is the discipline of gaining and holding power, useful to any profession or undertaking, but practiced most openly and unashamedly in the world of public affairs.”

Example from All the President’s Men: “This is the hardest hardball that’s ever been played in this town. We all have to be very careful, in the office and out.”

photo-op

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

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

gerrymander

Redistricting by the party in power to insure maximum votes for their candidates or make it more difficult for an opposition party to defend their seats.

The Library of Congress notes the term originated in 1811, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that created a new district resembling a salamander, provoking the Boston Gazette editor to say, “Salamander? Call it a Gerrymander!”

smoke-filled room

Typically a place where secret political deal-making occurs. In earlier times, many political operatives smoked cigars which filled the rooms with smoke.

Encyclopedia of Chicago: “The original smoke-filled room was in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel, where, according to an enduring legend, a small group of powerful United States senators gathered to arrange the nomination of Warren G. Harding as Republican candidate for president in 1920… when the Associated Press reported that Harding had been chosen ‘in a smoke-filled room,’ the phrase entered the American political lexicon. Ever since, ‘smoke-filled room’ has meant a place, behind the scenes, where cigar-smoking party bosses intrigue to choose candidates.”

pork barrel projects

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

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

fishing expedition

An open-ended investigation with no defined purpose, usually launched by one party seeking damaging information about another. These inquiries are compared to fishing because they pull up whatever they happen to catch.

Astroturfing

An artificially-manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of grass roots activism.

Campaigns & Elections magazine defined astroturf as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.”

Unlike natural grassroots campaigns which are people-rich and money-poor, an astroturf campaign tends to be the opposiite, well-funded but with little actual support from voters.

bully pulpit

A bully pulpit is a public office or position of authority that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter.  In theory, the expression could refer to any position of authority. In practice, it is usually used to describe the presidency.

Origins and History

The phrase bully pulpit is attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt, who exclaimed the words in response to critics of his leadership style. Roosevelt said, “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit” as he wrote an address to Congress.

Roosevelt often used the adjective “bully” to describe an event or action that was good or entertaining. The noun pulpit refers to a raised stand used for readings during religious ceremonies.

The bully pulpit in Roosevelt’s mind wasn’t about pummeling legislators with presidential authority; rather, he believed the president could encourage the public to push their legislators on behalf of his agenda. Roosevelt, an avid reader and a prolific writer, coined an enduring phrase that would act as a litmus test for future presidents.

The Republican president was a more activist president than fallen successor William McKinley. Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He intervened in a Pennsylvania coal strike and used executive orders to protect natural resources. Roosevelt remained a popular American figure beyond the end of his time as president with his name invoked during the 1916 and 1920 Republican nominating conventions.

Of course, Theodore Roosevelt was not the first president to use his position as a means of lecturing the American people. Abraham Lincoln was using a bully pulpit when he addressed the nation after the Civil War, urging the American people to move forward “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Public evaluations of the presidency include how officeholders have used the bully pulpit to promote their values and policies. Dwight Eisenhower was noted for staying clear of the bully pulpit, which contributed to his broad popularity over two terms in office. Jimmy Carter has been celebrated for using the fame of a former president to help domestic and international humanitarian organizations. Donald Trump’s use of Twitter and rallies show modern applications of the bully pulpit concept.

As Robert Schlesinger has noted, the bully pulpit has magnified as communications methods reach deeper into American life. The first presidential radio address was given by Warren Harding but Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt showed how the radio could engage the public. Harry Truman gave the first presidential speech on television but Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy showed the medium’s potential. Trump’s frequent use of social media follows earlier efforts by George W. Bush and Barack Obama to harness the Internet for bully pulpit purposes.

Social media has made it easier than ever for presidents to directly address the American people. Analysts have pointed out that President Donald Trump often uses his Twitter account as a kind of digital bully pulpit. The president took to Twitter to air his views during the impeachment hearings, to the dismay of many pundits. He also uses Twitter to discuss foreign policy and defense spending, among other issues. The president has also used Twitter to announce new policy initiatives and to express his opinions of other public figures.

Examples

Washington Post (July 2, 2017): “With the Republican push to revamp the Affordable Care Act stalled again, even some allies of President Trump question whether he has effectively used the bully pulpit afforded by his office and are increasingly frustrated by distractions of his own making.”

Forbes (January 19, 2017): “Properly exercised, the bully pulpit should reflect the leader’s personality, strengthening a natural and genuine extension of the leader’s communications relationship with followers.”

The Atlantic (April 2013): “The people agreed with Obama that the rich should pay more in taxes, agreed with Reagan that everybody should get a tax cut, and agreed with Franklin Roosevelt on Social Security. These presidents didn’t need to move the needle on these issues; all they had to do was marshal support. But the same three presidents, using the same bully-pulpit tactics, failed to win over the people – and the lawmakers – on other fronts.”

dog whistle politics

“Dog whistle politics” refers to the practice of sending out coded political messages, which are designed to be understood only by a narrow target audience.

In their literal form, dog whistles are instruments that emit high-pitched frequencies which only dogs can hear; human beings don’t even register the sound. In their figurative form, dog whistle messages can be heard and understood by members of certain groups, but not by the population at large.

According to Merriam Webster, “dog whistle” was first used figuratively in 1947. That’s when a book called American Economic History described a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as being “designed to be like a modern dog-whistle, with a note so high that the sensitive farm ear would catch it perfectly while the unsympathetic East would hear nothing.” Merriam Webster notes that the expression didn’t become widespread until the mid 1990s.

Today, the term dog whistle is chiefly used to describe coded hateful messages. In society at large, it is not usually acceptable to make racist, sexist, or xenophobic statements. That means that politicians who want to make such statements need to use coded language, or, to put it another way, dog whistles.

In recent years, pundits have accused President Donald Trump of using dog whistles to convey xenophobic and racist messages to his supporters. The president came under heavy criticism when he tweeted that certain Congressional Democrats who “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” should leave the United States instead of criticizing his administration. Trump’s tweet was interpreted by some to be a thinly disguised attack on non-white members of Congress like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, both of whom were born in the United States.

As a presidential candidate, Trump was accused of using racist anti-Semitic dog whistles to subtly empower white nationalists. Analysts argue that Trump’s supporters often picked up on the candidate’s messaging and responded to it by making overtly racist or anti-Semitic statements on social media.

Democratic politicians have also been accused of using dog whistles to covertly shore up support from white voters. Former Sen. Claire McCaskill came under fire after she said that Sen. Bernie Sanders might be too far to the left to win with midwestern voters. Many felt that McCaskill was using “midwestern” as code for “white,” and that she was deliberately setting herself apart from non-white people and Jews. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, has similarly been accused of using “heartland” as a dog whistle to white voters.

Of course, the practice of using dog whistles dates back to well before the 1990s, when the term became widespread. Most analysts agree that Ronald Reagan was using a dog whistle when he spoke about “states’ rights” on a campaign stop in Mississippi, back in 1980. Reagan was, analysts say, appealing to southern segregationists, or, more broadly, to any white voter with racist beliefs. Since racism and xenophobia were already taboo, the only way to appeal directly to racist voters was through coded language, or dog whistles.

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