dyed in the wool

“Dyed in the wool” is a phrase referring to people who hold very strong opinions and are unwilling to change them. Synonyms include “uncompromising” and “inveterate.” In politics, people might be can be referred to as “dyed in the wool Democrats” or “dyed in the wool Republicans.”

Merriam Webster notes that the phrase was first used in its modern sense in 1580. Merriam Webster says that in the 16th century, writers began to use the expression to discuss ways that “children could, if taught early, be influenced in ways that would adhere throughout their lives.” The phrase was used in its political sense as early as the beginning of the 19th century, when Daniel Webster complained about a certain type of Democrat whose views were “as unyielding as the dye in unspun wool.”

In its literal sense, “dyed in the wool” means that the wool has been dyed before it is spun into thread. This produces a strong and long-lasting color. Metaphorically, dyed in the wool means that someone’s opinions were formed and set at an early stage in their development and that they can’t be washed away.

In 1870 Frederick Douglass delivered a speech to new voters, urging them to vote their conscience; he described himself as a “Republican dyed in the wool” but told his audience that they had an absolute right to vote as they saw fit:

I hear some men say that if the black man, in this enlightened age, should vote the Democratic ticket let him be denounced. Gentlemen I do not share that opinion at all. 1 am a Republican – a Black Republican  dyed in the wool- and I never intend to belong to any other than the party of freedom and progress. But if one of my colored fellow-citizens chooses to think that his interests and rights and the interests of the country can be better sub-served by giving his vote against the Republican party, I, as an American citizen, and as one desirous to learn the first principles of free government, affirm his right-his undoubted right-to vote as he chooses.

Dyed in the wool can be used in either a positive or a negative sense, depending on who is speaking. For example, when President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, some leftists complained that Sotomayor was not a reliable, or dyed in the wool, liberal herself. Sotomayor did not have a strong liberal record on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty. “The fact that she hasn’t gone off on these sorts of questions I think shows that honestly she’s not a dyed in the wool liberal,” Thomas Goldstein, a leading appellate attorney, told Politico, adding, “There are places where Sotomayor will be more conservative than Souter.”

In contrast, in 2018 the chair of the Pennsylvania GOP asserted that Conor Lamb, who was then running for Congress, was a “dyed in the wool liberal” and a staunch supporter of Nancy Pelosi. The implication was that Lamb was trying to portray himself as more centrist than he actually was, and that his true colors would show through after election.


don’t change horses

“Don’t change horses” is a phrase used to urge voters to stick with the incumbent president during times of turmoil and conflict. The full expression is “don’t change horses mid-stream” (or, sometimes, “don’t swap horses midstream”).

The expression is usually credited to Abraham Lincoln who, during the Civil War, said that voters should re-elect him because it would be foolish to change leaders in the middle of such a turbulent time. After his nomination to run for a second term, Lincoln told a group of his supporters,

“I do not allow myself to suppose that either the convention or the League have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or best man in America, but rather they have concluded that it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.” 

Lincoln’s phrase spread quickly. Harper’s Weekly ran a political cartoon which showed “Old Abe” as a steady-looking, bearded horse with a voter sitting in the saddle. Lincoln’s opponent, George McClellan, was back in the bushes, surrounded with promises of peace and compromise.

In modern times, the message of sticking with your leader in times of trouble still resonates. Some pundits say that this is what allowed George W. Bush to beat out John Kerry and win a second term. Polls showed that more than anything, voters were concerned about global terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That meant that Bush, the incumbent, was a natural choice for Americans who wanted strength and continuity.

The phrase doesn’t just apply to presidents. In 2009, in the middle of the global economic downturn, MarketWatch urged President Obama to leave Ben Bernanke in his post as chair of the Federal Reserve “so that he can ride out the financial crisis.” 

In March 2020, the New York Post suggested that Donald Trump was trying to portray himself as a “wartime president” in order to win the upcoming election. (The “war” he was engaged in was against the coronavirus pandemic.)

“Donald Trump, making his own case for re-election in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, has been wielding martial rhetoric more and more frequently in his barrage of daily briefings on the unfolding calamity,” The Post wrote. The paper also cited White House economic adviser Peter Navarro, who had told Fox News, “We have essentially a wartime president now, and the war is against this coronavirus. And there can’t be any dissension in the ranks.” The Post reported that Trump’s poll numbers had been up ever since he shifted to the “war president” strategy.

Of course, the “don’t change horses” strategy is not foolproof. In 1932, Herbert Hoover was the incumbent president; his supporters tried to portray him as a sort of wartime leader who was battling the Depression. However, many voters blamed him for the Depression. When Hoover’s supporters urged voters not to change horses, voters chanted, “change horses or drown!”

Hoover was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt. Ironically, FDR went on to win re-election by urging voters, once again, not to change horses in mid stream.

Do-Nothing Congress

do nothing Congress

In 1948, when President Truman was running for re-election, he frequently attacked the Republican-controlled Congress as the “do-nothing Congress.”

In fact, the 80th Congress passed 388 public laws, making it hard to call it exactly “do nothing.” But, the president charged that Republicans in Congress were blocking his “Fair Deal” legislation, which would have lowered housing and food costs. In a campaign event in New Jersey, in October of 1948, Truman said:

I have been trying to get the Republicans to do something about high prices and housing ever since they came to Washington.  They are responsible for that situation, because they killed price control, and they killed the housing bill.  That Republican, 80th “do-nothing” Congress absolutely refused to give any relief whatever in either one of those categories.

Some people say I ought not to talk so much about the Republican 80th “do-nothing” Congress in this campaign.  I will tell you why I will talk about it.  If two-thirds of the people stay at home again on election day as they did in 1946, and if we get another Republican Congress like the 80th Congress, it will be controlled by the same men who controlled that 80th Congress…

Since then, of course, the term “do-nothing Congress” has been applied again and again. In 2013, Politico ran a piece arguing that the 113th Congress was “on track to go down as the least productive in history.” (The article was titled The (really) do-nothing Congress.) The author, Manu Raju, noted that at the time of his writing, the 113th Congress had so far enacted only 49 laws, the lowest level since 1947.  

A few years later, in 2016, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake chided the 114th Congress for its inactivity. Blake saw Congress’s inaction as part of a larger trend. He wrote, “With the 114th session of Congress coming to an end, we can now take stock of just how much was accomplished over the past two years. And for this entire decade, the answer to that question has essentially been: not much.” Blake pointed out that Americans are more divided, politically, than ever before, making it harder for politicians to reach across the aisle and make deals.

That trend has only continued, and it’s been aggravated by a series of government shutdowns. By 2019, ABC News reported that members of Congress were, themselves, frustrated by their own inability to pass laws. “What people want from congress is plenty,” ABC News noted. “What they get, can fall short. Both sides are disappointed so far. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), said so far it’s been “100 days of nothing.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called that chamber a “legislative graveyard”.

Of course, as William Safire pointed out, politicians have been accusing each other of being “do nothings” for hundreds of years. In medieval France, the Merovingian dynasty became known as the “do-nothing kings;” in the 20th century, FDR mocked Herbert Hoover as a “do nothing” president. More recently, historians have tried to redeem Hoover’s legacy, but the image of him as a do-nothing president has stuck.


domino theory

The domino theory was critical in shaping US foreign policy during the Cold War. Domino theory argued that if one nation became communist, its neighboring states would go the same way. In theory, if one state “fell” to communism, its neighbors would also fall, setting off a chain reaction comparable to a line of toppling dominoes.

The drive to contain communism was a major influence on the Truman administration, motivating the government to start providing aid to the French government in Indochina. Truman also assisted Greece and Turkey in the late 1940s in an effort to contain the spread of communism.

However, it was President Eisenhower who really popularized the concept of domino theory. At a press conference in April, 1954, a reporter asked Eisenhower about his opinion on Indochina and its strategic importance. Eisenhower replied, in part:

You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs. Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

Eisenhower returned to this concept repeatedly, in speeches about the “aggressive” nature of communism and the need to contain its spread. The Eisenhower administration also used domino theory to explain why the US was intervening in Indochina but not, for example, in Franco’s Spain. The National Security Council agreed that it did not want to “police the governments of the entire world” – it did, however, want to fight communism and beat out Moscow.

Domino theory was closely linked to US presence in Vietnam. Both the Kennedy and the Johnson administrations used domino theory to justify escalating the American military presence in Vietnam. Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, was a vocal defender of the theory. Speaking at a press conference in 1975, Kissinger said, “We must understand that peace is indivisible. The United States cannot pursue a policy of selective reliability. We cannot abandon friends in one part of the world without jeopardizing the security of friends everywhere.”

Decades later, President Reagan again referenced domino theory to explain US intervention in Latin America; Reagan argued that any communist presence in Latin America was a threat to the entire Western Hemisphere. “We believe that the government of El Salvador is on the front line of a battle that is really aimed at the very heart of the Western Hemisphere and eventually at us,” Reagan told reporters, adding that if El Salvador were to “fall” to communism, then “I think Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and all of these would follow.”



The Dixiecrats were a group of Southern Democrats who broke away from their party in 1948 because they objected to the Democratic Party’s stance on desegregation. The Dixiecrats were also known as “States’ Rights Democrats.” They represent part of a massive shift in party allegiance that reshaped the politics of the South during the second half of the 20th century.

Up through the end of the Second World War, the Democratic Party dominated the US South; it was virtually impossible for Southern politicians to win office unless they were Democrats. There were rumbles of discontent in the 1930s, as many southern politicians objected to FDR’s social policies and to his support of the labor movement. Still, southern Democrats remained loyal to their party. 

That all changed in 1948, when President Harry Truman presented a pro-civil rights platform at the party’s political convention. A group of southern Democrats, led by Strom Thurmond, walked out of the convention in protest. Those men, who became known as the Dixiecrats, organized their own, separate presidential convention in Birmingham Alabama; footage from the time shows participants waving confederate flags as they strode into their convention hall. An estimated six thousand people from 13 southern states participated in the convention. 

Their plan was to field their own presidential candidate in the upcoming election. They didn’t expect to win, but they hoped to earn all the southern states’ electoral votes, so that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would be able to win the election.  This would have meant that the House of Representatives would decide the vote, and the Dixiecrats believed that southern states had enough power in the House to deadlock the outcome until Truman dropped his civil rights platform.

In the event, the Dixiecrats nominated Strom Thurmond as their candidate for president. Fielding L. Wright was nominated as vice president. Thurmond was a prominent opponent of de-segregation efforts. A native of South Carolina, he went on to have a long career in the US Senate, where he eventually became the oldest serving senator (until he was overtaken by Robert Byrd of West Virginia). He made a name for himself as a staunch opponent of civil rights legislation and a proponent of military spending. In 1948, Thurmond received over one million votes. He carried four states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama) and won 39 electoral votes. 

After 1948, the Dixiecrats never fielded another presidential candidate. However, they did meet later that year for a second convention, this time in Oklahoma City. There, they drew up and unanimously adopted a party platform. The platform calls for an end to de-segregation and for an increase in states’ rights. It reads, in part,

“We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one’s associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one’s living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.” 

deep state

deep state

The “deep state” is a conspiracy theory which suggests that collusion exists within the U.S. political system and a hidden government within the legitimately elected government.

The term “deep state” was a term was originally used to describe a shadow government in Turkey that disseminated propaganda and engaged in violence to undermine the governing party.

However, during President Donald Trump’s administration the term has come to refer to an organized resistance within the government, working to subvert Trump’s presidency. Trump allies blame career bureaucrats, many of whom they see as loyal to former President Barack Obama, for leaking damaging information to the news media.

A Washington Post article suggested that people close to Trump believe these longtime government workers amount to a “Deep State” that could undermine his presidency.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told the New York Times: “We are talking about the emergence of a Deep State led by Barack Obama, and that is something that we should prevent… I think it’s really the Deep State versus the president, the duly elected president.”

Former White House adviser David Gergen told Time magazine the term was appropriated by former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon in order to delegitimize Trump’s critics.

death panels

“Death panels” was a political term which falsely referred to the supposed dangers posed by the Affordable Care Act. Some opponents of the law, better known as Obamacare, argued that government-run healthcare could lead to a kind of de-facto euthanasia, if preferential treatment was given to certain tiers of society.

The term “death panels” was coined by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. In a Facebook post on August 7, 2009, Palin wrote.

“The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

Conservative newspapers and commentators quickly agreed with Palin’s claims. Rush Limbaugh said that Palin was “dead right,” and others followed suit. Members of the Tea Party were also quick to get on board with claims about the death panels. And more centrist Republicans also agreed. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told a crowd of his supporters, “We should not have a government program that determines you’re gonna pull the plug on Grandma.”

Politifact later named Palin’s “death panels” statement the “lie of the year” for 2009. Politifact also pointed out the Palin was not the first conservative to make dramatic claims about Obamacare and vulnerable members of society.

Earlier in 2009, a conservative commentator and former lieutenant governor of New York named Betsy McCaughey issued some dire warnings about Obamacare. McCaughey said that “Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” she said on a radio show.

McCaughey was wrong – Obamacare did not require seniors to attend counseling. She may have been referring to a provision in which Medicare would pay for doctors’ appointments for patients who wanted to set up their living wills and other end-of-life issues. However, the rumor continued to spread, and it took years for it to die down. As late as 2016, the Washington Post reported that 29 percent of Americans believed that death panels would ration healthcare resources.

Nearly a decade later, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) also took to social media to talk about death panels. Ocasio Cortez wrote on Twitter that private insurance companies effectively had their own death panels:

Actually, we have for-profit “death panels” now: they are companies and boards saying you’re on your own because they won’t cover a critical procedure or medicine. Maybe if the GOP stopped hiding behind this “socialist” rock they love to throw, they’d actually engage on-issue for once.

dirty tricks

dirty tricks

“Dirty tricks” are actions taken by a political campaign or candidate to damage their opponents that may involve unethical, distasteful, or illegal behaviors.

Political candidates and parties have used dirty tricks dating back to the early years of the American Republic. In the 1828 election, President Andrew Jackson was accused of executing his own men in war, adultery, and cannibalism by supporters of John Quincy Adams. Jackson’s supporters responded by accusing Adams of procuring sex workers for the Russian czar and using public funds for his billiards habit.

This term’s use in the political world, however, is not found until 1963 according to Merriam-Webster. Dirty tricks gained traction thanks to the machinations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. During the 1964 election, CIA operatives infiltrated the campaign of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater to disrupt his efforts against Johnson. The Johnson campaign also briefly ran the infamous Daisy ad, a television spot that implied Goldwater would lead the U.S. into nuclear annihilation.

Dirty tricks went from an insider term to a publicly known concept due to the Watergate scandal. Nixon and his administration orchestrated a break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in June 1972. The Nixon campaign also employed operatives to damage the reputations of Democratic leaders prior to the general election. These acts along with the subsequent cover-up led to a potential impeachment and Nixon’s 1974 resignation.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows sustained use of dirty tricks in English language publications following Watergate. The 1988 presidential election highlighted modern uses of dirty tricks with the race between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.

The Bush campaign employed advisor Lee Atwater, who created the template for future methods of dirty attacks. Atwater was the mind behind the “Revolving Doors” TV ad that tied Dukakis to a murder committed by furloughed convict Willie Horton.  This ad and rumors spread by Republicans about Kitty Dukakis burning an American flag during a protest flipped a Dukakis polling advantage into a Bush victory.

In the 21st century, technological advances and the prevalence of independent political groups have enhanced the power of dirty tricks. In 2004, ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attempted to discredit Democratic nominee John Kerry’s campaign against President George W. Bush. Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president deployed dirty tricks ranging from asking Russia to hack opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails to the use of social media to spread rumors of Clinton’s health.


Roll Call (July 2, 2019): “With a single tweet Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump again harked back to his 2016 election victory and suggested Democrats are poised to use dirty tricks to prevent him from winning again.”

The Washington Post (March 9, 2018): “As his orders to Colson show, Nixon was at the center of this dirty tricks campaign. He devised specific plots to attack his enemies, creating a climate of corruption that led to Watergate.”

The Guardian (February 25, 2008): “Barack Obama’s campaign team today accused Hillary Clinton’s beleaguered staff of mounting a desperate dirty tricks operation by circulating a picture of him in African dress, feeding into false claims on US websites that he is a Muslim.”

dark money

“Dark money” is funds used for a political campaign that are not properly disclosed before an election.

The term was apparently coined by Mother Jones.

deduct box

deduct box

The “deduct box” was the locked box where legendary Louisiana Gov. Huey Long kept “deducts” from state employee salaries to fund his political operation.

Estimates suggest Long collected between $50,000 to $75,000 each election cycle from government workers. The deduct box was kept at his Roosevelt Hotel headquarters in New Orleans.

After being shot in 1935, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports Long was asked on his deathbed by Roosevelt Hotel owner Seymour Weiss, “Huey, where is the deduct box?” Before falling into a coma, Long responded, “I’ll tell you later, Seymour.”

The deduct box was never found.


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

Dorothy Dixer

A “Dorothy Dixer” is a planted or pre-arranged question asked of a government minister by a backbencher of his or her own political party during Parliamentary Question Time.

The term refers to American advice columnist Dorothy Dix’s reputed practice of making up her own questions to allow her to publish more interesting answers.

The term has been used in Australian politics since the 1950s, and has become increasingly common in everyday usage, but interestingly is virtually unknown in other countries where Dix’s advice column was equally popular.


“Dummymander” is a play on the term “gerrymander,” and it refers to a redrawing of a district map that actually ends up benefiting the opposite party that was designed to help.

When a political party in power reshapes the map of a district to gain advantage in an election, this is called “gerrymandering.” ”Dummymandering” occurs when that map, over time, actually ends up benefiting the opposite party (hence the use of the term “dummy).” Simply put, it’s a gerrymander that backfires.

The term was coined by by Bernard Grofman and Thomas Brunell in their article, “The Art of the Dummymander.”

The risks of a gerrymander becoming a dummymander for either party are sometimes hard to measure. In a Washington Post article, political reporter John Gastil explains how GOP gerrymandering leading up to the 2016 election could have backfired: “That strategy created so many marginal Republican districts that if the GOP loses the bulk of the seats at or below R+2, it would also lose its congressional majority. A catastrophe that claimed every GOP seat at or below R+4 would bring the GOP caucus close to the size of today’s House Democrats.”

While the risk of dummymandering always exists, some political science experts argue that as techniques for redistricting improve, the odds of it happening are decreasing: “The ability to create the desired political effect increases every decade with advances in technology, making it easier for legislators and advocacy groups to target partisan precincts and predict their likely voting behavior for years to come. “Dummymanders”–sociologist Bernard Grofman’s term for overly greedy gerrymanders that backfire– have become increasingly rare as sophistication about redistricting grows.”

This was reinforced by Supreme Court justice Elana Kagan, as reported by New York Magazine: She observed: “Old-time efforts, based on little more than guesses, sometimes led to so-called dummymanders — gerrymanders that went spectacularly wrong. Not likely in today’s world. Mapmakers now have access to more granular data about party preference and voting behavior than ever before. County-level voting data has given way to precinct-level or city-block-level data; and increasingly, mapmakers avail themselves of data sets providing wide ranging information about even individual voters.”

Still, with more and more gerrymandering comes the risk of more and more dummymandering. In a 2015 Politico article that argued the merits of gerrymandering, the author acknowledges: “To be sure, gerrymandering schemes rarely create a statewide plan that is as competitive as it could be; the risk of dummymandering is too high.” The author goes on: “This happens when parties spread their voters just a little too thin, turning a gerrymander into a ‘dummymander.’ When an unfavorable political tide sweeps through, dummymandered districts switch parties, undoing the advantage the gerrymandering party had supposedly engineered for itself.”

demon sheep

A “demon sheep” is a sinister politician who pretends to be what he is not; related to the RINO species, according to Samuel Jacobs.

The term comes a widely-mocked political ad run by 2010 California U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) which described her primary opponent as a “FCINO” (Fiscal Conservative In Name Only). He was portrayed as not just a wolf, but a demon with glowing eyes, in sheep’s clothing.

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.

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.


A politician whose rhetoric appeals to raw emotions such as fear and hatred in order to gain power.

Former Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) is often cited as a classic demagogue for his practice in the 1950s of smearing prominent Americans with baseless accusations being Communists.

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.