evil empire

evil empire

“Evil empire” was President Ronald Reagan’s name for the USSR.

Reagan often portrayed the struggle between the US and the USSR as a moral war between good and evil. In some of his most famous speeches, he advocated a strong stance against the USSR, warning that the alternative was to abandon the struggle between right and wrong.

Reagan first referred to the USSR as the “evil empire” during a speech he delivered to the British House of Commons in 1982. The following year, he used the phrase again when he spoke to a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In the 1983 speech, Reagan urged Evangelical leaders to do their part in what he described as a “spiritual” crisis, a “test of moral will and faith.” He insisted that the USSR needed to be totally eliminated in order to keep America free:

…in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride–the temptation of blithely..uh..declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for our efforts, this administration’s efforts, to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate–real and verifiable reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals and one day, with God’s help, their total elimination. [Applause]

While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Reagan’s supporters have argued that his hard-line stance against the Soviet Union was crucial for bringing about the fall of the USSR and dismantling the Soviet bloc. Writing a quarter of a century after Reagan’s “evil empire” speeches, Newt Gingrich praised the “radicalism” behind those speeches. 

“By calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” Reagan sent a clear signal that America was going to challenge the Soviet Union morally, win the psychological information war, and de-legitimize it. If the government was evil, he argued, how could it have authority?” Gingrich reasoned.

Ironically, Reagan himself distanced himself from his “evil empire” rhetoric towards the end of his presidency. In 1988, the president visited Moscow, met with Mikhail Gorbachev, and toured the Kremlin and Red Square. A reporter asked him directly whether he still thought of the Soviet Empire as an evil empire, and he said that he did not. “You are talking about another time, another era,” Reagan explained.

During the same visit, Reagan spoke at the House of Writers in Moscow. There, he said that it was vital not to caricature any nation or group of people. He explained,

“Pretty soon,” he said, “at least for me, it becomes harder and harder to force any member of humanity into a straitjacket, into some rigid form in which you all expect to fit.”

every man a king

every man a king

“Every Man a King” is the title of a speech delivered in 1934 by Senator Huey Long of Louisiana. The speech, which Long delivered on national radio, is one of Long’s most famous speeches, along with his “Share the Wealth” speech.

Long, a populist politician, used the speeches to rail against the concentration of wealth in a few hands and to highlight the problems of the man poor people in his own state. The “every man a king” speech said, in part:

Now, we have organized a society, and we call it “Share Our Wealth Society,” a society with the motto “every man a king.”

Every man a king, so there would be no such thing as a man or woman who did not have the necessities of life, who would not be dependent upon the whims and caprices and ipsi dixit of the financial martyrs for a living. What do we propose by this society? We propose to limit the wealth of big men in the country. There is an average of $15,000 in wealth to every family in America. That is right here today.

We do not propose to divide it up equally. We do not propose a division of wealth, but we propose to limit poverty that we will allow to be inflicted upon any man’s family. We will not say we are going to try to guarantee any equality, or $15,000 to families. No; but we do say that one third of the average is low enough for any one family to hold, that there should be a guaranty of a family wealth of around $5,000; enough for a home, and automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences, and the opportunity to educate their children; a fair share of the income of this land thereafter to that family so there will be no such thing as merely the select to have those things, and so there will be no such thing as a family living in poverty and distress.”

Long’s radio speeches also represented his break with President Franklin D Roosevelt. Long had introduced legislation into the U.S. Senate in an effort to limit incomes and redistribute wealth. However, his legislation never got off the ground; most of his fellow senators considered them to be too radical. 

Long had actually helped FDR win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932, but broke with the administration in 1934, after he gave up hope that the New Deal would make a meaningful difference in the lives of most Americans. That’s when Long decided to appeal directly to the American people, with his “every man a king” and his “share the wealth” speeches.

Long had also used “every man a king” as a campaign slogan; he also made it the title of his autobiography, which was published in 1933. Long also used the phrase as the title of his campaign song. He co-wrote the song, “Every Man A King,” with Professor Castro Carazo, who was the head of the Louisiana State Band. 

The slogan may also be the origin of Long’s nickname, Kingfish.

Era of Good Feeling

Era of Good Feeling

The “Era of Good Feeling” refers to a period in U.S. history from about 1815 until about 1825, characterized by a sense of optimism and positivity. The era is closely associated with the presidency of James Monroe, who served two terms from 1817 to 1825.

Monroe easily won the presidential election of 1816, garnering 183 electoral votes while the opposing Federalist party won just 34. His victory signaled the effective end of the Federalist party and ushered in a period of total dominance by Monroe’s Democratic-Republican party.

After the election, Monroe went on a prolonged victory tour throughout New England. It was during this tour that one newspaper, the Columbian Centinel, published an article titled “The Era of Good Feeling.” The piece described a festive, upbeat mood which was shared by “eminent men of all political parties.”

The era was marked by America’s victory in the War of 1812. In Europe, the Napoleonic Wars were at an end, which also left Americans free to concentrate on their own affairs. The age is characterized by a growing isolationism.

Historians say that the era of good feeling was also shored up by economic prosperity. During Monroe’s first term, America put in place its first protective tariffs and established the Second National Bank. Congress, at Monroe’s request, also put an end to property taxes and other federal taxes. The federal government was able to pay off the nation’s extensive war debt using the money from tariffs.

At the same time, America continued to expand across the continent. In 1819, Andrew Jackson invaded Florida, which eventually led to a treaty with Spain that handed Florida over to the United States. During this period, America also stepped up its western expansion. In 1823, the president also articulated the Monroe Doctrine, which defined the Western Hemisphere as the United States’ sphere of influence and warned Europeans not to interfere in the region.

The era of good feeling was at an end by 1825. Even during Monroe’s second term, the sense of national goodwill was beginning to fade, and major conflicts over slavery and national expansion were making themselves felt. The period of one-party rule was also coming to an end. 

Since the Federalist party had collapsed, the presidential election of 1824 featured candidates who were all from the Democratic-Republican party. Four candidates vied for the presidency: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Treasury Secretary William Crawford, and House Speaker Henry Clay. None of the candidates was able to win a majority in the electoral college, so that decision went to the House of Representatives. The choice was between Adams and Jackson; neither Crawford nor clay had enough votes to compete.

The House handed the presidency to Adams, although Andrew Jackson had won the most popular votes and the most electoral votes. The election marked a split in the party, leading Americans to re-organize into two new parties: the Democrats, loyal to Jackson, and the Whigs, who were allied to Adams. In 1828, Andrew Jackson ran again and, this time, defeated Adams in his re-election bid.

eunuch rule

eunuch rule

The “eunuch rule” is a reference to the provisions in many state constitutions which prevented state governors from running for a second consecutive term in office. Those provisions have been amended in almost every state; as of 2020, Virginia is the only state which still prevents governors from holding two consecutive terms in office.

The rules on gubernatorial qualifications, succession, and term length are decided on a state-by-state basis. In most states, governors serve a four-year term and may serve back-to-back terms; however, they may be limited to a number of consecutive or lifetime terms.

The “eunuch rule” got its name because, in theory, it put the incumbent governor in a weak position (like that of a eunuch, with no real power). William Safire wrote:

In most states, particularly in the South, governors are rendered politically impotent – LAME DUCKS from the moment they enter the Statehouse – by the eunuch rule. This was designed to prevent four-year governors from building long-lasting machines…Whenever the eunuch rule applies, the governor starts thinking about (1) running for senator, (2) laying the groundwork for a career in private business, or (3) “modernizing the state constitution to permit reelection.

Historically, politicians have gone to great lengths to get around the “eunuch rule.” In 1966 George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, was nearing the end of his term. Alabama’s state laws prevented him from seeking a second term in office, and so Wallace decided to put his wife, Lurleen, on the ballot instead. 

Lurleen Wallace beat out 10 opponents in the Democratic primary and also defeated her Republican opponent, James Douglas Martin. She became the first female governor of Alabama. Lurleen’s working class roots helped to make her very popular in the state. Like her husband, Lurleen actively opposed desegregation efforts. She is also remembered, though, for her efforts to improve mental health care and for her work to expand state parks and recreational facilities. 

Today, Virginia is the only state which prevents governors from succeeding themselves. There is an ongoing effort to amend the state’s constitution so that governors can serve consecutive terms. That state tends to be popular among Democrats, who have won recent gubernatorial elections; many Republicans oppose the proposed amendments.

In 2019, Dawn Adams, a Democrat from Richmond, sponsored House Joint Resolution 608, which would amend the state constitution to let governors elected after 2021 serve for two terms in a row. Adams described the current system as a “detriment to the commonwealth.” “She told Delmarva Now, “Now is the time we should look to pass a constitutional amendment for consecutive but limited governor terms.” Adams also noted that the current system leads to “inefficiency, waste, duplication of services, low morale and low productivity.”

However, Republicans in Virginia said the term limit is a much-need check to the strong power of the executive; Virginia’s governor has the power to amend and veto bills, appoint officials and order a special legislative session. Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, a Republican, said a big argument against the proposed change was also that he wouldn’t have wanted recent governors to stay in power for more than four years.

Said Norment: “I would very succinctly and ecumenically say two words: Gilmore and McAuliffe.”

enemies list

Enemies List

A list of political opponents kept by the Nixon administration. The phrase “enemies list” is now used as shorthand to refer to suspected abuses of power in any administration.

In 1973, former White House aide John Dean III told the Senate that President Nixon kept a list of his political opponents. The so-called “opponents list” had been compiled for Nixon’s trusted aide, Charles Colson. It featured the names of public figures who were thought to pose a threat to the Nixon administration. The list included notes about any known weaknesses of the “enemies,” and also suggested finding a way to “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”

Dean revealed the list’s existence during a hearing of the Watergate Committee. On the same day, the CBS journalist Daniel Schorr managed to get a copy of the list, which he began reading, out loud and on air, to his audience. (A second, longer version of the list appeared later that year.) 

“I got to No. 17, and I said, ‘No. 17, Daniel Schorr, a real media enemy,’ ” Schorr told The Hill, decades later.

“I almost collapsed on the air. I had never read it before, never seen it before, never expected it. But I continued and said, ‘No. 18, Paul Newman. No. 19, Mary McGrory [the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post].’ It was such a distinguished list,” he said, joking that the notoriety of the list made him more popular. “My lecture fees went up.”

Schorr wasn’t the only one who was proud to be on Nixon’s list. The Village Voice ran a tongue in cheek piece that year titled “The Shame of Being Left Off Nixon’s Enemies List.” The article speculated about what might happen to leftist commentators, activists, and others who prided themselves on being “anti-establishment,” if those people turned out not to be on Nixon’s all-important list:

“What newspaper is going to shell out hard cash for a columnist whose opinions are so tame that even the White House doesn’t consider him dangerous? Poor Nick Von Hoffman. Darling of the New Left, intimate of numerous Democrats, defender of the Chicago Seven, how does he face his readers, knowing that Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean all considered Max Lerner a greater threat to their empire? And Jimmy Breslin. For years he and Pete Hamill have fought tooth and nail to see which one could say the most outrageous things about the Nixon regime. How can Breslin even manage to drag his poor broken body out of bed in the morning now that Hamill has administered the tour de force?”

A few decades later, some journalists and pundits began making comparisons between Nixon’s enemies list and the Trump administration. In 2018, the Trump White House announced that it had stripped the security clearance from former CIA director John Brennan and that it was considering doing the same to others. Mike Mullen, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Fox News that this meant the president was “creating a list of political enemies.”

eight millionaires and a plumber

eight millionaires and a plumber

“Eight millionaires and a plumber” is a dismissive reference to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first cabinet.

Eisenhower’s critics complained that the president’s top advisers were all wealthy and therefore, by implication, out of touch with ordinary people. The only exception – the “plumber” in the phrase – was Marty Durkin, the new labor secretary. Durkin had previously headed up the Plumbers’ Union.

Many of Eisenhower’s cabinet members came from the private sector and lacked experience in government. The secretary of the treasury, George Humphrey, had a background in law and eventually became the president and chairman of the board of the steelworks M. A. Hanna and Company. 

Eisenhower’s pick for Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson, was an engineer who had risen to become the vice president of General Motors. Wilson was very open about his strong ties to the private sector; he considered them an asset, not a problem. He once famously told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

Martin Durkin, the “plumber” in the cabinet, came from a much humbler background than his colleagues. Durkin grew up in Illinois and attended evening school, leaving at the age of 17 to become a steamfitter’s apprentice. From there, he joined the plumbers’ and pipe fitters’ union, eventually rising through the ranks to become president of the union. In 1933, he became the Director of Labor for the State of Illinois. Durkin was also the only Democrat in the cabinet. A former Union man, Durkin pushed hard to revise the Taft-Hartley Act. He was unable to get the changes he wanted, and stepped down from his cabinet post after just eight months in office.

Decades later, pundits compared President Donald Trump’s cabinet to President Eisenhower’s. Screaming headlines criticized the president for appointing a team of wealthy individuals with little government experience. A piece in Politico was titled “Trump’s Team of Gazillionaires;” the article pointed out that the president’s cabinet picks seemed out of step with his campaign message, which had promised to fight for the forgotten working class. The Washington Post claimed that Trump had assembled “the richest administration in modern American history.” 

However, an op-ed in the Washington Post also pointed out that most of America’s presidents and cabinet members have been wealthy. JFK, FDR, and the trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt all had personal fortunes which allowed them to pursue independent policies. (In his own time, FDR was labeled a “traitor to his own class” for his tax policies, among other things.) The Post op-ed closed by defending Eisenhower’s “eight millionaires and a plumber” cabinet:

Although Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was from a more modest background, his Cabinet picks were roundly mocked as “eight millionaires and a plumber.” Yet they managed to serve their country well and selflessly, acting against their own economic interests by maintaining a top marginal income tax rate of 91 percent throughout Eisenhower’s eight years in office. The revenue helped build our interstate highways and create NASA, among other achievements.



To “electioneer” is to actively take part in an election by working for the election of a candidate or a party.

The word is almost always used in a pejorative sense. Most of the time “electioneering” is used to suggest something tawdry, or underhanded; the word implies discomfort with the way that campaigns are carried out.

Electioneering has had a bad rap since the time of the Founding Fathers. In 1796, James Madison wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, grumbling that a statement from the French foreign minister (Pierre Auguste Adet) was being dismissed as mere electioneering. Madison wrote:

Adêts Note which you will have seen, is working all the evil with which it is pregnant. Those who rejoice at its indiscretions and are taking advantage of them, have the impudence to pretend that it is an electioneering manoeuvre, and that the French Govt. have been led to it by the opponents of the British Treaty.

A few years later, John Adams wrote at length about the problem with electioneering. Adams was also writing to Thomas Jefferson. His 1814 letter complains that electioneering is taking over just about everything – and he expects it to get worse. Adams wrote:

I dare not look beyond my Nose, into futurity. Our Money, our Commerce, our Religion, our National and State Constitutions, even our Arts and Sciences, are So many Seed Plotts of Division, Faction, Sedition and Rebellion. Every thing is transmuted into an Instrument of Electioneering. Election is the grand Brama, the immortal Lama, I had almost Said, the Jaggernaught, for Wives are almost ready to burn upon the Pile and Children to be thrown under the Wheel.

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson issued an executive order barring all federal workers from doing anything which would “influence the votes of others, nor take part in the business of electioneering.” Jefferson’s executive order is often seen as the forerunner of the Hatch Act, which puts strict limits on the political activities of government employees at all levels.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 differentiated between electioneering and what it called “issue-related speech,” arguing that electioneering was not entitled to First Amendment protections because it involved an individual candidate or party, rather than an idea. That distinction has not been universally accepted, but it explains why legally, ads defined as “electioneering” can be restricted.

In 2012, for example, a US District Judge found that a series of ads produced by the Hispanic Leadership Fund should be classified as “electioneering communication.” The judge found that the ads in question seemed to implicitly endorse President Obama and could, therefore, be restricted during the 60 days before the election. 

The judge also rejected the claim made by the Hispanic Leadership Fund that the electioneering communication disclosure provisions violated constitutional rights to political speech and to due process. In his decision, the judge wrote in part,

“Both the Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit have made clear that [the Federal Election Campaign Act’s] disclosure requirements for electioneering communications are constitutional because they are justified by the public’s interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate during the election period.”

effete snobs

effete snobs

“Effete snobs” was a phrase used by Vice President Spiro Agnew to denounce anti-war protesters, and young intellectuals in general, during the Vietnam era. The phrase quickly caught on and was adopted as a slogan by the anti-war movement.

Agnew had a reputation as a no-nonsense, law and order politician and a dramatic orator. His law and order reputation was badly dented later when he was forced to resign as vice president amid charges of tax evasion and bribery. But in 1969, Agnew was at the height of his power.

His famous “effete snobs” speech called out not only leftist protesters, but a whole group of pseudo-intellectuals who Agnew believed were brainwashing young students:

Education is being redefined at the demand of the uneducated to suit the ideas of the uneducated. The student now goes to college to proclaim, rather than to learn. The lessons of the past are ignored and obliterated, and a contemporary antagonism known as “The Generation Gap.” A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete core of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.

Agnew was responding to the so-called Peace Moratorium, a national day of protest in which an estimated two million people across the United States took part in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. A quarter of a million people gathered in Washington DC, singing songs and holding a late-night vigil. The police clashed with activists outside the White House and elsewhere in the country. In DC, the child development expert Dr Benjamin Spock told the crowd that the war was a “total abomination” that was crippling America and must be stopped.

Agnew delivered his “effete snobs” remarks about a week after the demonstration, at a fundraiser in New Orleans. The vice president asserted that “hardcore dissidents and professional anarchists” were inciting the protests, and that the demonstrators didn’t reflect the true views of most Americans. Nixon had already pledged that he would not be moved in any way by the protests.

Agnew made a series of speeches over the years, criticizing leftist student protesters; in 1970, the New York Times put together a collection of some of his most memorable quotes. The vice president said, for example:

Most of these young people who depend upon the ideology of ‘the movement’ for moral and mental sustenance will in time . . . return to the enduring values, just as every generation before them has done. But unfortunately, there is a much smaller group of students who are committed to radical change through violent means. . . . This is the criminal left that belongs not in a dormitory but in a penitentiary…

One of Agnew’s more memorable descriptions was of the media, when he called them “nattering nabobs of negativism.

Agnew’s “effete snobs” speech, though, quickly became notorious and was co-opted by the left for their own purposes. Political buttons soon appeared, reading, for example, “snob for peace” or “I’m an effete snob for peace.” 

The Baltimore Sun has pointed out that ever since Agnew’s speech, politicians have tried to make political capital by attacking out of touch “snobs” and “elitists” at America’s colleges. Ironically, the Sun notes, these anti-elitist politicians are all highly educated themselves.

Earth Day

Earth Day

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally in more than 193 countries.

The event emerged against the backdrop of an anti-war student activist movement. While it’s tempting to assume that Earth Day was the result of a youthful grassroots campaign, it was actually spearheaded through a rare bipartisan partnership between Democratic and Republican lawmakers:

Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, horrified by a series of environmental catastrophes that seemingly escaped public outrage and action, was inspired by the success of the youth anti-war movement to replicate a similar movement for environmental protection. The idea was a national “teach-in on the environment” to raise public awareness about air and water pollution. To achieve this goal, Nelson reached across the aisle to Republican Congressman, Pete McCloskey.

The first Earth Day celebrations took place across two thousand colleges and universities and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform.”

Today, Earth Day celebrations have grown to be a major global event and is celebrated in many different ways.

ego wall

An “ego wall” is where people flaunt their political connections by displaying photos of themselves with more famous people.

The phenomenon is also sometimes called the “glory wall” or “me wall.”

Mike Nichols: “The ego wall is where the politician hangs pictures of himself or herself beside other, more famous politicians. It is why, when a president flies into town, there are usually about 495 lesser politicians waiting on the tarmac. They want a picture for the ego wall.”

Slate: “Lobbyists have glory walls in the office to impress clients. Staffers have them to impress other staffers. Socialites have their glory walls on the piano… For aspiring Washingtonians, the glory wall allows you to brag about conversations you never really had with the chief justice and intimacies you never really shared with the president.”

elastic state

An “elastic state” is one whose voting outcome in a presidential election is relatively sensitive or responsive to changes in political conditions, such as a change in the national economic mood.

Nate Silver: “Elastic states are those which have a lot of swing voters — that is, voters who could plausibly vote for either party’s candidate. A swing voter is very likely to be an independent voter, since registered Republicans and registered Democrats vote with their party at least 90 percent of the time in most presidential elections. The swing voter is also likely to be devoid of other characteristics that are very strong predictors of voting behavior.”

An inelastic state, by contrast, is one which is relatively insensitive to these changes.


“Entryism” is 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.

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.”

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.” 

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.

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?”


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.”