Hustings are the speeches and campaign events associated with an election cycle. “On the hustings” is a synonym for being on the campaign trail.

The word itself derives from the Old Norse word “husthings,” or “house assembly,” which was a meeting of all the men in the household of a nobleman or a king. The word entered Old English as “husting,” where it was used to mean any meeting or tribunal. By the early 18th century, the word was used to mean a “temporary platform for political speeches;” the meaning eventually shifted to include the election process as a whole.

“Hustings” is probably more commonly used in the UK and in Canada than it is in the United States. The BBC notes that the word has a very rough and tumble connotation, implying combat and improvisation:

“The most famous election in literature, at Eatanswill, in Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, sees the unfortunate Mr Pickwick accidentally pushed up on to the hustings platform where he looks down on a scene ‘from whence arose a storm of groans, and shouts, and yells, and hootings, that would have done honour to an earthquake’.” 

In America, too, the word “hustings” connotes energy and activity, rather than staid fundraisers or political ads or TV. The word is used to imply that a candidate is busy being a go-getter. In 2016, the Huffington Post described Bernie Sanders in this way:

Bernie had a good week on the hustings, pulling in a whopping 27,000 people to a rally in Washington Square Park, and chalking up his first Senate endorsement to boot.

Ross Douthat, writing about Ted Cruz in the same year, used the phrase to evoke Cruz’s hard working, tireless style:

Cruz will be back, no doubt. He’s young, he’s indefatigable, and he can claim — and will claim, on the 2020 hustings — that True Conservatism has as yet been left untried. But that will be a half-truth; it isn’t being tried this year because the Republican Party’s voters have rejected him and it, as they rejected another tour for Bushism when they declined to back Rubio and Jeb.

In 2020, the Washington Post argued that “sweat equity” plays a major role in elections. Victory often goes to the candidate who’s willing to put in the time to rally voters, the Post argued; this might give President Trump an edge over Joe Biden in the upcoming election:

Biden-in-the-basement has worked well so far, but he may not be able to compete with a fully unleashed Trump on the hustings. Trump is part showman, part chief marketing officer, part bomb-thrower.

Hustings are, in general, an opportunity for throwing political barbs, slinging mud, and casting aspersions on one’s opponents. When a candidate is on the hustings, he or she is not being genteel. The Business Times used the term to evoke the scrappy atmosphere of the 2020 Democratic primary season:

As Senator Kamala Harris pointed out during the hustings, Mr Biden has a long record of supporting legislation which many believe was socially divisive, and which the powerful Black Lives Matter movement may find objectionable.

honeymoon period

honeymoon period

A “honeymoon period” is a period of popularity enjoyed by a new leader. Usually, the term refers to an incoming president. Traditionally, both Congress and news outlets give presidents a bit of a break at the start of their first terms, so that they can ease into the office.

As the Five Thirty Eight blog has noted, incoming presidents tend to be popular – after all, they were just elected by a plurality of Americans. Researchers have found that this translates into political power early in a president’s first term. A new power enters office with a mandate, and Congress is likely to respect this mandate, at least during the first few months of the first term. This means that a president’s first 100 days in office are the ideal time for them to pass legislation.

Gallup has found that presidential honeymoon periods are getting shorter and shorter. By the last few decades of the 20th century, the typical honeymoon period had shrunk to seven months, down from an average of 26 months earlier in American history:

“Presidents typically enjoy positive approval ratings during the early stages of their presidencies, commonly known as the “honeymoon” period. Barack Obama is no exception, with ratings that have generally been above 60%. But recent presidents’ honeymoons have typically ended much sooner than those of their predecessors. Whereas presidents from Harry Truman through Richard Nixon spent an average of 26 months above the historical average 55% presidential job approval rating after they took office, presidents from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush spent an average of just seven months above this norm.”

Interestingly, some two-term presidents may actually enjoy two honeymoon periods, benefitting from a bounce in their popularity after being elected to a second term. The Washington Post noted that this had happened to Obama, at least:

President Obama is enjoying a sort of second political honeymoon in the wake of his re-election victory last November with a series of national polls showing his job approval rating climbing from the middling territory where it lagged for much of the last several years…Obama approval is at 52 percent while his disapproval is at 43 percent. That may not seem like much but it marks a significant improvement over where he was for much of 2010 and 2011.

Many pundits claim that President Trump never had any honeymoon at all; the 45th president, they say, faced conflict and criticism from the moment he stepped into office. Opinions are divided as to who carries the blame for that. The New York Times blamed the president, arguing that he had squandered any good will that should have been coming to him by refusing to go out on the road to rally his followers, as previous presidents had done:

President Trump has become a virtual homebody during his first few months in office, largely sitting out the honeymoon period that other presidents have used to hit the road and rally support for their priorities.

The Miller Center noted that Trump had come into office at a time of unprecedented polarization in the country, and that his party held only a slim majority in the House; as a result, the incoming president faced gridlock in Congress. He had also won a majority off the electoral votes but had failed to win the popular vote, which automatically put him at a disadvantage and diminished his “honeymoon” period.



“Hizzoner” is a nickname used by journalists to refer to big city mayors, especially in New York City. Hizzoner is a contraction of “his honor,” the mayor’s formal title.

Merriam Webster notes that the term was first used in 1882. William Safire has said that the term was first popularized during the mayoralty of Fiorello LaGuardia; LaGuardia, as Safire says, was definitely not a formal figure, so a nickname which played with his office’s formal title sat well with him.

In 2019, when New York mayor Bill DeBlasio was running for the presidency, CBS created a feature called “Where’s Hizzoner?” The regular segment tracked DeBlasio’s movements and was a response to criticism that the mayor was spending too much time on the campaign trail and not enough governing the city.

New York’s tabloids aren’t generally known for their subtlety. Headlines about the mayor include items like “Hizzoner, the humongous hypocrite for sale,” which ran in the Daily News in 2018 and read, in part, 

“Here’s what Bill de Blasio, campaign-finance-reform champion and world-class hypocrite, said to the guy breaking the law and those systems to get bribe money to him: “Listen, I don’t know, I don’t want to know. Just do whatever you got to do.”

When Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire co-founder of Bloomberg MP, was running for mayor of New York, his own media had to chronicle his campaign. This made for some puzzling writing. “Hizzoner, Mayor Bloomberg?” read a headline in Bloomberg Businessweek

“So what makes a billionaire media executive who runs a company with 7,200 employees think he can manage the Big Apple and its 8 million citizens? Truth is, Michael R. Bloomberg thinks he can do pretty much anything. Especially when everyone else thinks he can’t. Once he officially announces his candidacy in two months or so, Bloomberg will sell himself to the voters as a political outsider with vision and managerial expertise. “I won’t be beholden to anybody,” he vows.”

Chicago mayors can also be called “Hizzoner” – so can any big-city mayor. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported on a plan to lure businesses to Chicago by offering lower taxes:

“The bright idea comes from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who is looking to lure employers from Oregon after that state’s voters approved a huge tax increase last week. The tax hike in Oregon “will help our economic development immediately. You’d better believe it,” Hizzoner told the Chicago Sun Times late last week. “We’ll be out in Oregon enticing corporations to relocate to Chicago.”

In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times ran a slightly snarky item titled “Hizzoner Talks!” to announce an upcoming talk by mayor Eric Garcetti, who had been in office just a few months at the time.

A number of plays and movies have used the title “Hizzoner,” usually to recount the biography of one mayor or another. Hizzoner was also the name of a very short-lived sitcom starring Kathy Cronkite and Mickey Deems. The show focused on the ups and downs of life as the mayor of a small midwestern town and ran for one season in 1979.

heartbeat away from the presidency

heartbeat away from the presidency

The phrase “heartbeat away from the presidency” refers to the fact that the vice president will automatically succeed the presidency in the case of the president’s death, disability, or resignation.

The vice presidency is not a powerful position in itself. The Senate’s own website calls the job “the least understood, most ridiculed, and most often ignored constitutional office in the federal government.” Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, once said that the title wasn’t worth “a bucket of warm spit.” The position has grown in importance over the years, with Dick Cheney (vice president under George W. Bush) arguably elevating the job to one of real significance. Still, the job doesn’t come with its own powers.

The vice president presides over the Senate and may cast a deciding ballot in the case of deadlock; the vice president may also advise the president on policy matters. Broadly, though, the vice president’s job is to be prepared to take over if anything happens to the president. As WhiteHouse.gov puts it:

The primary responsibility of the Vice President of the United States is to be ready at a moment’s notice to assume the Presidency if the President is unable to perform his duties. This can be because of the President’s death, resignation, or temporary incapacitation, or if the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet judge that the President is no longer able to discharge the duties of the presidency.

Over the course of US history, a total of nine vice presidents have succeeded presidents in the middle of their terms. Eight of those occurred because of a president’s death. One president, Richard Nixon, resigned and was replaced by his vice president, Gerald Ford. Considering that the nation has had only 45 presidents to date, this means that 20% of America’s presidents have been succeeded mid-term by their vice presidents.

Presidential candidates like to jab at the other side’s vice-presidential pick, whenever possible. In 2008, when Barack Obama was running against John McCain, McCain surprised many by picking an unknown Alaskan politician as his running mate. Sarah Palin, the former mayor of the town of Wasilla, was a political newcomer. The Obama campaign released this curt statement when McCain announced that she was joining his ticket:

Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies — that’s not the change we need, it’s just more of the same.

The conservative commentator William Kristol jumped to Sarah Palin’s defense. Writing in the New York Times, Kristol reminded his readers that throughout US history, politicians have been fretting needlessly about vice presidential experience. William McKinley’s campaign advisers worried that McKinley’s running mate, Theodore Roosevelt, was far too young and inexperienced to succeed McKinley. In the event, of course, Roosevelt proved them wrong.

Sarah Palin, Kristol argued, was an all-American “Wal-Mart” mom, and that may be a good thing. He wrote, “A Wasilla Wal-Mart Mom a heartbeat away? I suspect most voters will say, No problem. And some – perhaps a decisive number – will say, It’s about time.”

hat in the ring

hat in the ring

Throwing one’s hat in the ring means announcing one’s intention to compete in a contest. In politics, it means running for political office.

The phrase originally comes from boxing, where contestants would literally throw their hats into the boxing ring as a signal that they wanted to join the fight. In boxing, the expression dates back at least to the beginning of the 19th century. 

An article in The Morning Chronicle of London, dated November 30, 1804, read in part:

The fight which we stated a few days since to be about to take place between Tom Belcher, brother to the champion of that name, and Bill Ryan, son of the late noted pugilist, who fought with Johnson some years since, was yesterday decided at Wilsdon Green, on the Edgware Road, the spot where the hard battle was fought between Blake and Holmes, a twelvemonth since, and where Pictoun beat Will Wood in June last. A council was held among the gentry of the fist on Tuesday last, when the misunderstanding respecting the purse to be fought for was adjusted, and the champions agreed that the fight should take place yesterday, instead of Monday next. The champions arrived at Wilsdon Green at eleven o’clock in two hackney coaches. Belcher first threw his hat into the ring over the heads of the spectators, as an act of defiance to his antagonist, who received him in the ring with a welcome smile.

In modern politics, candidates often wait until the last minute to throw their hats into the ring. Their announcements are awaited eagerly, and the press speculates about whether they will or won’t eventually enter the contest. For example, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg waited months to officially declare that he was running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The long wait led to seemingly endless press coverage, like this Forex piece which said, wryly,

“For what it is worth, Democrat Michael Bloomberg is still mulling whether to throw his hat in the ring as a Democratic alternative to Elizabeth Warren/Joseph Biden vs. Pres. Trump. This is nothing really new.”

Former vice president Joe Biden also spent months deliberating before finally throwing his hat in the ring and announcing his White House run in April 2019.

Biden first considered running for the presidency in 2016, but decided against it after his son’s death. As Wilmington News Journal has reported, Biden began reconsidering as soon as President Trump was elected. Essentially, the former vice president spent a few years testing the waters and weighing his chances before deciding to throw his hat in the ring:

By May 2017, he started a political action committee to support Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. He solicited donors — something he’s never enjoyed — and began mapping out a plan to be a prominent player in the Democratic bid to regain the House and defend difficult seats in the Senate.

As the midterms neared, Biden started getting the feedback he hoped for. In August 2018, he boarded a flight from Washington to New York and a string of passengers encouraged him to run in 2020.

hatchet man

A “hatchet man” is an operative in charge of doing political dirty work — or dirty tricks — both during a campaign and sometimes as part of normal government functions.

The word was first popularized during the Watergate scandal. Several of Richard Nixon’s aides, notably Charles Colson and H.R. Haldeman, were known as the president’s hatchet men, charged with taking care of his dirty work.

As the New York Times reported, Colson “caught the president’s eye” and rose in the administration quickly, thanks to his apparent ruthlessness.

His “instinct for the political jugular and his ability to get things done made him a lightning rod for my own frustrations,” Nixon wrote in his memoir, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. In 1970, the president made him his “political point man” for “imaginative dirty tricks. When I complained to Colson, I felt confident that something would be done,” Nixon wrote. “I was rarely disappointed.”

Colson hired E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA operative, to spy on Nixon’s political opponents. He also admitted to conspiring to destroy the reputation of Daniel Ellsberg, the former National Security Council member who leaked the Pentagon papers. He served time in jail, where he said he had experienced a religious awakening, eventually becoming an evangelical leader and forging  a coalition of Republican protestants and Catholics.

Happy Days Are Here Again

happy days are here again

“Happy Days Are Here Again” is the title of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s official campaign song in 1932. The song remained the unofficial anthem of the Democratic Party for many years.

In 1932, America was mired in the Great Depression. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” with its upbeat lyrics and melody, helped set the mood for FDR’s optimistic candidacy and his promise that good times were coming again.

The song’s lyrics are not subtle. The chorus sings,

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

The song, written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, was first performed by the George Olsen orchestra on Black Thursday, at the very onset of the stock market crash of 1929. Ironically, Yellen, who wrote the song’s lyrics, considered himself a Republican. Yellen and Ager wrote the song for a movie titled “Chasing Rainbows,” about World War I; the song was supposed to evoke the soldiers’ joy when they heard that peace had been made. However, the studio delayed release, so Yellen and Ager shopped it around to different performers. That’s how it came to be performed at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel, in front of a crowd of ruined stock speculators.

As Time Magazine has pointed out, “Happy days” became FDR’s campaign song almost by accident. The campaign was originally planning to use “Anchors Aweigh,” the fight song of the US Navy, as its theme. However, the man who introduced FDR at the 1932 Democratic convention delivered a strikingly dull speech and then walked off stage to the strains of Anchors Aweigh. FDR’s team desperately wanted to change  the mood before the candidate walked onstage, so they asked for a new song. The one chosen was, of course, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

This was the first time that a pre-existing pop song had been chosen for a political campaign’s theme music. Prior to 1932, campaigns usually hired musicians to write songs for them. William Howard Taft’s campaign, for example, came up with a tune called “Get on a Raft with Taft,” extolling the candidate as

“The man to lead
Our strong and mighty craft
Through storm at sea
To victory…
It’s William Howard Taft.”

The old campaign songs may seem hokey now, but they were certainly full of drama. James Madison’s campaign used a song called “Huzzah for Madison” to tout their candidate and to warn voters that Satan was always on the prowl:

And should the Tories all unite
And join again with British foes;
Though Satan might applaud the sight,
The heavens would soon interpose.

While Jefferson to shade retires
And Madison like morn appears
Fresh confidence and hope inspires
And light again the nation cheers.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson split the difference between pop and original. His campaign took the new and popular “Hello Dolly” and reimagined it as “Hello, Lyndon,” urging the candidate to “promise you’ll stay with us in ’64.”

happy warrior

A politician who is undaunted and cheerful, even in the face of adversity, is said to be a “happy warrior.” 

The phrase comes from an 1806 poem by William Wordsworth, titled “Character of the Happy Warrior.” Wordsworth described the “happy warrior” as a brave, generous, and moral man, who was able to remain virtuous even in the midst of distress. More than anything, though, Wordsworth’s happy warrior is able to stay optimistic and to thrive amidst conflict. As Wordsworth sees it, adversity makes the happy warrior even more joyful:

“if he be called upon to face

Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined

Great issues, good or bad for human kind,

Is happy as a Lover; and attired

With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired…”

Hubert Humphrey, who served as vice president under Lyndon Johnson and later as Senator from Minnesota, was often known as the “happy warrior.” Humphrey is remembered as a progressive and a champion of civil liberties. He is also remembered as a sunny and upbeat personality. After his death, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement, “You can go down the list of landmark federal legislation from the past 60 years, and Hubert Humphrey’s fingerprints are there: civil rights, Medicare, nuclear arms control, the Peace Corps, and countless others. But I think the most important thing about Hubert Humphrey is that he was an optimist, and he believed in America and believed in our democracy.”

A few decades later, Ronald Reagan was also called a “happy warrior.” Even his political opponents grudgingly noted his charm and likeability. After Reagan passed away, the Guardian noted, “Ronald Reagan was a happy warrior whose easy-going “Aw, shucks” style could make people smile who never voted for him. “Wake me up in an emergency,” he used to say, “even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.” Reagan himself liked the phrase “happy warrior;” in 1985 he told CPAC attendees, “We’ve made much progress already. So, let us go forth with good cheer and stout hearts — happy warriors out to seize back a country and a world to freedom.”

The happy warrior phrase gets used on both sides of the political divide. In 2012, Barack Obama won re-election and referred to Joe Biden as a “happy warrior.” In 2018, Rick Perry said the same of Donald Trump: “The onslaught that goes at him, the forces of evil that are arrayed against him, it’s stunning,” Perry said. “And let me tell you, he is a happy warrior. We talk about Ronald Reagan being a happy warrior. Ronald Reagan ain’t got nothing on Donald Trump. This guy is fascinating. His stamina. Watch him on TV. He is amazing.”


In politics, a handler manages a candidate during an election. 

A handler can fill a variety of roles. At the lowest end of the spectrum, a handler can take care of the candidate’s basic needs, fetching cups of coffee or take-out meals. Further up the totem pole, a handler can manage a candidate’s interactions with the media or give advice on the direction the campaign ought to take. Often, “handler” is used interchanged with “PR expert.”

A piece in New York Magazine’s “Workplace Confidential” described some of the work involved in “handling” a candidate:

A lot of the day-to-day work is helping the candidate improve. Is he or she getting sharper on the stump? It’s about practice and a willingness by the candidate to literally watch themselves and watch other people. Oppo[sition] research is one of the fun parts of the game. It’s easier these days to get the stuff out there, for sure. There are so many outlets, and somebody’s going to run with it. You just need to make sure the reporter you give it to isn’t going to waste it on a tweet.

Of course, the term “handler” is often seen as pejorative, probably because it’s closely associated with animals. An animal handler is responsible for every aspect of an animal’s welfare, from feeding and exercise to proper training and socialization. An animal handler might also show a dog or a horse in a competition. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want to be compared to zoo animals, and so avoid describing anyone on their staff as a “handler.”

The term “handler” is also associated with boxing. The person (usually a man) who trains a prizefighter and coaches them while they’re in the ring is known as a handler. But politicians also don’t want to be compared to prizefighters, most of the time. This is probably why, as William Safire has pointed out, most politicians refer to their handlers as “consultants,” or “advisers,” or “aides.” 

Generally, when someone uses the term “handler,” it’s about a member of the opposing party. Politicians usually talk about their opponents as having handlers. Journalists write, often critically, about a particular politician’s handlers. It’s an attention-grabbing word with a subtly negative flavor; it has the added virtue of being short enough to fit in a headline. So, journalists can write headlines like “Trump is ‘a full-blown lunatic’, says ex-handler Scaramucci.” Or, authors can give their books titles like “Obama Unmasked: Did Slick Hollywood Handlers Create the Perfect Candidate?”

Sometimes, politicians would rather just not have any handlers at all. In 1988, Dan Quayle was running for vice president and was facing criticism for his overly scripted and “robotic” public appearances. Quayle, frustrated, announced that he was breaking free from his political handlers, as the New York Times reported:

“‘I just said, Lookit,” he recalled today when asked to explain the change to the reporters traveling with him. ”I said I’ve done it their way this far and now it’s my turn. I’m my own handler. Any questions? Ask me.”

An advance man is also a handler.

Hastert rule

Hastert rule

The Hastert rule is an informal guiding principle for leaders in the House of Representatives that dictates a majority of the majority party support any measure before it receives a vote.

This principle is named after former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R), who served in the position from 1999 to 2007. Republicans in the House used the principle dating back to Newt Gingrich’s speakership from 1995 to 1999. Gingrich and Hastert responded to prior speakerships that blurred Republican and Democratic lines on areas of common policy interests.

Hastert served as speaker during a period of Republican resurgence with George W. Bush’s election in 2000 and GOP control of the Senate after 2002. In 2004, Hastert said the following about requiring a majority of the majority to schedule floor votes:

On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority. Campaign finance is a particularly good example of this phenomenon. The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.

The speaker framed this principle as a compromise position from previous years when the Republican majority excluded House Democrats from drafting substantive bills. The Hastert Rule is intended to solidfy the party line, prevent dissent within the majority and control the majority party’s policy agenda.

After Democrats took control of the House in 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to use the Hastert rule in managing her caucus. Pelosi wanted Republicans to be part of the process and sought broader support for major legislation. This appeal for bipartisan votes was countered by an increasingly polarized political environment that created contentious debates over substantive legislation. For example, the 2009 vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act received only one Republican vote and lost 39 Democratic votes.

Pelosi’s successor, John Boehner (R), flouted the Hastert rule on multiple occasions before resigning from the speakership in 2015. Boehner allowed three bills to reach the floor in 2013 that were not supported by a majority of the Republican legislators. He counted on a small number of Republicans and a majority of Democrats to pass bills reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, approving Hurricane Sandy relief funds, and avoiding a fiscal cliff.

Paul Ryan (R) restored the Hastert rule following his selection as Speaker of the House in 2015. Boehner’s resignation followed pressure by conservative members of the party to reassert the rule. Ryan promised these members that he would apply the rule to any immigration bill that emerged from the U.S. Senate.


The Hill (April 28, 2016): “Now some conservatives are saying that may be too narrow an application of the GOP practice known for years as the ‘Hastert Rule’.”

The Atlantic (July 21, 2013): “Today, Boehner’s violations of the Hastert rule have angered conservatives who see themselves as the ones marginalized by his ability to get around their demands.”

NPR (June 11, 2013): “Boehner has never committed to follow the Hastert rule in every case, and in reality even Hastert violated his own rule.”


hiking the Appalachian Trail

hiking the appalachian trail

“Hiking the Appalachian Trail” is a euphemism for a politician who claims to be doing one thing but in reality went to meet with his mistress.

The term was coined after South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) went missing in 2009, claiming that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when in reality he was in Argentina with his mistress.

honest graft

Honest graft refers to the money-making opportunities that might arise while holding public office. The activities are, strictly speaking, legal, although they might raise eyebrows or provoke criticism.

The term “honest graft” was coined by George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany Hall boss and political operative. Plunkitt served in both houses of the New York State legislature during the late 19th century, but he also operated informally out of the New York City courthouse. Today, he is best known for his book on “practical politics,” which includes his definition of honest graft.

Plunkitt argued that it is absolutely legitimate for politicians to take advantage of any opportunities that they come across. Plunkitt looked down on “dishonest graft,” which included corruption and blackmail. But he upheld the right of politicians to line their pockets, as long as they did so legally. “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em,” he famously said.

Plunkitt did things like buy up public land after he got a tip that his political party was about to build a park in the area. When it came time to construct the park, he sold his land back, holding out for the highest possible price. Plunkitt didn’t see this as a waste of public funds; instead, he compared himself to a stock trader who studies futures. “It’s just like lookin’ ahead in Wall Street or in the coffee or cotton market. It’s honest graft, and I’m lookin’ for it every day in the year,” he wrote.

In modern times, few politicians brag about looking for honest graft in the way that Plunkitt did. But journalists and advocacy groups often point out examples of what they see as barely-legal profiteering by politicians. In 2012, CBS News published a detailed look at how members of Congress use their inside knowledge to win big in the stock market. CBS pointed out that Members of Congress are free to use their knowledge about government contracts and upcoming legislation when they trade in the stock market, for example. Many compare this behavior to insider trading, but there is no law to prevent it.

Members of Congress also reportedly made a fortune by betting against the stock market just before the 2008 financial crisis hit. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had, of course, tipped them off about the coming crash. And, like George Plunkitt, members of Congress also use their inside knowledge and power to make profitable real estate deals. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, once used her influence to push through a 20 million dollar waterfront improvement project that drastically increased the value of property which she owned.

Over the years, Bill Clinton has faced questions about the big speaking fees he collects, and about the donations given to the Clinton Foundation. President Trump has also been accused of lining his pockets during his presidency. He has been questioned about his hotels and his golf courses, as well as his business connections to world leaders. Unlike George Plunkitt, none of today’s politicians wants to talk about honest graft, but the allegations persist.

heck of a job

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

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

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

Brown resigned ten days after he was praised by Bush.


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

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


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

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

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


“Hardball” is 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.”

Related term: Chicago-style politics and politics ain’t beanbag.