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It’s Just Politics

“It’s just politics” is often invoked to downplay or rationalize actions, decisions, or maneuvers that may be contentious, controversial, or ethically murky.

It serves as a shorthand for acknowledging that the landscape of politics often necessitates strategic calculations or compromises that might not align perfectly with public expectations.

While the phrase can serve to normalize certain behaviors as part of the game, it can also be critiqued for perpetuating a cynical view of politics, wherein ethical and public interest considerations are secondary to political survival or advancement.

More on “It’s Just Politics”

A politician’s blanket dismissal of any trouble befalling them by labeling their aggressors’ motivations as mere point-scoring.

It’s just politics has been, and always will be, popular because it plays on the public’s monumental disgust with, and distrust of, elected officials. Paul Stob, a communication studies professor at Vanderbilt University who examines political language, described it as “a political maneuver that hinges upon the deprecation of politics.” He added, “It’s playing politics by seeming to remove oneself from the political fray.”

“In rhetorical studies, we often deal with a similar issue,” Stob said. “When people say things like ‘rhetoric versus reality’ or ‘we want action, not rhetoric,’ they’re making a rhetorical move that hinges upon the deprecation of rhetoric itself. So ‘it’s just politics’ is a way of playing politics that seems to dismiss politics.’”

The expression long has been one of President Obama’s favorites. And Hillary Clinton and her supporters played the “it’s just politics” card to describe the controversy over her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. That, of course, enraged her conservative critics, who contended the strategy had enabled her and her husband to sweep far too many substantive things under the rug.

“Bill and Hillary Clinton have for years looked into the nearest camera and said, ‘It’s just politics,’” editor in chief Erick Erickson complained. “Every attack from every direction has been deflected with that. Even now, as more and more information comes out about Hillary Clinton’s email server, the standard Clinton talking point has returned: ‘It’s just politics.’” But, Erickson added, “‘It’s just politics’ does not work when the public realizes it is actually about national security.”

The phrase also was used recently when New York senator Chuck Schumer came out in opposition to the Iran nuclear arms deal. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski accused Schumer of making a purely political calculation, prompting conservative commentator Bill Kristol—no fan of Schumer’s, but also a vociferous critic of the Iran agreement—to retort, “You think it’s just politics? You don’t think Chuck Schumer in terms of his foreign policy views has problems with this deal?”

“It’s just politics” also can be used in a broader context, as a pox-on-both-your-houses dismissal of career elected officials. Witness Donald Trump’s surge to the top of the GOP heap in summer 2015 by strafing officials across the ideological span as incompetent, dumb and ill-intentioned—in other words, just politicians.

From Doubletalk © 2016 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “It’s Just Politics” in a sentence

  • When questioned about his sudden shift on a key policy issue, the senator shrugged and said, “It’s just politics; you have to adapt to keep your base happy and stay in office.”
  • The campaign consultant, noticing the raised eyebrows after suggesting a negative ad strategy, remarked, “Don’t be too shocked—it’s just politics, and sometimes you have to play hardball to win.
  • After the party leadership pushed through an unpopular bill, one veteran lawmaker sighed, “I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s just politics; we need to pass this to maintain leverage in the upcoming elections.”