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My Good Friend

The phrase “my good friend” is often employed as a term of collegiality between politicians, regardless of their actual personal relationship or political alignment.

The term serves as diplomatic parlance, setting a tone of civility and decorum, especially when prefacing disagreements or criticisms.

Its usage can be both genuine and strategic, as it helps to soften the optics of political battles and may appeal to norms of bipartisanship or compromise.

More on “My Good Friend”

Politician-speak for somebody they often can’t stand. Of all the expressions in this book, most people we interviewed cited this one as the euphemism they least could stand.

“My good friend” is used most commonly on the House or Senate floors when addressing a colleague.

Usually it’s a thinly veiled way of showing contempt for the other lawmaker while adhering to congressional rules of decorum. When Democratic representative Gene Green of Texas first arrived on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s, he recalled, “The joke we had was, when someone calls you their good friend, look behind you. I try not to say it unless people really are my good friends.”

Sometimes it’s not even clear that a lawmaker even knows his or her supposedly “good friend.” After all, in a chamber of 435 members it’s unlikely one House member knows the names of the majority of his or her colleagues, let alone is friends with many of them.

In the Senate, a chamber of just 100, most members are at least on a first-name basis with each other. That doesn’t mean they like each other any better, even if they refer to colleagues as friends.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who has long had a testy relationship with Democratic leader Harry Reid, demonstrated this in July 2013. If Reid went ahead with a plan to change filibuster rules to subvert Republican objections, McConnell said, “our friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader here ever.” (Five months later, Reid did force through a rules change over Republican objections, presumably not worried about his friendship with McConnell.)

This American political tradition of hypocrisy over friends likely has British lineage. Parliament has its own version of the English language in which words have meanings different from their use outside. “Liar” can be usefully translated into Parliamentese as “Right honorable Gentleman,” or even “My honorable friend.

”Washington isn’t the only place where the expression can have a negative connotation. In his best-selling book Kitchen Confidential, chef-turned-cable-travel-show-star Anthony Bourdain wrote that among restaurant workers, “ ‘My friend’ famously means ‘asshole’ in the worst and most sincere sense of that word.”

“Friend,” of course, has always been a fungible word in politics. President Harry Truman’s remark, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” has become one of the most-quoted maxims of all time.

Vito Corleone, head of the fictional Corleone mob family, puts the notion of political friends more plainly in The Godfather. He tells an upstart rival who’s trying to muscle in on the narcotics business, “It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.”

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “My Good Friend” in a sentence

  • “My good friend from across the aisle makes an interesting point, although I must respectfully disagree on the merits of this legislation.”
  • I would like to thank my good friend for co-sponsoring this bill; it’s a testament to what we can achieve when we put partisanship aside.”
  • “Despite our ideological differences, my good friend and I have found common ground on the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”