Robert Ehlert: Your guide to politicians' favorite terms

rehlert@idahostatesman.comMay 6, 2014 

Robert Ehlert


It has come to my attention that certain words used by politicians leading up to an election can be confusing and may appear contradictory.

With the May 20 primary just two weeks out, I have retrieved some of these words from information submitted in voter guides, debate transcripts and news reports. To the best of my knowledge and ability I have attempted to unscramble and interpret what some of these folks are trying to say.

I hope this is helpful in the coming days and weeks. Herewith is my PoliticalSpeak glossary:

Washington D.C.: This is the source of all political and social evil - and 36 percent of the funding for the Idaho budget.

Pragmatic or practical: This is a perceived weakness found in some politicians who - rather than just say "No!" - attempt to foolishly compromise or collaborate with colleagues to get something done.

RINO: A reference to a "Republican in Name Only." This derisive term has morphed from a rhino to the elephant in the room whenever Idaho and national Republicans meet to hammer out their political platforms.

Career politician: This is a term/tactic to discount/dilute the experience and contributions made by one politician so another can move in and start his/her career in politics.

"Kid" or "boy": When you can't say that someone is a career politician you take the condescending route, suggesting that they are inexperienced, wet behind the ears, dependent on Velcro in lieu of shoelaces, don't know cursive and prefer digital to analog understanding.

Conservative: Though you can be conservative and be from either the Democratic or Republican parties, the projection of this word is the political equivalent of saying "My dad can beat up your dad."

Truth: A term of endearment that is never really tested because "truth" in politics is like the IRS Tax Code: there is a loophole for everything.

True conservative: This is a powerful combination of the previous two words spoken with pomp and the kind of self-righteous indignation that is purchased with PAC money. As an example, a federal-level candidate often remarks he is not just "a true conservative," he is "the true conservative."

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness: These are seven words that mean nothing if you are a wolf, raven or vulnerable dairy cow.

Mainstream: Only politics could turn this word inside out and upside down. Get ready because "mainstream" is a flexible term now, even used by candidates who court anti-incumbent and tea party sentiment. Some "mainstreamers" are the same people who got behind the federal court case that allowed the GOP to close its primary to all non-Republicans.

Tea party: Hmm. Since its origins and evolution in the past seven or eight years, we are having trouble tracing it to a definitive contemporary source or address. Some demonize the tea party and link it to all manner of powerful people with money. Others champion it but can't help when asked: "Take me to your leader." Defining it today is more difficult than trying to paint a portrait of a moving cloud with a paintball gun.

"Constitutional" candidates: These are those who default to the Second Amendment in most instances, but will resort to the 10th Amendment when they get in a jam, and who realize the 14th Amendment is an inconvenient truth. Some wish for a new amendment to remove the 17th Amendment - which will erase your present right to vote for U.S. senators and return that privilege to legislative bodies where it can be more easily purchased.

Liberal or moderate: If politics had tattoos this is what you would attempt to ink upon opponents.

Establishment candidate: When others have already used up the "kid" and "boy" options to criticize someone, you can always do what one state candidate has done: Call them an "establishment candidate." This is even an option when the subject of this name-calling has never run for office and was in elementary school when the accusing opponent "established" his political career.

Democrat: With only a few state-wide races contested in the Democratic primary - treasurer and governor - look for this term to limp from the glossary to the Endangered Species List unless Idaho Republicans continue to eat themselves at the present unsustainable rate.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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