Dictionary of American Politics, Part Two — Demspeak

As was explained in part one of this post, following what is said or written about American politics is often difficult for Americans who are actually used to all the dissembling, spinning, deliberate misconstruing, hyperbole and other nonsense that is to spin facts and lies into glittering campaign finery. But if you are not from ...

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

As was explained in part one of this post, following what is said or written about American politics is often difficult for Americans who are actually used to all the dissembling, spinning, deliberate misconstruing, hyperbole and other nonsense that is to spin facts and lies into glittering campaign finery.

But if you are not from the U.S., it's next two impossible to know what's important or what's not.  Given the central role America still plays in the world -- G-zeroists notwithstanding -- cutting through the headlines and the soundbites to get to the core truths about what's happening in the world's highest-priced democracy is essential.

That's why I've tried to pick out a few terms and explain what each party means by them.  Earlier this week, I visited the Republican lexicon.  Today, we'll take a look at a handful of key illustrations of the quirks and curiosities that comprise the Dem dialect, with a special focus on a few that pertain to foreign policy.

As was explained in part one of this post, following what is said or written about American politics is often difficult for Americans who are actually used to all the dissembling, spinning, deliberate misconstruing, hyperbole and other nonsense that is to spin facts and lies into glittering campaign finery.

But if you are not from the U.S., it’s next two impossible to know what’s important or what’s not.  Given the central role America still plays in the world — G-zeroists notwithstanding — cutting through the headlines and the soundbites to get to the core truths about what’s happening in the world’s highest-priced democracy is essential.

That’s why I’ve tried to pick out a few terms and explain what each party means by them.  Earlier this week, I visited the Republican lexicon.  Today, we’ll take a look at a handful of key illustrations of the quirks and curiosities that comprise the Dem dialect, with a special focus on a few that pertain to foreign policy.

The 1 Percent — This is a perjorative term of art for every rich, spoiled, corrupt, indolent, exploitative millionaire in America who is not a donor to the Obama reelection effort or the Democratic National Committee.  Donors are referred to as hard-working, job-creating illustrations of the enduring power of the American dream.  (Also understood to refer to those who should be shouldering burden for balancing U.S. budget by paying "their fair share" of taxes.)

The 99 Percent — This refers to the disenfranchised, struggling victims of Wall Street and corporatist exploitation.  All these people deserve tax cuts, to be funded by the 1 percent.  The fact that there is no way to address the deficit without a bigger burden falling on most of the members of the 99 percent, too, is just not something that should be discussed in public until we are in the midst of robust recovery lest the truth and arithmetic derail everything.

Bush Tax Cuts — Source of all problems in the U.S. economy, even though President Obama celebrated extending them as a canny political victory in the middle of his first term.  (Also known as the biggest political issue of December 2012.)

Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — The Holy Trinity of American politics.  They are sacrosanct and must never be touched — even if major surgery is the only way to actually save their lives.

Financial Services Reform — A political mirage allowing the president to seemingly take a tough stand against the 1 percent while not alienating too much the fat cats who are needed to pump money into Dem coffers.  Advocate it, sign it, but don’t really overdo the enforcement side of it.

Campaign Finance Reform — Something that is absolutely essential for restoring democracy in America, and which should be implemented just as soon as every currently serving Dem leaves office.

The President’s Healthcare Victory — Shhhh.  Please don’t mention this.  Despite the fact that it actually benefitted millions, it is the Voldemort of Dem politics, "the policy whose name must not be spoken."

Romneycare — Shhh.  Please don’t mention this either.  Because as Dems, we’ll be forced to admit we kinda like it.

The Unemployment Rate — The president’s true running mate (sorry, Joe.)  If it dips to around 8 percent or below, the president wins re-election.  Interesting fact: the president has almost no ability to impact this outcome and bares only a very limited responsibility for fluctuations in U.S. employment one way or another.

Europe — Dem heaven.  An ability to balance the love of good cuisine with the love for a well-constructed government bureaucracy. Topless beaches. The fact that the eurocrisis probably will have more to do with whether Obama wins reelection than anything he or anyone in the U.S. might do compromises this love affair somewhat.

China — Growing up, most Dem policy wonks wanted to be European, today they want to be Chinese. And we hate them for that. 

India — China with democracy … really fractious democracy at that, and crazy, over-the-top, outspoken media chaos.   A fast growing developing country with an important strategic role and a historical past that gave us Ben Kingsley.  In other words, for visionary Dem foreign policy types, even better than Europe or China.  The ultimate destination/partner for the Dem wonkocracy.

The Middle East — Er, nice to know ya, time to go, "yay, democracy," "boo, Iran," "love ya, Israel" … we’re out of here.

"Barack Obama has a good working relationship with Bibi Netanyahu" — Ha.  

"It would be wrong to politicize the successful results of the Bin Laden raid" — Let’s play up this big success at every opportunity that arises.  Wanna bet the story of the Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger leaks closer to election day?  Best illustration of Dem cojones since Madeleine Albright first raised the possibility they might exist.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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