Can we please dispense with the clichés when the campaign is over?

Joe the plumber, game-changer, maverick, in the tank — the list is seemingly endless. Whatever happened to a good old Swiftboat?
Crosscut archive image.
Joe the plumber, game-changer, maverick, in the tank — the list is seemingly endless. Whatever happened to a good old Swiftboat?

Clichés are all the rage during these hotly contested campaign days. I had planned giving readers a full menu of this election season's worst slurs of frequency. But apparently Mike Seely at the Seattle Weekly beat me to it.

His pick for this year's worst cliché:

1. Game-changer. Lifted from the wide world of sports, this one was entered into the '08 vernacular by the Clinton camp 'ꀔ only it doesn't seem to want to make as graceful an exit as Hillary did. I even saw a fucking cellphone commercial during last night's debate that used "game-changer" as its central catchphrase. Enough already with the changing of the games 'ꀔ this election is more than a game.

Not bad. But the following are far worse:

1. The Wall Street/Main Street juxtaposition: Thanks to the nation's near-economic collapse in September and the subsequent dubious government bailout package, the media's favorite question during the fall went something like, "Does Wall Street owe Main Street an apology?" And so on. According to Lionel Beehner at the Huffington Post, there are several reasons to avoid this tired turn of phrase. Among them:

What about Elm Street or Easy Street? It overlooks boulevards and byways and romantic highways like the New Jersey Turnpike. Most people live in such exurban-like settings with flowery street names, they'd be embarrassed to mention their address in an argument ("Those guys on Wall Street just doesn't get us good folks on Pumpernickel Drive.") Bail us out. Raise our taxes. Do whatever. But politicians across America please stop casting the debate over this financial mess in such lame yin-and-yang prose. It's not about Main Street versus Wall Street. Get it out of your cliché-loving, lemming-like minds.

2. Joe the plumber, Joe Six-pack, Jane Winebox, and John Q. Public, Doug the barber, Cindy the citizen, Tito the builder, and Joe Mama ... enough already.

3. Are you "in the tank" for a particular candidate? Or are you tanking? New York Times language critic William Safire diagnoses the etymology of this MSM favorite.

The primary meaning is evident from the context: to be in the tank is to be 'ꀜlovingly enthralled; foolishly enraptured; passionately bedazzled.'ꀝ A more sinister meaning, however, hovers in the shadows: 'ꀜself-interestedly involved; surreptitiously supportive'ꀝ and in extreme cases 'ꀜcorruptly influenced.'ꀝ

4. Riding coattails: This is my personal favorite. First, Google "Obama coattails." See the results? Incredible. Apparently, hundreds of Democrats are trying to win their seats on Nov. 4 by hitching a "ride on Barack Obama's coattails." Who knew That One's coattails 'ꀔ not votes from voters 'ꀔ would be so important? Democrats can only hope this strange form of hitchhiking pays off on election day.

For more standardized election clichés (à la "key battleground state" and "political war chest"), take a look at Associated Press writing coach Mike Feinsilber's piece at Poynter.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors