US election: Turning up the volume on campaign rhetoric

American politicians are rolling out the cliches during debates and on the campaign trail as crunch time approaches.

As election season heats up in the US, a look at some of the cliches flying about [Erik S Lesser/EPA]
As election season heats up in the US, a look at some of the cliches flying about [Erik S Lesser/EPA]

The political process is always looking for the next great orator, the person who can ignite an audience and turn a memorable phrase.

American politicians have given us some legendary quotations that ring through the years.

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” came from Franklin D Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1933.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” is the most memorable line from John F Kennedy’s first inauguration.

Yet, the oratory in the campaign itself rarely reaches such heights. Below is a list of the 10 most overused clichés and what they really mean.

This is a marathon, not a sprint: Normally uttered by those finishing outside the first three places in the first few contests in the nominating process. For this we should substitute: “I’m losing now but I hope that’ll change soon. Please let it change soon.”

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I don’t deal in hypotheticals: The whole idea of someone running for President is formed on a hypothetical premise – that someday you will be in the Oval office making big decisions. Yet when confronted with a question that politicians don’t like, “Would you serve in Donald Trump’s cabinet?” for example, this is their cop-out.

Jeb Bush struggled early in his campaign when asked “If we knew what we know now would you have invaded Iraq?” He didn’t think of dashing to cliche, which is commendable, but he did a lot of damage.

This is the most important election in a generation: For this read “This is the most important presidential election since the last presidential election.”

Of course candidates believe this is the most important election because they’re involved in it. It also tends to be used by younger politicians to suggest that the older generation has made a mess of things and this is a fresh beginning, whether it is or not.

We may have finished second but tonight we sent a message. Or using our decoder: “We wanted to win but second isn’t bad.”

The results tonight say we’re in a whole new ball game: Or – “Oh look, we did much better than expected and people are actually listening to me. This might mean I’ll get a few more votes next time around.”

This is a game changer: Many things can be game changers: a good debate performance, a bad debate performance, not getting invited to the debate, a big-name endorsement, an unearthed story from the past.

With all due respect to my colleague: The “due respect” part is a giveaway. They don’t mean it. It generally flags up that what follows next will be a coded insult when what they really want to say is: “Wait till you hear what this idiot is suggesting.”

My position has evolved: Normally pulled from the cliche bank when someone highlights an inconsistency, a previously held position that needs to be explained away and they are now in a more politically convenient place.

It can also come after a politician has looked at the polls and can take a view based on what will get them more votes. Barack Obama famously claimed that his position on same-sex marriage “evolved”, and Donald Trump is finding that his position on abortion has changed from being pro-abortion rights (not popular with grassroots Republicans) to being anti-abortion rights (will win more votes).

I don’t look at the polls: Not only a cliche but a big fat fib. There isn’t a politician at the top level – or doesn’t have an operative – who can’t give you a breakdown on what every poll carries in its subtext.

Politicians say they don’t follow polls when it’s bad news – but staggeringly can quote them in detail when they’re doing well or on top. No one is fooled by their selective blindness.

The only polls that count are the one on election day: Slightly different from the one above, this is normally from a politician who has looked at the polls, doesn’t like how things are going, and has decided to ignore them in the hope that everything is magically going to come right on the day.

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Source : Al Jazeera


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