Sunday, May 22, 2022

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The Politispeak Dictionary


Since it’s an election year, with the June primaries only about three months away, it might be time for an update of the Politispeak Dictionary.

Some candidates, especially those in politically balanced districts or states (“purple” is the buzzword descriptor), have sharpened to a fine point the art of avoiding direct answers to questions.

If you’re a collector, here are a few examples to add to your stash:

“WHAT ABOUT . . .”

Let’s say your candidate, or party, or even you yourself, said something or voted for something that backfires, and you’re hung out to dry about it. It’s something you really can’t defend, and you don’t want to talk about it. What do you do?

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If you’re a political veteran, you may well haul out the “What About” response. 

“Yes, it’s a difficult issue,” you say (or words to that effect). “But that’s a small (or minor, or trivial, or minuscule) matter – WHAT ABOUT what so-and-so (the opposition candidate) said (or did) about (insert your issue of choice)? That’s what we should worry about. It’s really dangerous for all of us.” And you’ve changed the subject to avoid having to discuss the original question. Problem solved – or at least deferred.


In this scenario, you haven’t given a wrong or objectionable answer; you haven’t given any answer at all and you’re not ready to give one now. Time for the FOCUS response.

“That may become more important at some point, but right now my (our, the) FOCUS is on (whatever alternative you think will work under the circumstances). That’s the immediate need. Down the road there will be opportunities to concentrate on (the original question).” 

You might even say, “I’m not trying to avoid your question, but . . .” 

Yes, you are.


This one is popular among Southern candidates. You’re asked a complicated question that requires a complicated answer, and you either don’t want to respond that way or frankly don’t know the subject well enough.

So you fall back on the tried-and-true down-home answer. 

“Well, as my momma used to tell us kids, ‘A possum never looks back twice’.” Or some such aphorism. It won’t hold up to scrutiny, but you’ve bolstered your reputation as a Good Old Boy, and most folks won’t admit they don’t know what the heck your answer means anyway. You say, “Next question,” and the conversation continues.


This one’s useful for a large complicated bill proposal that has many components. You don’t want to support it for some reason (your biggest contributor is against it, or your party leader told you to oppose it, or it’s going to cost your good friend’s business, or yours, some money). 

So, you find some small item tucked away in it that seems open to ridicule. And you pounce.

“Well, did you know about (the small item) that’s in there? I just can’t vote for a bill that will do something like that.”

Never mind that on balance it would benefit most of your constituents, or would be good for the nation or your state as a whole. The nitpicked item offers you an out, and you grab it.


The responses that deserve Extra Credit are those that not only answer the question, but also get in a lick to bolster the politician’s position.

A couple examples:

In 2015, as today, leaders were under scrutiny for their patriotism. Any straying from the pure flag-waving path made someone suspect.

President Barack Obama, speaking in Selma, Alabama, spoke to the subject of America’s perfection this way:
The American promise, he said, is that “we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals.”

And there’s Matthew 22:15-22. 

The Pharisees hoped to ask Jesus a question that, no matter how he responded, would get him in trouble with either sacred or secular institutions. They chose the payment of taxes.

“And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

“Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

“Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

“And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

“They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

“When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.”

True leaders answer the questions, and use them to strengthen their own arguments. More true leaders, please. ♦

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