Washington terms given political spin

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Earlier this week, a cnjonline.com poll gave readers three choices on new Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson — “He’s a Reaganesque leader I’m voting for,” “Let’s wait and see” and “I’m not impressed.” As of Monday night, 39 percent went with Reaganesque.

Mind you, that’s hardly a scientific poll, and people may have picked that option more because they plan to vote for him than they think he’s “Reaganesque.”

Still, it’s troubling to see Thompson get granted that kind of comparison.

Ronald Reagan was a famous actor who worked for decades speaking against communism before he ever held an elected office, became known as the “Great Communicator,” and ran a presidency Republicans aspire to duplicate. Thompson is an actor who served for eight years in the Senate, and he’s a Republican. Reagan’s probably not spinning in his grave, but maybe he’s shrugging at said comparison.

Here are some other terms you’re going to hear a lot in the upcoming months. You could even make a drinking game if you wanted:
Washington outsider: The definition is a favorable one, as it makes viewers think the candidate is free of Washington influence, uncorrupted by years in the beltway.

Unfortunately, most media analysts use the term too loosely. It gets applied to Thompson because he hasn’t been campaigning much. But the pundits conveniently ignore Thompson’s eight years in the Senate and 18 as a D.C. lobbyist.

That’s not to undermine his lobbying work, since all candidates work with them at some point. The point is, you can’t draw a paycheck from Washington for a quarter-century and be called an outsider. To call him that is an insult to Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, the only two candidates who have never spent time as a member of Congress.

Flip-flop: This is when a candidate has a rock-solid view on an issue, then changes that view when it’s politically convenient. You should be very familiar with this term, which was used so effectively against John Kerry in 2004.

Pundits have twisted the term into, “any time a candidate changes stances, no matter the circumstances.” The best example was the most famous one used against Kerry, when he said, “I voted for (the Iraq supplemental bill) before I voted against it.”

A little research would show Kerry voted against a bill that increased deficit spending but for an amendment that ran contrary to President George Bush’s tax cuts. Trying to amend a bill isn’t a flip-flop.

That’s not to say Kerry never flip-flopped. He has, and so have a lot of people looking for votes (one candidate I won’t identify has been coined “Multiple Choice Mitt,” for instance). However, they shouldn’t lose their right to change their mind if circumstances change. Just look at the context before you compare them to cheap footwear.

Factoid: I’m just throwing this one in there. The definition is an untrue item that, when repeated, becomes accepted as fact through public opinion.

I’ve only got one hint on how to spot a factoid: Look for the words “flip-flop” or “Washington outsider.”

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail:
kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com