Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Political Misnomers

During my studies, I have found the following phrases to be amusing in the American political system. Or, at least, the American political textbooks. Presenting a dictionary of modern political terms.

Congressional Oversight Committees
These are responsible for overseeing the ways in which legislation is being implemented. Easily misconstrued as committees who frequently miss things entirely. As in, "Oops! Did we forget to appropriate funds for your agency? Sorry, it was a small oversight. We'll have to refer you to the Congressional Oversight Committees."

Pork Barrel
This refers to money distributed by Congress via grants or subsidies for various discrete projects. This is not to be confused with any actual barrels of bacon that may or may not be sitting outside the congressional chambers for certain congressmen. That just wouldn't be kosher.

There are no dead trees involved, unless someone is trying to pass an anti-Lorax law. This merely means that, in order to get anything accomplished, congressmen must be willing to support one another's legislation. You scratch my log, I'll scratch yours. Or something.

Sophomore Surge
Not to be mistaken for a super-sized freshman fifteen, this is merely the notion that recently elected officials tend to win their second (first incumbent) election by much higher margins than their first election (as a challenger). This helps ensure their future reputation of invulnerability.

Related neither to hot dogs nor speaking sincerely, franking is getting free mail services for being in Congress. Why wealthy representatives cannot help fund the US Postal Service is beyond me.

Electoral Misfire
This is what happened in 1888, and more recently in 2000, when the Electoral College selected a president who didn't win the popular vote. This has nothing to do with your Colt M1911 .45 caliber locking up when you tried to shoot President Ford.

Faithless Elector
Someone who votes but does not believe in G-d is an atheist voter. A faithless one participates in the Electoral College but, instead of representing his state's vote, defies the public and votes in a different direction. Personally, you would think they would have made that illegal by now. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

Grass-Roots Campaign
An organization dedicated to the election of graminoids. Just kidding; a movement orchestrated by the community, not the candidate, typically focused on one-on-one interactions with voters.

Senate Deliberation
Quite opposite to the removal of liberties (de-liberation), this just means discussion. The Senate gets to argue bills indefinitely; there's no time limit (exception: cloture).

This is not where congressmen keep their coats, nor their invisibility cloaks. Rather, it's where they socialize, converse, and take naps. The Wikipedia article said differently, so I checked it sources. Its source confirmed my knowledge, not, in fact, what the article stated. So I edited Wikipedia. Hopefully they don't revert the changes.

Here we have the notion that a successful president makes the whole party look good, allowing members of that party to get reelected more easily, especially of those members supported him. And here I was hoping it related back to the cloaks.

This was Nixon's Committee to RE-Elect the President. Cause that doesn't sound shady. Turns out, they were about as creepy as the acronym implied (see: Watergate).

Watergate's Plumbers
How could this possibly mean anything other than people working with wet clear liquids, abundant in the ocean? Well, it does. These were the guys who bugged the Watergate Hotel for Nixon's staff. The importance here was not the bugging, but whether or not the president was lying.

Saturday Night Massacre
Nobody died, but people got fired. Mainly, Attorney General Richardson and prosecutor Cox.

The Cabinet
This is actually a collection of 15 department heads, not a place for storing blenders and peanut butter. The president basically selects these guys, with the Senate's advice and consent. Cabinet members can, however, oppose the president if their agency's ideals differ from the administration's agenda. This is known as "going native," which, unfortunately, does not relate to tribal rituals.

The Kitchen Sink
A tactic of throwing every available argument out, hoping one will "stick" even if others are rejected, rather than focusing on bolstering one or two important points. Again, a disappointment; not a dish repository.

Note: I struggled for a few minutes between repository and depository. Google results indicate that the former is to be used for places where things are kept for exhibition (eg. library, museum) and the latter for any place where things are stored. Other definitions consider the repository the part of the depository where the storing takes place. I am still uncertain; thoughts? Connotations? I selected repository here because I find it more aligned with the notion of giving and taking; it is unlikely one would only deposit the knives, but, having to re-posit them after having used them...

Judicial Restraint
No, Chief Justice John Roberts isn't holding down a criminal while the police slap on the cuffs. This just means the Court is trying not to make policy, as they are, after all, unelected. "If in doubt, don't." Under this philosophy, we're gonna read the Constitution literally (strictly constructionist or originalist). This usually applies to modern conservative justices. Usually.

The cases the Supreme Court will hear. I thought it could make a cute name for a tiny dock for tiny paper boats, perhaps spelled "dockette."

Parties in a case both need standing. This doesn't mean they need to be on their feet, but rather that they need to be affected by the case at hand. If you accept a settlement, there goes your standing.

Free Rider Problem
No railroads, just regular people who get common goods without joining the providing group. That is to say, people who breathe the fresh air that environmental organizations fight to protect, people who watch the public TV that members donate to pay for, or people who sleep safely at night without ever joining the national defense services. It's like people who use Wikipedia without clicking on those "urgent pleas" for donations.

Or, more directly, those of you reading this public Blog without becoming a member, by clicking "Follow" on the right and signing up. Hint, hint.


  1. Better to confuse repository and depository with each other than with suppository. "We're creating a suppository of all the world's information." Ouch.

  2. I am happy to report that, over a month later, Wikipedia has retained my edit. Yay knowledge!


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