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Drawing on the News: The Hangover - Election 2010Enlarge
By Bryan Warner
Published: Dec. 31, 2010
RALEIGH - As 2010 draws to a conclusion, the Polictionary returns to offer up some of the more notable and notorious words and phrases from the political year that was.
41 (cardinal number) -- In 2009, governing with a massive majority in the U.S. House and a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate sometimes seemed too great a challenge for Democrats to bear. Health-care reform moved with fits and starts through the Democratically dominated chambers. Then, the unthinkable happened on Jan. 19, 2010 when Republican Scott Brown won the vacant U.S. Senate seat once held by the late liberal lion Teddy Kennedy and became the 41st GOP vote in that chamber. With Brown’s victory, the Democrats' super majority in the U.S. Senate ticked down by one vote to just a regular majority susceptible to filibuster-induced paralysis. In the end, the Brown victory didn’t stop health-care reform from moving forward, but it did portend the Republican tidal wave approaching in the fall.
Aqua Buddha (noun) -- Trailing Republican nominee Rand Paul in a bitterly fought U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, Democrat Jack Conway heaved a Hail Mary pass with less than a month left in the election. Conway’s camp released an attack ad that repeated accusations from a woman who claimed that during his college years, Paul once tied her up and made her bow down to an idol he dubbed “Aqua Buddha.” The woman in question later said the long-ago incident was a prank in which she voluntarily took part. Miffed by the ad’s shots, a visibly angry Paul refused to shake hands with Conway after a nasty debate in which the two traded sharp barbs. Paul went on to defeat Conway by an 11-point margin.
Big F@#!ing Deal, The (noun) -- Teddy Roosevelt offered the Square Deal. Franklin Roosevelt provided the New Deal. Harry Truman tried to enact a Fair Deal. And thanks to Vice President Joe Biden’s earmuffs-worthy declaration near an open mic while celebrating their health-care reform victory, President Barack Obama is to be credited with the Big (bleeping) Deal.
Citizens United (noun) -- It began with a relatively narrow question about campaign finance regulations surrounding an anti-Hillary Clinton film released during the 2008 presidential primaries. But the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, turned the case of Citizens United v. FEC into a broad test of limits on corporate cash in American elections. By a 5-4 decision, the high court struck down barriers on independent spending by corporations and labor unions with money straight from their treasuries. The ruling was praised by opponents of campaign finance restrictions as a win for corporate First Amendment rights, while it was decried by proponents of campaign finance regulations -- including President Obama -- as opening the floodgates to corporate money spent to shape the outcome of elections for years to come.
Demon Sheep, The (noun) -- If surrealist painter Salvador Dali were alive today and making campaign ads, this might be what his work would look like. In what could be the most phantasmagorical campaign video of the year, California senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina's camp created an attack ad against fellow GOP contender Tom Campbell. In the video, a man donning a sheep costume with diabolically incandescent eyes prowls eerily through a flock of real ovine. Fiorina defeated Campbell for the party’s nomination, but lost out to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer by 10 points in November.
I’m not a witch (declarative phrase) -- Perhaps the strangest opening line in political advertising history was uttered by tea party favorite and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell when she assured Delaware voters that she was indeed not an alumna of Hogwarts. O’Donnell felt compelled to offer up her defense after comedian Bill Maher released clips from her several appearances on his ABC program “Politically Incorrect” in the late 1990s, which included a statement by O’Donnell that she had “dabbled into witchcraft” when she was younger. O’Donnell lost her senatorial bid to Democrat Chris Coons by 17 points and some in the Republican establishment, including Karl Rove, pointed to O’Donnell as a chief reason why the GOP fell short of retaking the U.S. Senate.
mamma grizzly (noun) -- In 2008, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke of her fellow “hockey moms” as being like pit bulls with lipstick. This year, she cheered for so-called “mamma grizzlies,” women who were entering politics in 2010 with the same passion as the bears in her home state who prove ferociously protective when someone tries to “do something adverse toward their cubs.” Palin added, “You thought pit bulls were tough, you don’t want to mess with the mamma grizzlies.”
Obamacare (noun) -- The official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or PPACA, neither of which roll off the tongue. Instead, opponents of the health-care reform measure passed by Congress in 2010 have affixed the moniker “Obamacare,” much the same as opponents of President Bill Clinton’s quixotic attempt at health-care reform labeled that 1993 effort as “Hillarycare” after then First Lady Hillary Clinton. One Republican perhaps not wild about the conservative penchant for throwing around the “-care” suffix pejoratively is Mitt Romney, considered an early frontrunner for his party’s 2012 presidential nomination. Romney championed a similar health-care measure while governor of Massachusetts.
Professional Left, The (noun) -- The euphoria of the 2008 Democratic triumph subsided considerably in 2010 for many of Obama’s most ardent supporters, as the endless potentiality of two years ago crashed into the cold reality of governing a nation during a severe economic downturn. The occasionally prickly relationship between the Obama White House and progressives -- especially progressive advocates and pundits -- came to a head when the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told The Hill that the “professional left” will “be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.” Obama’s lame-duck-session deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for even the wealthiest Americans likely did little to heal the wounds between the president and liberals. But extension of unemployment benefits and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the waning days of 2010 could reignite the spark.
Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin continues to prove a prominent contributor to the Polictionary.
Refudiate (verb, neologism) -- Much was made of the Obama campaign’s success with rallying support and disseminating its message via social media in 2008. In 2010, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin proved that she too could harness the power of Twitter and Facebook to cause a political stir. During the debate over a planned Islamic community center in New York City, Palin took to her Twitter account, writing, "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." It seems Palin had created a linguistic mash up of “repudiate” and “refute.” The Palinism was named by the Oxford American Dictionary as its word of the year, prompting “Saturday Night Live” fake newsman Seth Meyers to sigh, “Come on, dictionary!”
Sanity (noun) -- With Aqua Buddhas and Demon Sheep filling the airwaves and hyper-partisanship drowning out reasonable discourse, Comedy Central satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert called for a restoration of sanity at a rally attended by thousands on the Washington Mall just 72 hours before Election Day. The event provided an entertaining spectacle wrapped around a core of sensibility, but whether it proved a catalyst for renewed civility is up for -- hopefully sane -- debate.
Shellacking (noun) -- When the dust of Election Day 2010 cleared, Republicans had surpassed their congressional gains of 1994, retaking the U.S. House four years after losing the reins of power in that chamber. While the GOP failed to take control of the U.S. Senate, they did make big gains in state legislative races, winning outright majorities in 25 state legislatures with the critical decennial redistricting process coming up in 2011. President Barack Obama, who just two years before had won the White House and seen Democrats shore up their majorities in Congress, described the electoral loss as a “shellacking,” echoing President George W. Bush’s admission that 2006 was for him and his party a “thumping.”
Tea Party Avalanche (noun) -- In the summer of 2009, the nascent tea party movement began to coalesce around opposition to Obama’s proposed health-care reforms, with the phenomenon materializing at often-times contentious town-hall meetings. Although it failed to fell the health-care initiative, the amorphous tea party network did make a significant impact on the 2010 election cycle, with such tea partiers as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio winning U.S. Senate races. However, the Republican establishment that harnessed tea party energy for electoral gains now faces the challenge of living up to pledges made to bring tea party members into its fold. For GOP leaders, the tea party bliss of 2010 might leave them with indigestion in 2011 and 2012.
Victory Mosque (noun) -- While Palin was tweeting in hopes of a broad “refudiation” of the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, Renee Ellmers, the Republican nominee for the 2nd congressional district in North Carolina, used the controversy as a cudgel against Democratic incumbent Rep. Bob Etheridge. Although the 2nd district is nearly 600 miles removed from lower Manhattan, Ellmers attacked Etheridge for not condemning the community center, which Ellmers’ ad called a “victory mosque” in reference to its potential proximity to the site of the World Trade Center attacks. Ellmers went on to upset Etheridge on Election Day, winning the seat by less than 2,000 votes out of about 190,000 ballots cast.
Who are you (interrogative phrase) -- It is a question pondered by philosophers and poets since the dawn of human civilization: Who are you? And it was the question posed -- not rhetorically -- by a manifestly irritated Rep. Bob Etheridge of the aforementioned 2nd district in North Carolina to a pair of young “just-a-students” wielding video cameras in the streets of Washington, D.C. The clip quickly went viral, Etheridge apologized, and -- perhaps not coincidentally -- five months later, he lost his reelection bid after seven terms in the U.S. House. In the wake of the election came the unsurprising answer to Etheridge’s question: the two blurry-faced lads were Republican operatives who successfully got him to lose his cool and hand them a golden YouTube moment.