Politics & Government

10 political cliches that should be retired in 2015

Another year, another group of cliches that political reporters would rather never hear again.

The Legislature convenes Monday for a new 105-day session, during which lawmakers are tasked with finalizing a two-year budget.

On their way there, there will be debate. There will be disagreements. And, inevitably, there will be a new set of euphemisms for describing those disagreements.

In late 2013, I created a list of nine overused political cliches that irked me and some of my colleagues that year.

As it turns out, there were some new offenders in 2014.

What’s the problem with using cliches, besides their tendency to annoy a dwindling cadre of political reporters? They provide a far too convenient way to answer a question without going into any detail, or perhaps avoid answering a question at all.

Here are some of the phrases that News Tribune and Olympian reporters heard politicians and government officials say a few too many times last year.

We’re hoping they’ll get a rest in 2015.

1. “The other Washington”

Translation: A reference to Washington, D.C., or Congress.

It’s a warning that Washington state lawmakers level at each other when they can’t seem to agree: “We don’t want to become like the other Washington.”

By that, they mean a place where political bickering gets in the way of agreeing on important policies — like a tax package for highways, or a plan to pay for public schools. Or whether human-caused climate change is a thing.

Oh wait, that’s this Washington. I must be confused.

2. “Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul”

Translation: Taking money from one person/government program to pay another — and not actually solving whatever budget or tax problem is at hand.

No one ever borrows from Paul, ever. Why is that?

3. “Putting the cart before the horse”

Translation: We’re getting ahead of ourselves, or considering a new policy prematurely. (The horse is supposed to come first, not the cart.)

Raise your hand if you spend your weekends hauling materials by horse-drawn cart. Anybody? OK, let’s move on.

4. “Path forward”

Translation: Next step or solution to a political impasse.

Searching for a path forward seems to be what people do during political negotiations, as if they’re blindfolded in the middle of a dark wood.

Now, a path backward — that would be something.

(Confession: I made the mistake of using this phrase in the opening sentence of an education story last year. It then seemed to make an appearance in every press release. I won’t be using it again.)

5. “The devil’s in the details”

Translation: I support the general idea of that legislation, but I might still oppose it if something ends up in there that I don’t like.

Alternate translation: My staff and/or a lobbyist hasn’t briefed me on that yet, sorry.

Yes, details matter — because that’s pretty much the way life works. I’ll go ask someone else about those pesky details now.

6. “Forcing mechanism” or “forcing function”

Translation: Something to push politicians to act or come to an agreement (or adjourn on time, perhaps).

Technically, a “ forcing mechanism” is a term used in climate change science, while a “ forcing function” exists in some kind of calculus I never got around to studying.

In political terms, the two phrases apparently mean the same thing: Something that forces politicians to get something done.

The state Supreme Court’s recent order holding the state in contempt over education funding may act as “forcing mechanism,” I was told in September. (Lawmakers face unspecified court sanctions if they don’t come up with a long-term school funding plan in 2015.)

Similarly, an idea to fine legislators for each day they work overtime could act as a “forcing function” to get lawmakers out of town, a state senator told me in 2013.

Ultimately, this phrase is just too robot-like for me to want to quote it.

7. “It takes two to tango.”

Translation: We’re trying to make this (bill, policy, whatever) happen, but the other party won’t go along with it or negotiate with us on it.

Another phrase used by politicians to blame the other party in the divided Legislature, which right now has a Democrat-led House and a Republican-led Senate.

Yet even in this phrase, the accuser is acknowledging that they’re supposed to be dancing, too. Maybe both parties are bad dancers?

8. “Job creators” vs. “working families”

Translation: Businesses that employ people and/or the very wealthy, versus families just struggling to get by.

Democrats in Olympia are always trying to come to the aid of "working families.” But what about working single people, asks one reporter? I guess no one cares about them – perhaps because they don’t vote.

Meanwhile, Republicans are often working to help “job creators.” (Because "the rich" didn't do well in focus groups.)

And don't forget the favorite activity for working families – "sitting around the kitchen table" trying to pay their bills.

9. It’s time for "real talk"

Translation: Time to start dealing in earnest.

You’re telling me that you’ve been engaging in fake talk for the past several weeks of negotiations? That’s reassuring.

10. “Grow the pie”

Translation: Build the economy or attract more businesses so that everyone benefits.

Because budget-writing and tax policy sound so innocuous when discussed in terms of flaky pastries.

What are some overused political phrases from 2014 that you’d like to see retired?

Leave your additions in the comments section below, or send them to me on Twitter (@melissasantos1).

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