Author and sociologist DaShanne Stokes once said, “Truth is hard. Propaganda is cheap.” Maybe that’s why our politicians — and those who want to be our politicians — spend less time during elections speaking on context and more time on simple phrases that are meaningless political clichés.
Every candidate, in every party, for every office uses these useless idioms when looking for votes. In preparation for the midterm elections, here are my Top 10 most annoying things said by politicians.
No. 10: “It’s time for both parties to come together.”
Rough translation: “I need voters registered in the other party, as well as independents, so I need to look like I’m from the middle.”
Candidates always seem to tout bipartisanship when they are trying court voters. And once they are elected, they join the partisan firestorm that takes place at many levels of government. I guess it’s not yet time?
No. 9: “I have a plan.”
Many important political issues — poverty, job creation, corruption — have gone unresolved for years or decades. Yet every candidate has a “plan” that will fix them forever.
Of course, all they will do is refer to “the plan” during debates or in conversations with the media. Usually they will direct voters to visit their website to see details of these plans. But we should expect candidates to tell us the specifics when we ask for them.
No. 8: “That is a good question.”
That is probably why it was asked.
No. 7: “This is the most important election in years.”
During the 2008 Election Day TV coverage, someone said it was “perhaps the most exciting and closely watched election in generations.” It’s funny how everyone has said the same exact thing about every election since then.
In 2016 someone on TV said it was the most important election. Now you’re telling me that “America is at a crossroads” in 2018 and this is the most crucial election in my lifetime?
Every election is important. Every election is consequential.
No. 6: “I’m running a positive campaign.”
Two of the biggest trademarks of elections in this country are the political attack advertisements and the debates where two candidates criticize each other over issues that matter, and most times, issues that don’t. Gee, I’d hate to see what a negative campaign would look like.
No. 5: “He works for the donors. I work for the people.”
It’s quite annoying how often political candidates love to talk about big money in politics, yet never seem to do anything about it once they’re in office. They describe their opponents as being in bed with donors, Wall Street and the wealthy — yet these candidates are magical pure angels with absolutely nothing but the voters’ interest in mind.
News flash: Almost everyone has donors.
No. 4: “I don’t believe in hypotheticals.”
This is a favorite response to questions about possible future events that candidates just don’t want to talk about. Yes, incumbents running for re-election should face questions on their past records. But elections are mostly about what candidates will do if the voters decide to put them in office.
Campaigns are all about hypotheticals. Don’t waste our time telling us you don’t believe in them.
No. 3: “I’m not a politician.”
With current disapproval ratings of various government bodies at record lows, candidates often paint themselves as “the political outsider,” and their opponent as the ultimate insider.
The ascent of Donald Trump, someone who had never held elected office, to the presidency has elevated this principle to preposterous levels. If you’ve never held office before, it is true that you are not a politician — but you clearly intend to be one if you are running for office.
What is most humorous is when long-term incumbents actually try to claim that they are not politicians. Yeah, right.
No. 2: “I deal with facts, not fiction.”
Yes, the alliteration is cute, and that’s probably the only reason why this phrase is so overused.
Show me a politician who has never once told a lie, misrepresented information or exaggerated reality, and that person has permission to use this phrase.
No. 1: “Well, look …”
Why is this simple beginning of a sentence the most annoying thing politicians say? Because it is the most popular thing office-seekers use when they are asked questions that should have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
If they are asked “Do you support this?” or “Do you plan to vote for this?” they will pause and say, “Well, look. . .” and then go on a tangent to avoid answering the question. It is the cornerstone of what we call “political spin.”
It is true that the complexity of our politics can’t always be answered with a single word. But sometimes we need a straight answer from those in power without all the wishy-washy. Indeed, we could use a lot more of that these days.
Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and an award-winning columnist at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” online and follow his updates on Twitter.