The Buzzwords of Bob Graham
How he spins the issues.
Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they're saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. This series analyzes their pet phrases, candidate by candidate. Today's subject is Bob Graham.
Example: "For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we simply cannot afford to repeat the mistakes that we made in Afghanistan with al-Qaida in Syria with Hezbollah" (Council on Foreign Relations forum, April 24, 2003).
What it means: I'm thinking about the future.
What it hides: Look at my grandkids, not my medical records.
Subtext: Get your carcasses to the caucuses, you geezers.
Example: "I come from the electable wing of the Democratic Party" (South Carolina debate, May 3, 2003).
What it means: Moderate Democratic ex-governors, like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
What it hides: The candidate who supposedly leads the unelectable wing, Howard Dean, is also a moderate Democratic ex-governor and has the same positions as Graham.
Subtext: Vote for me because other people will vote for me, even though you wouldn't if it were up to you.
Example: "I have now had over 388 different jobs. … I have been a sanitation worker, I have been a nurse, I've been a corrections officer, I've been a child benefit enforcement officer, I've been a Head Start aide" (AFSCME Iowa forum, May 17, 2003).
What it means: I'm a man of the people.
What it hides: I've done each of those jobs for eight hours, in part as a photo op, and the workers knew to treat me well because I'm a senator. I'm also a multimillionaire.
Subtext: This isn't just a gimmick. It's a real gimmick.
Example: "We shifted military and intelligence resources out of Afghanistan and Pakistan to get ready for the war in Iraq. … And we haven't laid a glove on the A-team of international terrorism, which is Hezbollah" ( Face the Nation, May 11, 2003).
What it means: Hezbollah are most effective terrorists.
What it hides: They aren't the most effective terrorists who've hit us.
Subtext: Just because I voted against the Iraq war doesn't mean I'm a sissy.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Bob Graham by Marc Serota/Reuters.