The Buzzwords of Dick Gephardt
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 Dick Gephardt.
Example: "I'm not going to say what's fashionable in our politics—that I'm a Washington outsider, that I couldn't find the nation's [capital] on a map, that I have no experience in the highest levels of government. I do, and I think experience matters. It's what our nation needs right now" (announcement speech, Feb. 19, 2003).
What it means: I'm ready to be president on Day 1.
What it hides: I'm still a congressman on Day 10,000.
Subtext: In the post-9/11 era, stale is the new fresh.
International variable minimum wage
Example: "That's why I talk about an international variable minimum wage, so that we can begin to bring up standards around the whole world" (Children's Defense Fund forum, April 9, 2003).
What it means: "A 'living wage' in each country to ensure the proper sustenance, health and welfare for that country's population. The [wage] will vary based on a country's development level" (position paper).
What it hides: A variable minimum is an oxymoron.
Subtext: The only way to win global support for this fantasy would be to make it toothless.
ROTC for teachers
Example: "I will ask the Congress to pass a program. I'll call it ROTC for teachers. If it's good enough to get the right people in the Marines and the Navy and the Army, I'd pay the college loans of any kid who wants to be a teacher and … would agree to teach where we need them for five years" (Children's Defense Fund forum, April 9, 2003).
What it means: We should recruit teachers the way we recruit soldiers.
What it hides: Teaching has become as daunting and dangerous as combat.
Subtext: If you won't buy my domestic spending, think of it as military spending.
Example: "Dick Gephardt today announced that his health care plan, if passed into law, would cover all Americans, stimulate the economy and provide the state of New Hampshire $767 million in fiscal relief over the course of three years" (press release, June 3, 2003).
What it means: Money.
What it hides: The money gets counted three times: as health care, economic stimulus, and aid to states and cities. And by the way, it comes from you.
Subtext: What I've learned from 27 years in Congress is to spin everything as a special-interest appropriation.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Richard Gephardt by Jim Bourg/Reuters.