Political Words of the Week: Attacks and Dead Ends

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During George H.W. Bush’s ’88 campaign, his media adviser Roger Ailes, now president of Fox News, said the press was interested in three things: gaffes, attacks and good visuals. Much of this week’s vocab comes from the attacks candidates are leveling now that the presidential primary circus has pitched its tent in South Carolina. Here are some of the words that have worked their way into conversations this week.

Atwater Country (place): a nickname for South Carolina, a state known for its bloody political campaigns. The Palmetto Stater most associated with that style is late political consultant Lee Atwater, who gained a reputation for resorting to smear tactics and notoriously used them to help put Bush 41 in the Oval Office.

Chickenhawking (v.): sending Americans to war without having gone to war oneself. During a debate last weekend, Ron Paul accused Newt Gingrich of seeking deferments to avoid military service during Vietnam. Gingrich was ineligible for conscription because he was a father, a rule that did not exist when Paul was drafted. In politics, a hawk is someone who advocates hard-line or warlike policies.

Dead-ender (n.): a term for someone who will lose eventually and has nothing left to do but to go down fighting. In 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used the term to describe insurgents from Saddam Hussein’s regime who wouldn’t give in to the U.S. military. This week, Politico used the term to describe those resisting the idea that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.

French Connection (n.): a symbol of alleged similarities between Mitt Romney and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Newt Gingrich released a web ad likening Romney to the Democrat, including side-by-side videos of the two men speaking French. Romney says, “Bonjour, je m’appelle Mitt Romney” (Hello, my name is Mitt Romney), thus exposing his deep ties to French culture. Kerry says “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” a Louisiana Cajun appropriation of the English expression, “Let the good times roll.”

The United States of America of South Carolina (place): the republic in which satirical newsman Stephen Colbert is considering a presidential run. His announcement came after Public Policy Polling found that he beat out former governor Jon Huntsman in a survey of South Carolina primary voters, 5% to 4%.

Vulture capitalist (n., slang): the term used by Rick Perry to describe venture capitalists like Mitt Romney, founding CEO of Bain Capital. “They sit there are wait until they see a distressed company,” Perry said of private equity firms. “They swoop in a pick the carcass clean, and then fly away.”

Creative destruction (n.): an economic theory popularized by Joesph Schumpeter, which posits that new industries continuously supplant existing ones under capitalism. Free-market boosters have used the phrase to defend the practice of streamlining companies through downsizing, a practice used at Bain Capital under Romney.

Trusty (adj.): a word used to describe penal programs that allow inmates to perform special jobs, usually as an award for good behavior, which can lead to reduced sentences. Such a system is still at work in Mississippi, where outgoing governor Haley Barbour recently issued more than 200 pardons, some to those with trusty status, during his final days in office.