I’m calling on all candidates running for Congress this November, plus their consultants, press spokespersons, ad makers and flacks, to sign what I call (until someone comes up with a better term for it) the “No Empty Words” pledge.
(All right, we can make it a “solemn pledge,” if that will encourage participation, but that’s part of my pitch here: the adjective “solemn” is redundant).
It will be a challenge for candidates to renounce well-worn words and phrases they have honed in previous campaigns and tested in focus groups. But they are not only well-worn but worn out. Not even worth putting out on the rack at the thrift store of political rhetoric.
I will begin a list of six and hope other Gazette-Mail readers will add to it:
1. Hardworking West Virginians
The adjective “hardworking” has been worked so hard that it’s now meaningless (if it ever meant anything at all). Do we define “hard” by the number of hours put in, skills deployed, or attitude to work? What about those who would like to work, but can’t find decent jobs near where they live? Those who are disabled or sick? And, yes, even those who don’t want to work. They have the right to vote, too.
2. West Virginia values
Another evocative, but empty phrase. I suppose it has something to do with family, faith, community, patriotism, personal freedoms, and so on. Which makes it remarkably close to Pennsylvania or Kentucky values, maybe even New York values. For more than 20 years, as an Ohio voter, I endured a torrent of commercials from politicians in plaid shirts sitting on their porch swings, rambling on about Ohio values. West Virginia values sound very familiar. I don’t think I received a value dose from the DMV when I got my state driver’s license; it certainly did not come with my first property tax bill from Kanawha County.
Let’s be honest about this. National politics is a national game, with national parties, and candidates, money and endorsements flow across state lines. In a mobile society, we cannot be surprised that people who have lived and worked outside West Virginia end up running for office here. Of course, they need to learn about the state, but perhaps they’ll be better representatives if they combine that knowledge with experiences gained elsewhere in the U.S. As for those “out-of-state” political action committees putting money into races, that’s perfectly legal. I suspect there are even wealthy West Virginians helping to fund candidates in other states. “Out-of-state” goes both ways.
4. Cleaning up the “mess” in Washington
All elected bodies, from the county commissioners to the state Legislature to the Congress, are a mess. That’s because they are populated by politicians who, for honest or dishonest reasons, argue about policies and spending. That’s a simple recipe for slowdown and sometimes dysfunction, but as long as we have elections, we will have to accept messiness in government. You can’t wipe out the “mess” by symbolically dumping Seneca Rocks on it, as Republican Patrick Morrisey suggested in one of his primary commercials. The only way for anyone to start cleaning up the mess is to join it, by getting elected.
5. Conspired with ...
In political ads, the phrase usually underpins grainy, shaky images of the opponent, purportedly plotting with a national politician or a straw man villain — lobbyists, the Russians, Big Pharma, the liberal elite media, and so on. Just because two people are in the same room at the same time and discuss something does not constitute a conspiracy, at least in the legal sense of the term. If it did, my wife and I would be daily conspirators over such matters as walking the dog and cleaning out the dishwasher.
6. Investment (in our children, our health, our jobs, etc.)
Oh please, can we stop talking about investment? It suggests there’s a well-researched, strategic plan to make things better. There almost never is. No politician is going to make a disinvestment argument — that we should have poorer schools, a higher mortality rate, fewer jobs — so investment has become a fixture in the political vocabulary.
Any other phrases not even fit for the thrift store of political rhetoric?