Ballot Box

The Buzzwords of Howard Dean

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 Howard Dean.

Democratic wing
Example: “I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” (standard stump speech).
Origin: Allegedly coined by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
What it means: I’m not afraid to say I’m liberal.
What it hides: I’m using this as code for liberal.
Subtext: Any candidate to my right is a sellout.

Bush recessions
Example: “I was governor for so long that I got to serve through not one but two Bush recessions” (address to California State Democratic Convention, March 15, 2003).
What it means: Every time you elect a Bush, you’ll get a recession.
What it hides: The only recessions scientifically linked to heredity involve hairlines. And even those don’t come from your father.
Subtext: Remember which party oversaw the boom between the recessions?

Small, rural state
Example: “Ninety-nine percent of all Vermont children are eligible for health insurance, and 96 percent have it. If we can do this in a small rural state which ranks 26th in income in the country, surely the most powerful and wealthy society on the face of this earth can … make sure that all its citizens have health insurance” (speech at Columbia University, May 13, 2003).
What it means: Anything a small, poor state can do, a big, rich country can do.
What it hides: Vermont is well above average in education, homeownership, and percentage of population above the poverty line. It also has a lower percentage of kids. And why is it easier to create universal health care on a big scale than on a small scale?
Subtext: Governing Vermont wasn’t all a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s.

Civil unions
Example: “[I signed] the civil unions bill. And it said that marriage is between a man and a woman, but same-sex couples are entitled to the exact same legal rights as I have: hospital visitation, insurance, and inheritance rights” (address to Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Feb. 21, 2003).
What it means: I’m not afraid to support gay marriage.
What it hides: I’m using this as code for gay marriage.
Subtext: If a euphemism will make you homophobes feel better, who am I to judge?

Previous buzzword reviews: Carol Moseley Braun.
Next: John Edwards.