Any junior-high girl will tell you that you can’t believe what a catty classmate says to your face.
Sure, Tiffani might coo that your new zebra handbag is soooo cute, but once you leave the room, she’ll whisper that you must have gotten it on clearance at Wal-Mart.
As luck would have it, that’s the basic credo of politicians, most of whom (not coincidentally) have the emotional maturity of middle-schoolers. Smile to their faces and tell them what they want to hear, which is typically the opposite of what you’re thinking in your head. This holds true both in their dealings with the press, as well as the public at large.
Note to politicians: In the age of YouTube, try not to snigger about the stupidity of your interlocutors afterward, lest you have a Gordon Brown moment that costs you the election. That goes for snarky comments on Twitter and Facebook, as well. Smart grandstanders stay fake and win the race.
Now while this doublespeak is expected and even considered endearing by some who inhabit the six square blocks around the Capitol surrounded by reality, the disingenuousness can be quite vexing to voters.
So I’ve put together a brief politician-to-English dictionary of common phrases:
We need more transparency in government. People need to see how badly the other party has screwed up.
That’s a good question. Thanks for asking that, jerk.
What the real issue here is … Here’s Talking Point No. 3 that has nothing to do with your question.
Everything is on the table. My agenda is. Screw the other party’s ideas.
This campaign is about public service. This campaign is about my inability to land a job in the real world.
I’m not a career politician. It will take me my entire first term just to locate the bathrooms in the Capitol.
I’ve made it clear where I stand. My opponent is a wuss.
I have betrayed my family. I have a harem.
My campaign isn’t about raising money. I have $1.64 in the bank.
I will not engage in negative campaigning. That’s what shadowy independent groups are for.
I am resigning to spend more time with my family. My affair with the babysitter is about to break.
I don’t pay attention to polls. I am losing.
I’m standing up for you. By “you,” I mean whatever special interests are funding my campaign.
I don’t think I have a temper. Because I black out whenever I fly into violent rages.
I’m coming from behind. I may only lose by 14 points.
This campaign isn’t about me. It’s about you. It’s totally about me — check out how big my name is on the posters.
It’s your money, not the government’s. And with that money, please consider a donation of $25, $50 or $100 to me.
My family is off-limits. Unless I choose to exploit their wholesomeness at campaign events.
I want to talk about the issues. The issue being that my opponent is a douche.
I couldn’t have done it without all of you. Who are all you people?
The people have given me a mandate. I won by four votes.
Perhaps my opponent just doesn’t love America. I have no ideas.
And for those of you curious how politicians and their staffs deal with the media, it’s pretty much the same principle:
Is this really a story? Hell, yes, it is an awesome story.
I’m offended you would even ask that. How did you know?
Can we talk on background? I’m about to trash the other guy and don’t want to look like a slimeball in print.
You’re clearly biased. Stop calling me on my crap.
I’m going to call your editor. I’m going to get the story killed and have you fired just for fun.
I don’t have a problem with you. Now that I stick pins in a voodoo doll of your likeness before I go to bed.
The media only care about the horserace. I’m losing.
I get all my news from the Daily Kos/Fox News. I am functionally brain dead.
Who’s your source? I’ll kill him.
I’m not getting into that. I have no idea how to answer that question.
No comment. I don’t know/ I don’t have permission to answer that/ Oh, crap, I’m going down/ God bless America, my opponent is going down and I don’t want to gloat.
I’ll have to get back to you on that. Great. There go my plans for Margarita Monday.
I don’t pay attention to the mainstream media. I am a liar.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.