The Billings Outpost

Political campaign ads mangle their cliches

This election year has been a boon for recent college graduates with a minor in English. An excessive number of this tribe has found employment with political campaigns.

They seem to have enough training to know they should avoid clichés - phrases like “raining cats and dogs,“ “too big for his britches” or “penny wise and pound foolish - but too little to realize that a worn-out phrase is as clunky as a ’53 Chevy with four flat tires.

A recent Sen. Jon Tester TV commercial had the candidate saying he won’t “sell Montana down the road.”

The promise not to sell us down the road was followed a few days later by a Republican anti-Tester commercial that said the senator has already “sold Montana down the road.”

Just how does a person sell a constituency down the road? This rather lame cliché grows even weaker when doctored. Slaves - not voters – were once sold down the river. Eli Whitney’s gin made cotton extremely profitable, especially when raised on huge plantations and with large gangs of slaves.

Slaves dreaded being sold to planters with greedy masters and cruel overseers on the lower Mississippi (down the river) where cotton was king and slavery was at its wretched worst.

Last week I caught the latest in this abuse of the language. A GOP ad charged Tester with selling Montana up. A person can be beat up, used up, filled up, even gobbled up. “But, sold up?”

I found another crippled cliché wandering through the same campaign neighborhood. An article on Sen. Todd Akin, who coined the phrase “legitimate rape,” accused GOP leaders of “throwing the candidate under the boat.”

Under the boat?!

Folks can be thrown under a hay wagon, under a car or under a Greyhound bus (especially if the victim has been “kicked to the curb” first, but how can someone be thrown under a boat?

Rep. Greg Barkus was driving the speedboat that crashed into the rocky Flathead Lake shore late one night in August 2009. Five occupants of the boat, including U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, were injured and strewn across the landscape.

No one was tossed under the boat.

Mike Huckabee, a former governor and presidential candidate, should know better. The host of an amicable but extremely right-wing talk show, Huckabee equated the phrase “inside baseball” with “experience.”

When President Obama said Washington cannot be changed from the inside, Republicans of several stripes shouted “Gotcha!”

Huckabee said, “Obama has been playing inside baseball in the White House for years and he says Washington cannot be changed from the inside.”

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said, in effect, “Obama says Washington has to be changed from the outside. Let’s throw him out, let us in and we will change it.”

Rush Limbaugh says the same thing Huckabee says but is more snarly and less snarky.

I have no idea what Obama meant, but I do know what “inside baseball” means.

It’s a slang term generally referring to talk that is of little or no interest to outsiders or non-fanatics.

If Dad and Uncle Joe are talking about the compression ratio of a certain 1968 Ford V-8 engine and you slip away to see what’s on TV, it’s inside baseball that drove you.

This column is inside baseball.

Sorry.

What’s the biggest question political junkies are asking today? It could be Obama or Romney, Bullock or Hill or Tester or Rehberg. It could be, but it’s not. The question this year is the same as last year: “Who is Montana Cowgirl?”

Several Capital City reporters have chased rumors of Montana Cowgirl, the mysterious author-owner of the Montana Cowgirl Blog. An even larger number of journalists have been scooped by the Cowgirl.

We know this about the Cowgirl: She writes well, attacks Republicans (especially Denny Rehberg and anyone involved with the Tea Party) and has excellent access to the governor’s office.

Suspects include a red-haired woman from Livingston, the governor’s brother, a Great Falls talk show host, a flak for the Office of Public Instruction.

We don’t know his/her gender.

Investigators from the Department of Administration reported that the blogger has accessed – all day long at times – the state wireless guest system through a hookup in the Office of Public Instruction using an Apple Macintosh laptop.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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