Fresh Political PortmanteausBy Tony Palmeri
from the November 2013 issue of The SCENEIf you’re a word geek like me, then you must be a fan of the portmanteau. That’s the trick of developing a new word from the blending of two older ones. Simple examples include brunch (breakfast + lunch), Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia), and Anthony Weiner’s favorite, sexting (sex + texting).
In politics, Barack Obama in 2008 lauded RonaldReagan’s presidency as “transformational.” Yet Obama’s signature policy achievement, the portmanteau Obamacare (Obama + healthcare) seems so far to have transformed the Republican Party more than the nation. Reaganomics (Reagan + economics) did the same for the Democrats a generation ago.
The most consequential political portmanteau, in terms of its reference to something destructive to our democracy, is “gerrymander” (Elbridge Gerry + salamander). In 1812 Massachusetts Governor Gerry signed a redistricting bill designed to guarantee legislative victories for his party. Thanks to gerrymandering, today the nation’s worst elected officials behave badly with little fear of being booted out of office; the only thing they have to fear is redistricting reform itself.
The last few months witnessed some wacky political events including: a technically not a filibuster filibuster, a former and current US president waxing delusional about their progressive credentials, a president elected on a change platform formally endorsing the neoconservative approach to American foreign policy, a governor with presidential ambitions promoting a pointless property tax cut, and a government shutdown featuring the “fiscally conservative” Republicans voting to pay retroactively hundreds of thousands of federal workers they forced into furlough. Mainstream media had trouble finding a language to articulate these absurdities. The following portmanteaus should shed some light.Panderfit (pandering + hissy fit): In September Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke for more than 20 hours on the Senate floor in an attempt to obstruct Obamacare. Since Cruz’s theatrics did not delay action on a bill, his gabfest technically wasn’t a filibuster, leading some to employ the portmanteau “fauxbuster” to describe it. After listening painfully to much of the remarks, I concluded that “fauxbuster” wasn’t strong enough to capture the true nature of Cruz’s crusade. The blather struck me as extreme pandering to red state Republicans and Tea Party aficionados, using the kind of extended hissy fit style typically found on the Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly programs. From now on, I recommend that all similar acts of pandering hissy fits be referred to as “panderfits.” Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are first rate panderfitters, though as we get closer to the 2016 presidential primaries we can expect many more to pop up.
Selfusional (self serving + delusional): Not long after Ted Cruz’s panderfit, C-Span viewers had the opportunity to watch former President Bill Clinton interview current President Barack Obama about the Republicans’ effort to derail health insurance reform. To listen to these two, you’d think that the Affordable Care Act, which has its roots in Republican ideas about health care delivery, is somehow in the progressive tradition of Social Security and Medicare. Yes Obamacare is better than the Republican alternative, which no one takes seriously. But for Clinton and Obama to present themselves as courageous progressives extending the New Deal and Great Society is self serving and delusional. Selfusional pays though; after the interview Obama spoke at a DNC fundraiser at which attendees paid anywhere from $5,000 to $32,400 to attend. Suffice it to say those folks aren’t shopping for health care on the exchanges, though it would not be surprising to find out that some of them are insurance industry executives benefitting from the new law.Chumsfeld (Cheney + Rumsfeld): On the same day as the selfusional with Bill Clinton, President Obama addressed the United Nations. He insisted on repeating the tired neoconservative meme that the United States is the world’s “exceptional” nation, while his criteria for when the US might intervene militarily around the world only mildly tweaked the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. Far from repudiating the narrow nationalist neoconservatism of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, today’s foreign policy establishment has in many ways internalized it. Establishment foreign policy speeches should no longer be called foreign policy speeches; instead let’s call them “Chumsfelds.”
Exploitition (exploit+ ambition). Does anyone have any doubt by now that Scott Walker is giving serious thought to entering the 2016 Republican presidential primaries? Frequent trips to primary states, nonstop fundraising, and a soon to be released book all point clearly in that direction. He’s got one problem: if he doesn’t get reelected in 2014, his presidential hopes will be toast. His solution? Make sure all public policy proposals promote his personal ambitions. Thus we get a pointless property tax cut plan, announced almost immediately after Mary Burke threw her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination for governor. Exploiting the public for sheer personal ambition. Let’s call that “exploitition.”Congastrophe (Congress + catastrophe). Public Policy Polling found that the Republican Congress is less popular than “lice, colonoscopies, and Nickelback.” That poll was taken before the Congress, led by panderfitting, selfusional politicians pursuing the exploitition policy of defunding Obamacare, shut the government down for sixteen days and came this close to throwing the country into default. Impressive work, huh? The sixteen days in October of 2013 should always be remembered as the kind of Congastrophe future Congresses should work hard to avoid.