Every presidential election season generates its own special buzzword. It's a word that comes out of nowhere, maybe by the pen of some unknown reporter who, working late through the night, sees it fluttering mothlike in the light of his lamp among countless lesser phrases and makes a snatch for it, stabbing it on his pen tip, as the perfect expression of his thoughts. So perfect, this phrase, in describing the political atmosphere, the field, the best of a candidate, the worst, or whatever the particular flavor of that particular race, that soon it's repeated in other articles, on cable news networks and talk radio, by the candidates themselves...it has become THE WORD.
It's a word common enough for most people to immediately understand in context, more or less, but unusual enough that no one had ever before used it on a regular basis. It begins to leap out each time it appears, a florescent marker flagging the extent of political punditry's shared consciousness.
In 2004, the year of Bush’s stand against Kerry, it was gravitas. As in, “Kerry has gravitas, but no charisma,” or “John Edwards needs to show more gravitas,” or “Bush has no gravitas whatsoever.”
Remember? It’s when we as a nation were craving seriousness and respectability in a leader. Somehow it seems like we were a lot more mature back then.
In 2008, the year of Obama's extended fight with Hillary and (seemingly) dozens of GOP candidates' fight with each other, it was throw under a bus. I suppose it shows what a catty tooth-and-nail campaign it was for both parties that THE WORD...or well, I suppose in this case a phrase...was one that represented blind ambition.
Thankfully, I can no longer quote an actual quote containing "throw under a bus." I was so sick of hearing that phrase, I think my brain purged all memories of it. I DO remember saying, "Stop saying that! There is no bus! There never WAS a bus! LEAVE THE BUSES OUT OF IT!"
Ladies and gentleman, for this election season, the campaign for President of the United States in the Year of Our Lord 2012, I am pleased to announce that the official WORD has finally made itself known.
Every candidate has been called this at least once, often by another candidate. It has now appeared in the mediums of newsprint, magazine, and television. "Feckless" it is. As words go, it's not nearly as irritating as "throw under a bus" or "gravitas," but it's still a little disturbing that it's neither a course of action nor a virtue. Yes, the word of the year is an insult, and one meaning "lack of vitality" at that.
Is it a reflection of our feeling about our nation as a whole? Do we cringe away from the very weaknesses that we fear to find in ourselves? Does it reflect four years of losing footing on the global economic stage, the loss of faith in our military focus, our inability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps? How much significance should we attach to a word that rises from our collective subconscious, a word reoccurring, like a mantra, in our popular dialogue?
Personally I was hoping for "widdershins," but I guess there's always the next election.