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August 26, 2004 - 'Hatchet Jobs & Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang' - 2004-08-26

Broadcast on COAST TO COAST: August 26, 2004

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: a guide to some political talk in America.

This week, reporters asked President Bush about a television commercial that attacked the Vietnam War record of his Democratic opponent, John Kerry. The message was sponsored by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, though in political lingo this organization is known as a 527.

PRESIDENT BUSH: "I can't be more plain about it, and I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying -- condemning -- these activities of the 527s. It's, I think they're bad for the system."

Five-twenty-sevens get their name from section 527 of the federal tax code. Organizations defined under this section can donate money for political causes without being taxed. But they must be unaffiliated with any candidate or party. Still ...

GRANT BARRETT: "If the 527 organization is promoting a popular point of view, they really can do a great deal to support a candidate without being specifically affiliated with that campaign. Of course, there's been congressional hearings about this, there's been accusations on both sides, but for the time being it continues."

AA: Grant Barrett is editor of a new book called "Hatchet Jobs & Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang." We asked him about a number of terms in the news right now, including all the talk about color-coded states.

GRANT BARRETT: "This year because of what happened in the 2000 presidential election, red states and blue states is something that you keep hearing about. Red states are those states which supposedly will go Republican, or conservative. And the blue states are those states which supposedly will go to the Democrats because they're liberal or from the left.

"These terms come out of the maps of the electoral votes from the 2000 election where during those weeks after the election and then the drama that ensued, the map always came up on the screen as television journalists were talking about how the voting went, particularly in Florida.

"So the colors have come to kind of represent the tendency of those people to vote a certain way. Of course, then we have purple states, which is red plus blue, which are the states that are right on the line. These are also called the swing states, where no one quite knows how the vote is going to go until the day after the election."

RS: "So how did they get these colors -- was it just purely TV?"

GRANT BARRETT: "Completely arbitrary."

AA: "These swing states are also called battleground states."


AA: "We keep hearing that term."

GRANT BARRETT: "Knife-edge states, as well. If you go back to pre-2000, you'll actually see people talk about red states and blue states but they're switched the other way around." RS: "There are three phrases that I see constantly now, and I'd like for you to give us some quick definitions, all right? ABB."

GRANT BARRETT: "'Anybody But Bush.' Actually it was first used against the first President Bush. It's just a shorthand. So much of slang is a shorthand, just a quicker way of saying something that everybody understands."

RS: "Here's another one: 'hook and bullet crowd.' What's that mean?"

GRANT BARRETT: "That's a fun one. The strategists always try to define a target audience who's underserved or whose politics are so broad that they can be easily focused upon in campaign advertisements. The hook and bullet crowd are the fisherman and the hunters. And it's not just people who like to fish and hunt. It also overlaps with people who own guns, people who probably live in rural settings, people who see themselves as being traditionalists. So they are seen as a favorable target, somebody to throw money at and try to persuade."

RS: "And 'no-carb diet' has nothing to do with losing weight."

GRANT BARRETT: "No, it doesn't. But the pun there is the well-known Atkins diet in the United States which tries to rid your food intake of carbohydrates. So 'no-carb diet' kind of rides along that wave. But what it stands for is 'No Cheney, No Ashcroft, No Rumsfeld, No Bush.'

"There are, and I don't have any numbers for this, but there are a number of people who don't mind President Bush. They like him, they like his politics, they find him an appealing fellow, but they don't like some of the people such as [Attorney General John] Ashcroft, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld or [Vice President Dick] Cheney that he has put into office."

AA: "Now the last question I want to ask you is about the expression 'it's the economy, stupid.'"

GRANT BARRETT: "During the first Clinton campaign in 1992, Democratic strategist James Carville was a part of that. There was a story that appeared in the August 3rd, 1992, edition of the Washington Post where they described this being written on the chalkboard: 'it's the economy, stupid.'

"And it wasn't a message that they [the Democrats] were directing outward to their opponent and it wasn't a message that they were trying to get across to voters or to the media. It was a message for themselves, because they found that again, again and again they were straying from the core issue that they felt would make Americans vote for them, and that was the economy."

AA: Grant Barrett is editor of "Hatchet Jobs & Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang," being published in September. And that's all for this week. Our e-mail address is And our Web site is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.