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Your A-to-Z Beltway Glossary to the Government Shutdown | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Your A-to-Z Beltway Glossary to the Government Shutdown

John Boehner, accompanied by Mitch McConnel and other House and Senate Republicans, on the steps of the Capitol. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

My new Think Again column is called “According to Politico, Ted Cruz Is the Same As Wendy Davis, ‘More or Less’" It’s about yet another egregious case of false equivalence or “On the One-Handism…”

My Nation column is called “Marshall Berman: All That Is Solid Melts…” but don’t you DARE try and read it if you don’t have a subscription. Yes, The Nation puts its press column behind a paywall so the press can’t read it until the paywall is lifted.  To be honest, this column will be just as good (or lousy) a few days from now, whenever the wall is lifted, but that’s only because I avoided any actual news—which, alas, appears to me to be the only sensible way to write a press column that is purposely delayed from those at whose work it is primarily aimed.

Alter-reviews.

Before going away this weekend, I saw a New York Film Festival screening of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the new Coen Brothers movie. I kind of hated it. It’s a well made movie and the music is first rate but the Mr. Davis is so unreservedly unlikeable and unlucky that I didn’t feel getting depressed about his life was worthwhile.  He’s a smug, self-righteous and selfish jerk. I’m glad he got the crap kicked out of him for being so rude to that nice lady from Arkansas. I wish Justin Timerberlake had kicked his ass as well.

So I came in from the beach Sunday night with a little trepidation to see the concert in honor of the film at Town Hall, which featured many of the artists on the excellent soundtrack and even more who are not. In order to be able to enjoy the concert without the hassle of taking notes, I looked around to see if any aspiring young journalists who could use a break might take over the job for me. I saw New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson there, but she did strike me as being fully up to the task. (Nor David Carr, Times media columnist, whose work by the way, is never behind a paywall.)  Rolling Stone had David Browne, author of a fine book on music in the year 1970, but again, my standards were not yet met. As I scanned the audience I saw Susan Morrison, who has about twenty jobs at The New Yorker, but while her career might need a break, I don’t think she’s ready for Altercation. So who got the job, you ask? I finally settled on this kid who said his name was “Remnick” or something. I didn’t catch his first name.

He didn’t do a bad job. (I told him it would be ok if he put up his review here, because you know, no paywall.) He got the facts right. (Maybe they gave him some help with that.) The “big-name performers (Elvis Costello [representing Justin Timberlake], Keb Mo, Jack White, Patti Smith, Marcus Mumford) all performing at their earnest best; a folk icon, Joan Baez, proving that a voice challenged by time does little to diminish her presence and spirit; and some folk-music wizards––the Punch Brothers (led by the mandolin genius Chris Thile), the Avett Brothers, and Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings––who formed the backbone of the night. “

He also nailed two of the highlights. “Rhiannon Giddens, and Lake Street Division.” Giddens did this amazing thing in Gaelic. and  “Lake Street Dive, a quartet, led by an amazing young singer, Rachel Price, won’t be getting some air-time soon. Here they are playing “I Want You Back,” on the street––Amy Winehouse by way of Michael Jackson, but totally new:  And here is the song they did last night, “You Go Down Smooth,” as they performed it in the studios of WFUV, a radio station that is a kind of salvation for folk music, old and new, and broadly defined. .” Ok that’s enough kid. Here is an even funnier one I found myself.  They remind me of the late, lamented Washington Squares.

I bought LSD (hey, wait a minute) cd the next day. They were apparently terrific. Being so young and inexperienced a reporter, this Remnick kid apparently did not pick up on the other big highlight of the evening. So here’s David Browne stepping in: “At New York City's Town Hall on Sunday night, Patti Smith had the best line of the night. Glancing at a chorus line of musicians behind her, Smith admitted, "I don't even know who they are, half of them." The audience laughed, and Smith courteously added, "But I'm pleased to see them." With that, Smith and her semi-mystery guests – which included her son Jackson and members of the Avett Brothers and the progressive bluegrass band the Punch Brothers – launched into a stomping, hootenanny makeover of her modern-day empowerment song, "People Have the Power." She was joined by the still beautiful and beautifully voiced Joan Baez and boy was that great. Two stars, two eras, two icons of my misspent yout, two entirely different expressions of female power and artistry, coming together out of mutual respect and affection. I cud doy…

The next night (or so) I got to take in yet another great David Bromberg show—a release party for his new cd at City Winery.  The album is called ‘Only Slightly Mad.’ Produced by multi-Grammy-winner Larry Campbell and recorded at Levon Helm's barn in Woodstock, New York, I gotta say, it’s a new album but I feel like I’ve been listening to it for thirty years. Since returning from semi-retirement/violin making, which I don’t think really lasted that long, Bromberg has shown his versatility as a bluegrass picker and with a fine album of solo guitar accompanying his increasingly expressive baritone. But what he does best is everything at once; kind of like a one person Allman Brothers Band (so long as he has a band.)  This album is a kind of ur-David Bromberg album, hailing back to the days of “How Late’ll Ya Play “Til”  with the long riff about when he will take back the woman who left him standing in for the classic “I Will Not Be Your Fool.”  Like the mighty ABB, David is as a dependable as anyone/anything these days, well except them and Bruce. But he also a lot of fun. During "Drivin' Wheel,"for instance, he parked his  wife Nancy and a few other vocalists by the bar—they had not been onstage yet—and they surprised the crowd with a pretty hip call and response. The songs on the albums compete with one another for classic classification and the musicianship is, as always, quietly awe-inspiring.

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Oh and in addition to the New York Film Festival, on now, I wanted to plug the Hamptons International Film Festival which will be next weekend and is always a lot of fun. The press release tells me that it was “founded in 1993 to celebrate independent film – long, short, fiction and documentary – and to introduce a unique, varied spectrum of international films and filmmakers to the public. The Festival is committed to exhibiting films that express fresh voices and differing global perspectives, with the hope that these programs will enlighten audiences, provide invaluable exposure for filmmakers and present inspired entertainment for all. Taking place among the charming seaside historic villages of Long Island’s east end, the Hamptons International Film Festival’s intimate, informal atmosphere makes the festival an ideal destination for cinephiles. I’ll be back with reports on some of the films when it’s over.

Now here, (finally) is Reed:

Your A-to-Z Beltway Glossary to the Government Shutdown

by Reed Richardson

Since the next two weeks promises to be an unnecessary, yet non-stop roller coaster ride of breathless backroom scheming and superficial process reporting that mostly ignores the fundamental issues at hand, I humbly offer up a this guide to translating the often impenetrable Beltway machinations into plain English.

apology  noun. Pronounced /hip-ˈok-rəh-see/

1.    Considered a pejorative term by conservatives, possibly of French origin, this term is under no circumstances to be invoked no matter how much damage the GOP-driven government shutdown does to the economy and lives of Americans outside of Washington.

2.    What should be shamed out of other people, preferably liberals or government workers, who bear no responsibility for the shutdown.

Example: a member of a Republican party that broadly dismisses the impact of a federal gov't shutdown publicly browbeats an apology out of an innocent park ranger who is merely complying with the GOP’s grand strategy.

Disambiguation: Not to be confused with the popular right-wing non-apology apology.

Benghazi  proper noun. Pronounced /ˈlay-təst ˈout-rag/

1.    Thoroughly investigated and debunked non-cover-up.

2.    Conditioned response term Republicans in Washington use to signal the next phony Presidential scandal their base should be outraged about and the political press should be distracted by.

Example that demonstrates both in a news headline: “More personnel sent to WWII Memorial than Benghazi.”

Antecedents: Fast & Furious, IRS-gate, Solyndra, Apology Tour, Acorn, New Black Panther Party, No Birth Certificate, et al.

compromise  noun. Pronounced /ˈDim-oh-cratz cayv/

1.    What seven of 10 Tea Party Republicans oppose when it comes to the federal government shutdown, in contrast to 57 percent of Americans overall.

2.    A good faith gesture that the press inevitably expects Democrats or the President to undertake just to prove that they are not as irrational or intransigent as Republicans.

For reference as to how this function in Washington politics, see this syllogism.

debt ceiling  noun. Pronounced /ˈpay-eng owr bilz/

1.    Yet another routine mechanism in the functioning of our federal government that has been hijacked by extremist Republicans who are willing to risk broad national and global consequences in service of their narrow ideological goals.

2.    Popular way for slow-witted media members to demonstrate their innumeracy about the deficit and facility for misleading the public through bad analogies.

See egotistical below.

egotistical  adjective. Pronounced /waaaaaaaaah/

1.    Operative word to describe House Republicans’ self-aggrandizing hubris in threatening to not raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17.

Example: “‘We’re not going to be disrespected,’ conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. ‘We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.’

false equivalence  noun. Pronounced /both sidz to blaym/s

1.    Fundamental intellectual error embedded in much of the press’s coverage of the government shutdown.

2.    Mistaken mindset not being made by the American public.

3.    Term that can elicit a tetchy backlash from pundits who get called out for indulging in it during government shutdown debate.

gaffe  noun. Pronounced /ˈtop ˈsto-ree/

1.    A favorite type of process story among the Washington press corps.

2.    Of little impact in the real world, safe to ignore 95% of the time.

3.    Usually based on a willful or lazy misunderstanding of a politician’s remarks that misses the deeper context of a debate.

Example: Compare the media firestorm between Sen. Harry Reid elaborating on Sen. Charles Schumer’s objections to pitting one part of the government against another for funding: “Why would we want to do that?” versus the press’s abject silence over GOP Rep. Tom Cole’s almost identical remarks the very same day about the prospect of a quick bipartisan passage of clean CR that would end the government shutdown: “Why in the world would we do that?”

Grand Bargain  proper noun. Pronounced /ˈGil-dəd aj/

1.    Polite term used among Washington insiders to openly discuss gutting the federal government’s social safety net.

2.    The irresistible, Holy Grail of centrist Beltway pundits.

3.    Next gambit for Republicans to try to sucker Democrats into taking part-ownership of the GOP’s increasingly unpopular government shutdown. 

4.    Unnecessary solution to a problem that is decades away and becoming less critical as time goes on.

Common euphemism for: tax cuts for rich, means-testing, raising the eligibility age, self-defeating austerity.

Hastert Rule  proper noun. Pronounced /my-ˈnor-ə-tee ruul/

1.    Procedural constraint named for former Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert, who, legend has it, refused to bring bills to House floor that didn’t enjoy majority support within his party.

2.    Shameless House leadership excuse readily swallowed by today’s Beltway media as to why a "clean" CR that enjoys broad bipartisan support doesn’t get brought up for a vote immediately.

3.    A standard that does not even apply to the "clean" CR, based on the whip counts of the House Republicans who would ultimately vote in favor of it.

4.    Something that even its namesake says has never really existed.”

John Boehner  proper noun. Pronounced /ˈdəd man ˈwok-eng/

1.    Titular leader of the House Republican Caucus (cf. Ted Cruz).

2.    Someone who the press must recognize cannot exert any actual leverage over Democrats in negotiations on the debt ceiling.

3.    Someone who the press must recognize cannot exert any actual leverage over extremely conservative House Republicans on the government shutdown.

4. Someone who also enjoys bipartisan support as Worst Speaker Ever.

Keystone XL  proper noun. Pronounced /ˈrəd ˈhare-eng /

1.    Controversial pipeline included in a ridiculous right-wing wish list that Republicans have floated—among them defunding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, rolling back environmental regulations, and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits—as potential rewards for not fecklessly wrecking the global economy.

2.    Signal that any news story that seriously includes this term at part of the negotiations has bought into GOP spin.

Iemmings  noun. Pronounced /ˈTee ˈPar-tee ˈCauk-əss/

1.    GOP House colleague’s nickname for extreme House conservatives who are unwilling to accept the reality of Obamacare and, therefore, fund the federal government.

2.    Caucus that aforementioned GOP House colleague subsequently joined just hours after his “lemmings” comments, when he too voted to include a delay to Obamacare as part of a Continuing Resolution.

Caution: Using it to describe House Republicans is now widely considered an insult to actual lemmings.

lead  transitive verb. Pronounced /ˈleed/ variant /ˈleed-eng/

1.    When any U.S. President bombs a foreign country without Congressional approval.

2.    What President Obama has failed to do whenever Republicans choose to indulge a rump minority within their party who refuse any compromise.

3.    Handy, catch-all criticism deployed by media pundits that allows them to avoid uncomfortable value judgments about the unprecedented intransigence of Congressional Republicans.

Moderate House Republicans  proper noun. Pronounced /ˈwərth-les/

1.  Mythical Congressional caucus that claims to be fed up with recalcitrant Tea Party extremists.

2.  Rumored to number as many as 25 in the House, yet rarely, if ever, seen during roll call votes.

3.  Favorite source of Beltway journalists during shutdown coverage.

3.  Soon to be defense or business lobbyists.

Real-world synonyms: free lunch, unicorn, smart take from Fox News.

negotiating  verb. Pronounced /nee-ˈgosh-ee-ate-eng/

1.    The Washington political process by which Republicans stake out a position and then proceed to ask for more while Democrats are expected to continually accept less while chasing the GOP’s increasingly excessive demands, lest they get equal blame from the media for not compromising.

2.    What the media must understand the purely obstructionist and merely politically craven elements of the Republican Party are doing, which is the root cause of the government shutdown and, until it is resolved, renders moot any broader debate between Republicans and Democrats.  

Obamacare  proper noun. Pronounced /nät ˈseen-gəl pay-ər/ (liberals); variant /ˈso-shul-izm/ (conservatives)

1.  Political shorthand term for President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

2.  Not a job-killer, or any of 14 other myths about the law.

3.  A potential life-saving policy for millions of uninsured and insured Americans.

4.  A policy so heinous to Congressional Republicans that, as of Tuesday, they shut down the federal government to try to stop it.

5.  A policy so heinous to Congressional Republicans that, as of Wednesday, they had pretty much abandoned trying to stop it.

Disambiguation: Not to be confused with chimerical jargon like “Repeal and Replace.”

President Obama  proper noun. Pronounced /diss-ə-ˈpoynt-mənt/ (liberals) /ˈKin-yən Yu-ˈsərp-ər/ (conservatives)

1.    Our nation’s chief executive whose very presence in the White House, despite two convincing presidential election victories, is still considered illegitimate by roughly half of Republicans.

2.    Someone so relentlessly and inaccurately demonized by Republicans that the quite popular policy provisions of the Affordable Care Act lose their luster when his name is attached to them.

real America  noun. Pronounced /ˈray-sysm/

1.    Dog-whistle term used by a subset of Republicans to stoke prejudices and fuel the fear of Obamacare as well as the need for a government shutdown. 

See also xenophobia.

sequestration  noun. Pronounced /see-kwə-ˈstra-shən/

1. An indiscriminate, self-defeating cost-cutting measure adopted during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis that, for 2014, would fund the federal discretionary budget at $217 billion below the President’s plan.

2. “The first significant Tea Party victory,” according to House reactionary Rep. Tim Huelskamp in February 2013.

3. A spending level Democrats have effectively accepted in their calls for a “clean” Continuing Resolution to end the shutdown.

4. A budget reality willfully ignored by Republicans and most of the establishment media during the shutdown crisis.

Beltway antonyms: compromise, concession.

slimdown  noun. Pronounced /prop-ə-ˈgan-də/

1.    Absurdly transparent term that Fox News is using to replace the word “shutdown” in all its news coverage, to better sell the Republican Party’s unpopular message to its viewers.

See also death panels, government takeover of health care, homicide bomber, death tax, personalized Social Security accounts.

Ted Cruz  proper noun. Pronounced /nar-sys-ˈsyst-ik jərk/

1. Junior senator from Texas.

2. De facto House Speaker.

3. Wants to defund Affordable Care Act.

4. Doesn’t understand Affordable Care Act.

5. Former Harvard Law student, current 2016 GOP Presidential candidate, and future talk radio star or president of right-wing thinktank.

Referenced in a sentence: “[Ted] Cruz said he would deliver the votes and he didn’t deliver any Democratic votes. He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away.”

tone  noun. Pronounced /ˈup-it-ee/

1.    Often presented as the primary stumbling block to political comity, as if President Obama hasn’t done enough to assuage the aggrieved feelings of those in the minority who routinely blame him for single-handedly ruining the country.

2.    A facile, superficial obsession among Beltway pundits who continually insist it matters as much, if not more than, the President’s actual policy arguments.

Example: “The Republican Party engineered this stalemate and is likely to shoulder most of the blame. That is, unless the Democratic Party matches the GOP on pettiness, stubbornness, and demagoguery.

Synonyms include: process, theatrics, optics, messaging.

wrong noun. Pronounced /whət-ˈevz/

1.    Opposite of right, this otherwise unenviable intellectual position matters little in the Washington political context as long as one can maintain messaging discipline and legislative continuity.

2.    An often obvious, yet frighteningly rare conclusion that objective reporters and learned op-ed columnists are professionally discouraged from drawing about the political issues they purport to have expertise on.  

Beltway synonyms: critics say, some argue, we’ll have to leave it there.

xenophobia  noun. Pronounced /keep owt/

1.    Another reason the right-wing opposes the Affordable Care Act and is willing to shut down the government, because a popular myth—propagated by Republican Congressmen—is that the law somehow provides healthcare coverage for illegal immigrants.

zero-sum  adjective. Pronounced /O-ˈbah-mah məst luz/

1.    A spiteful, scorched-earth political outlook that has colored the Republican Party since President Obama's very first day in the White House and something that, to this day, the Beltway media is loath to openly acknowledge no matter how much evidence of it.

2.    Defining legislative success in our democracy not by what one’s side can achieve through rallying a majority, but by what one's side can prevent the opposition from achieving by exploiting “a minority within a minority.”

Real-world synonyms: sabotaging governance, post-policy nihilism, Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson@gmail.com. 

I’m on Twitter here—@reedfrich.

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