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Campaign catch phrases explained


For political junkies, the race for the 21st Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has offered a lot of early fun and the promise of a long and exciting race. It isn’t even time for nominating petitions to be submitted for the June 24 primary, and already there are solid races for three party lines.

Given all this, and given the level of campaigning already being done by at least seven hopefuls for the Owens seat, as a political public service I’m going to offer a few political catch phrases and offer you their meaning.

If Elected, I Will Reach Across the Aisle. Candidates from all parties are going to trot out this old chestnut. If you think it means a given candidate will ignore party lines to work in the best interests of the nation or the 21st district, you’re probably wrong.

The district, no matter what number it has carried, has long been largely centrist. John McHugh was a Republican endorsed by labor unions; Bill Owens was a Democrat liked by the National Rifle Association. Both of them showed that they could, in fact, “reach across the aisle” (remember those great pictures of McHugh sitting next to Hillary Clinton on a park bench in Sackets Harbor?).

Today, Owens is sadly one of only a handful of representatives who are truly centrist who might embrace positions based on their merit. Of 435 members of the House, fewer than 50 of them appear to have any commitment to compromise.

And newly elected members of the House, especially on the Republican side, have to cater to multiple factions of their own party before they can “reach across the aisle.” So be wary because anyone promising to reach across the aisle may be lining up to slap an opponent.

I Will Repeal Obamacare and Replace It With Something Better. This one is for the Republican candidates. It means that they are toeing the party line early and often.

But is it meaningful? Certainly not in the existing political climate. Obama will be in office for two more years, and he won’t let any repeal happen, even if Republicans take control of both houses.

Moreover, a majority of the American public thinks the Affordable Care Act is by and large a good thing. The most dire predictions about it — that it will sink the budget and that it will sink the job market — already appear to be false. Beyond polls that say more Americans approve of it than oppose it, 6 million people have signed up for it, and many of them publicly have said the coverage it has provided them was unavailable before and has made their lives better.

And, realistically, replacing it with “something better” isn’t going to happen. The whole issue of providing millions of uninsured Americans with coverage was impossible under eight years of Republican rule. But as public policy, it is both humane and economically necessary.

If the Republicans could have come up with something better, why didn’t they do it sometime between 2000 and 2009?

I Will Do Whatever It Takes To Protect the 2nd Amendment. Without explanation, of course, it has no meaning. For the right side of the aisle, it means not ever supporting any gun laws even if they make sense. Remember when Charlton Heston whipped the National Rifle Association into high dudgeon over a proposal to ban “cop killer” bullets? I’ve read the 2nd Amendment many times, and nowhere does it guarantee Americans the right to possess armor-piercing ammunition. Or own a fully automatic weapon. Or have a 50-shot banana clip. Those are all things that can be banned without attacking the 2nd Amendment.

In fact, from a purely philosophical standpoint, putting reasonable controls on gun accessories should take pressure off gun owners in a couple of ways. It shows they are reasonable in agreeing to protect the public and law enforcement. And it reduces the level of opposition from the people concerned about the unfettered proliferation of weapons.

But for Republicans, the 2nd Amendment catch phrase is only valuable if its practical meaning is “I will support no gun control legislation.”

For Democrats, it means they got a shotgun when they were kids and they still hunt and they hope they never have to take a strong stand on a controversial gun-control proposal.

There are a lot more, and perhaps we’ll address them as they come up. But it never hurts to take that campaign statement and spin it around and look at it from a bunch of angles. That usually helps reveal its true meaning.

Perry White is city editor of the Times. Reach him at

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