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Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes
Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech
Chuck McCutcheon, David Mark; Jeff Greenfield, fwd.

2014 • 272 pp. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"
American Government / Linguistics / Reference & Bibliography

$19.95 Paperback, 978-1-61168-603-6
$18.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-657-9

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“One would have thought that writing a gripping treatment of the semi-secret slang and code of the DC scene was impossible, but McCutcheon and Mark have done it.  Dog... [continued in Reviews below]”—Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and contributor to MSNBC,

An election-year guide to understanding the language of the electeds, spin-meisters, and flacks of American politics

To the amusement of the pundits and the regret of the electorate, our modern political jargon has become even more brazenly two-faced and obfuscatory than ever. Where once we had Muckrakers, now we have Bed-Wetters. Where Blue Dogs once slept peaceably in the sun, Attack Dogs now roam the land. During election season—a near constant these days—the coded rhetoric of candidates and their spin doctors, and the deliberately meaningless but toxic semiotics of the wing nuts and backbenchers, reach near-Orwellian levels of self-satisfaction, vitriol, and deceit. The average NPR or talk radio listener, MSNBC or Fox News viewer, or blameless New York Times or Wall Street Journal reader is likely to be perplexed, nonplussed, and lulled into a state of apathetic resignation and civic somnolence by the rapid-fire incomprehensibility of political pronouncement and commentary—which is, frankly, putting us exactly where the pundits want us.

Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is a tonic and a corrective. It is a reference and field guide to the language of politics by two veteran observers that not only defines terms and phrases but also explains their history and etymology, describes who uses them against whom, and why, and reveals the most telling, infamous, amusing, and shocking examples of their recent use. It is a handbook of lexicography for the Wonkette and This Town generation, a sleeker, more modern Safire’s Political Dictionary, and a concise, pointed, bipartisan guide to the lies, obfuscations, and helical constructions of modern American political language, as practiced by real-life versions of the characters on House of Cards.

See also Doubetalk, the authors' up-to-the-minute ebook guide to the presidential election follies.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“One would have thought that writing a gripping treatment of the semi-secret slang and code of the DC scene was impossible, but McCutcheon and Mark have done it.  Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes should be the accompanying text for House of Cards or Scandal. Brilliantly written and fun.”—Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and contributor to MSNBC

“Words matter. Especially when tumbling from the mouths of politicians, words can edify and distort, engage and enrage, delight and depress—but the differences are lost on most of us. Until now. Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark decode the clutter in an extraordinarily accessible and informative book that belongs on the desk of any politically minded reader. It’s my b.s. translator.”—Ron Fournier, senior political columnist and editorial director of National Journal

"Dog-whistles, Walkbacks and Washington Handshakes will not be the last book written on political language, because political language will remain as irritating, fascinating, obfuscatory and dishonest as ever. But until the next book comes along, this one will reassure the cynics, anger the idealists, encourage a healthy skepticism and amuse those readers comfortable with the knowledge that nothing has changed and nothing will change.” —Henry Allen, Wall Street Journal

“[A]n excellent field guide to the double-talk and weasel words that anyone following the world of politics has to wade through every day.” —Santa Fe New Mexican

“At the end of the day, let me be clear: this one is a slam dunk.”
Hill Rag

"Its fun tone belies its utility, as even the most seasoned D.C. Sherpa (p.25) or graybeard (p. 34) may not know the ins and outs of each and every term. Want to know the genesis of some of the budgetese (p. 102) thrown around in the coming weeks? This is the place.”—
Roll Call

If you think you know what it means when an opponent calls your congressman “my good friend,” on the floor of the House, you might want to think again.”—Oak Leaves

“In your hands is a guide through the thicket, a machete with which to cut your way through the jungle of rhetoric . . .This volume may prove a life saver.”—From the foreword by Jeff Greenfield

From the Book:

Bed-wetter:A person who expresses doubts; a worrywart.

Politics is an exercise in building up confidence among the like-minded. When that isn’t achievable, pejorative terms such as this one pop up. The expression has been around for decades, but has come into vogue in recent years. Both parties use it to call out dissenters within their ranks. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial section, a reliable bastion of conservatism, sneered in August 2012: “Much as we predicted last week, the Republican Party’s Bedwetter Caucus has emerged on schedule to explain why Mitt Romney can’t possibly win the election with Paul Ryan on the ticket.”8 Across the ideological spectrum, Barack Obama’s campaign mastermind David Plouffe became known for often castigating doomsayers with this childhood affliction. In a 2010 Washington Post opinion piece about what his party had to do to recover in time for the midterm elections, Plouffe listed several prescriptions, among them: “No bed-wetting.” 9 (It wasn’t enough for his party, which got shellacked that year.)

Blue Dog: An endangered D.C. species. Blue Dogs represent the dwindling band of conservative-leaning House Democrats, particularly on social issues, who can seem more like Republicans than their own party brethren.

Though once highly influential, the Blue Dogs’ influence in the House has diminished as the chamber has become more polarized, and the post-2012 census redrawing has made their districts more favorable to Republicans. In 2014, their caucus had just nineteen members, down from more than fifty in the mid-1990s. Although their clout may have waned, Blue Dogs can command serious media attention. They possess two traits that most journalists secretly wish were true of all politicians: They are unafraid to challenge their party’s leaders, and they evoke a bygone era of bipartisan aisle-crossing and intraparty fraternization. Consider Tennessee Democratic representative Jim Cooper, currently among the Blue Dogs’ leaders (he is a former investment banker, Rhodes Scholar, and Harvard Law grad who describes himself as the group’s “nerd”). In 2011 New York Times columnist Joseph Nocera wrote an admiring column describing Cooper as “the House’s conscience, a lonely voice for civility in this ugly era.”10 The Blue Dogs’ name has been a source of fascination among political junkies. Some suggest it derives from the old saw that voters in Texas would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican. Others credit coining of the Blue Dog name to a Texas Democratic congressman in the early 1990s, Pete Geren. He is said to have opined that members had been “choked blue” by “extreme” Democrats from the left. 11

CHUCK MCCUTCHEON is co-author of National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics and co-editor of Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America 2010. DAVID MARK is editor-in-chief of Politix and former senior editor at Politico. He is the author of Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning. JEFF GREENFIELD is former senior political correspondent for CBS Nightly News, and author of If Kennedy Lived and 10 other books.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:07:58 -0500