The Politically Correct Guide to Campaign '08

Matt Lewis
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Posted: May 19, 2008 2:45 PM
Mike Huckabee's recent NRA gaffe proves that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.  It was, after all, his offhanded humor that helped elevate the former Arkansas governor to top-tier status as a campaigner.  Now, a very bad attempt at spontaneous humor has possibly hurt his status among the McCain campaign.

Joking about anyone's assassination is never a smart move, but joking about the assassination of the first African-American candidate to be the presumptive Democratic nominee -- is another thing, entirely.

Huckabee's gaffe highlights what we've long known; that the rules are different in '08, because the players are different.  Huckabee wasn't the first this cycle to learn the lesson, and he won't be the last.  My guess is this will not only impact the way politicians talk; it will also continue to impact the way pundits and writers cover the campaigns.

After a string of 43 consecutive white male presidents, it makes sense that pundits and writers who cover presidential campaigns have adopted ways of communicating that -- while appropriate in the past -- will probably be seen as politically incorrect, in the current milieu.

For example, in an effort to be more "colorful" and interesting, political pundits often employ sports or military metaphors about winning and losing.  It's boring to say over and over again that Hillary "decisively defeated" Obama in West Virginia, so writers and pundits have sought to invent analogies and pop-culture references to make their points (remember the line about "pimping" Chelsea Clinton out?).

This, of course, can be both entertaining -- and dangerous.  In order to avoid falling into this trap, here are just a few suggestions ...

Lest they be accused of being sexist, pundits on Wednesday should probably avoid saying Obama "spanked" Hillary in Oregon (though it's still fine to say the Yankees spanked Baltimore at Camden Yards).

Similarly, commentators should probably avoid saying Hillary "whipped" Obama in West Virginia, though "whooped" might be okay.  (Note:  shellacking and routing are, for now, safe euphemisms to describe what Hillary did to Obama in West Virginia.)

You get my point.  In this environment, it's easy to accidentally have your words interpreted to mean something you didn't really mean -- in fact, you were just using an expression.

... It should be noted that this phenomenon is bi-partisan.  It's okay for John McCain to joke about being "tied up" during Woodstock, but any Democrat who joked about such a thing would be immediately condemned.  Likewise, McCain can go on SNL and joke about his age, but when Obama used code language that McCain was "losing his bearings," he was rightly criticized.

Welcome to campaign 2008.  Try not to say anything offensive.