It’s an election year! Here’s your quickie guide to understanding seven perplexing political terms you never thought you wanted to know about.
Have you ever met someone who studied political science or international relations in college or perhaps told you he or she was “into politics”? If so, did you cautiously back away, assuming that this person was a part of the corrupt governmental establishment or a member of some fringe political faction that has a koala bear as its mascot? Was the individual wearing a dapper power suit or a bright campaign T-shirt with his or her favorite candidate’s face plastered on the front? Did you employ your basic techniques of evasion to avoid getting cornered by such a conversationalist because you simply don’t care to talk about politics?
Well, if any of this applies, you’re probably normal for your generation. But just because you don’t get the allure of political drama or don’t care to understand it, there are some things about the American political system that you might want to know–if for no other reason than to impress people at the next party you attend. After all, no one wants to end up being that fool Jay Leno interviews on one of his Jaywalking jaunts, who doesn’t know how many people are in the Senate or what politicians mean when they talk about pork. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t feel compelled to tiptoe around a coffee shop just to avoid any unplanned encounters with someone who actually (gulp!) cares about political events?
Before you lift your quizzical brow in indignation for having to even consider discussing the lowly subject of politics, consider this: If you find yourself mingling with a posse of politicos at some business meeting or social gathering one of these days, you’ll likely want to sound as though you were at least partially awake during your high school government class, right? So—this being an election year and all—we’ve put together a list of seven good-to-know political terms, so you won’t be the person cringing in the corner, looking for an escape hatch.
1. Gerrymandering (also known as “redistricting” to local-government savants)
Gerrymandering is an activity that takes place when a ruling political party is given the opportunity to re-establish district boundaries in its home voting blocs by thoroughly reviewing civilian populations. This is the ideal time for a strategic party whiz (ahem, not to be confused with a whip–see below) to intentionally decide to include only citizens of the same political ideology and partisanship within their electorate to ensure re-election. Meaning: Nancy Pelosi will be a congressperson forever.
2. Chad (not the country or the “Ochocinco” football player; it can be hanging or pregnant)
The chad is that infamous shred of paper that should be expelled when an individual correctly punches his or her ballot card when voting. If the card has been punched and the punchmark is slightly bulging, but not fully pierced, then it’s a “pregnant chad.” If the card is punched and the paper fragment is still holding on by a thread, then we’re talking “hanging chad.” Either of these instances renders the ballot ineffectual, meaning that a single shred of paper could lead to the Supreme Court deciding who the next president will be. (See Florida, 2000.) Thank goodness for the newly christened electronic ballots, and our blissfully chad-free futures.
3. Self-help system (use this term if you want people to think you’re a United Nations liaison)
In the international system, there is no centralized world government shelling out mandates as to how the world should work (though some would say the U.S. has taken on this job). Therefore, civil society operates in a self-help system in which a nation can rely only on itself to maintain its solvency and power. Because the world resides on the principal of anarchy, rugged individualism and faith in one’s own capacity for change are essential. This is the cynical outlook of globalism that leaves everyone looking untrustworthy and suspicious.
4. Caucus (not to be confused with “carcass,” that dead thing lying alongside the highway)
The caucus is a method of primary presidential voting that takes place in the homes, community centers and common spaces in the Midwest of the United States. Constituents gather together to hear the spiel of political wannabes and sometimes have a potluck, dinner party or family-values debate. Caucusing can be as casual or as formal as its participants want it to be, but its focus is rooted in camaraderie and taking pride in the system of democratic republic governance. But beware: These get-togethers are more than likely to be hubs of ideological reinforcement where everyone does and says only what is socially acceptable, and outliers are unwelcome.
5. Filibuster (seriously, this is a real word)
Basically, the filibuster is a method of stalling the inevitable and is used in circumstances when a Senator wholeheartedly despises a law, idea or person. This is that Senator’s opportunity to hold the attention of the Senate floor for however long he or she can speak, regardless of whether or not the topic is relevant to the matter at hand. So, an individual could potentially recite the lyrics to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” over and over and over again, and not be stopped. Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster to date, at just over 24 hours of continuous jibber-jabber.
6. Pork (not the other white meat)
Pork—a term that can be used interchangeably with the terms “pork barrel” or “earmark”—is the appropriation of funds from Congress to constituents in order to subsidize the needs of each and every state. Everyone loves pork, especially when a politician gets to take it home to his or her district, share it with constituents and bask in its glory. Pork is often hidden in the nooks and crannies of each and every piece of legislation and can function as a personal favor for electors to win votes on issues that may not otherwise pass without the representative’s support. The more pork, the better, some say, but they ought not forget about the multitudes of outspoken vegetarians out there in the voting public.
7. Whip (not something Indiana Jones uses with great panache)
A whip is the perfect job for the social butterfly of the houses; he or she is the go-to person for each party, whose job is to see if the party has the votes necessary to pass a law. A whip has to be able to charm and bewitch even the most persnickety of congressmen and congresswomen; the party whips are the persuaders of the group who never take no for an answer. With the power of the entire party backing them up, whips might just have the power to steer politicians away from their own personal convictions.