Eric Davis

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI’s week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them. Just enter your email in the box on the top right.

For today’s week-in-review column, Andy details five political clichés that are often used but shouldn’t be.


Assuming you have access to a TV, radio, newspaper, Internet connection or even a mailbox, you’re well aware that it’s campaign season. Which means it’s also cliché season.

Much as I hate it, I’ve learned to accept that politicians stumping for votes are going to resort to using clichés. Still, some clichés are worse than others. And the worst are those that are not merely stale, but are false or misleading as well.

These are the clichés we really need to watch out for, because they do more than simply annoy – they also contribute to an environment in which policy discussions are based on inaccurate assumptions, thus frustrating efforts to arrive at the sound policy solutions we really need.

With that, here are five political clichés that need to go:

“Asking” the wealthy to pay more. This cliché has been a particular favorite of the Obama re-election campaign. Here’s the president during Monday’s presidential debate, on how he would reduce the deficit: “We’ve got to do it in a responsible way, by cutting out spending we don’t need but also asking the wealthiest to pay a little bit more.”

So here’s what I want to know: What if “the wealthiest” politely decline? What if, when “asked,” they say no? The reality is that when President Obama says he’ll “ask” the wealthiest to pay more, what he really means is he’ll “force” them to pay more – under the threat of fine or imprisonment. Whatever your opinion as to whether wealthy Americans should pay higher taxes, can we at least agree that politicians should stop using language that implies taxpayers would have a choice in the matter?

Those phony spending “cuts.” I want you to try an experiment. Next time you’re up for a performance review at your job, ask your boss for a $10,000 raise. When your boss agrees to a $3,000 raise, respond with righteous indignation over having your salary “cut” by $7,000. You’ll probably get fired, but the good news is you’ll have proven yourself highly qualified for a new career in politics.

Politicians, particularly those on the Left, have mastered the art of proposing massive increases in government spending, and then labeling any proposal to increase spending by a lower amount than they seek as a “cut.” NPRI’s own Victor Joecks has been particularly adroit at exposing this ruse (see here and here). Again, we can debate all day about the appropriate spending level for any given government program. But politicians shouldn’t get away with characterizing smaller-than-desired spending increases as “cuts.”

Ending everything as we know it! Whenever someone comes along with an idea to reform a government program, he or she is immediately accused of wanting to “end the program as we know it.” U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Berkley in particular has been fond of saying that this is what her opponent, Sen. Dean Heller, has in store for Medicare. It’s a curious accusation, inasmuch as we “know” Medicare as an inefficiently administered program that’s on the fast track to fiscal insolvency. Reason tells us, then, that ending Medicare “as we know it” is not merely a good idea, but a mathematical necessity.

If you’ve come to know your septic tank as that thing in your yard that starts hemorrhaging its contents every time you flush the toilet, then you probably want to make some structural reforms to “end your septic tank as you know it.” That doesn’t make you anti-septic tank.

Concern for the “middle class.” Here’s a cliché beloved by politicians on both sides of the ideological divide. During the Oct. 16 presidential debate, Mitt Romney said the election is about “who can get the middle class in this country a bright and prosperous future.” A review of the debate transcript shows the phrase “middle class” was used 19 times by Romney, Obama and moderator Candy Crowley combined.

While there’s nothing wrong with pursuing policies that will benefit those citizens whom politicians have in mind when they refer to the “middle class,” the use of the term itself is grating. There’s something about the idea of a “class system” that is fundamentally un-American. This isn’t feudal Europe. While the word “class” suggests a permanent station, the opportunities for upward (and, to be sure, downward) movement on the American economic scale are virtually boundless. Do most Americans really see themselves as members of a particular economic class? They may. But it’s not healthy.

“Paying” for tax cuts. That the term “paying for tax cuts” has even weaseled its way into our political lexicon probably irritates me more than the above four items combined. (And yes, I’m well aware that saving the best for last, as I’ve done here, is in fact a cliché, thank you very much.) Here’s Obama, again on Monday: “Governor Romney’s called for $5 trillion of tax cuts that he says he’s going to pay for by closing deductions.”

The problem with this is that government does not, in fact, “pay” for tax cuts. Taxation involves the government taking, from the private economy, money that an individual or a business has earned. It is that individual or business who, in effect, is “paying” the government. When taxes are reduced, it simply means they pay the government less. It doesn’t invert the payer-payee relationship. Government no more “pays for tax cuts” than a burglar who opts to steal your TV but not your stereo has “given” you a stereo.

Well, I feel much better. How about you? I’m sure you’ve got your own favorite political clichés you’d like to add to the mix. Send ’em my way (, and I’ll highlight some of the best submissions in a future column.

Until next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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