The 12 days of Congress’ clichés
“Clichés are clichés for a reason,” says James Wallner, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and former staffer for Republican senators. “They become trite with overuse,” even if the things they’re describing — in this case, mainly fiscal catastrophe and brinkmanship — are supposed to be extraordinary.
A writing teacher would probably say that clichés are weak and best avoided. At the Capitol, however, they are signs of strength.
“They can be weaponized. They can be used to push lawmakers toward a preconceived outcome,” Wallner says, especially if House and Senate leaders get the timing right.
’Tis the season for legislative clichés, and here are a few that Congress can’t seem to live without.
“Poison pill is probably my least favorite,” says R Street’s Wallner. “Instead of voting it down, you’re just told you can’t have that amendment.”
“It suggests that there’s a way to determine the legitimacy of amendments apart from voting on them,” he says.
When doubled up with other phrases, especially ones meant to convey a sense of urgency or impending doom, the clichés can be persuasive, overriding any eye rolls.
“How we talk about the process is designed to ensure certain outcomes prevail,” Wallner says.