Long, long ago — the ’70s at least, probably during his ’76 run at the presidency — I read a magazine article about Jerry Brown (the slacker blogger — last post, Oct. 2005). It was one of the first things I ever read about him, as I recall. More to the point, it was the first time I ever ran across the term, "buzzword." (It’s even been suggested that he coined the term, that it’s "an old Jerry Brown term for words/phrases that go buzz in your head"".
It was used in the context of showing what a hip, intellectual, cool, detached kind of guy Brown was. It opened, in New Journalism style, with an anecdote that had him seated in front of a TV watching his own TV ad. He was riveted to the tube, and offering a running commentary that consisted of making a slashing or chopping motion with his hand and calling out "Buzzword!" with satisfaction each time the ad used a term to which that definition applied: "Buzzword…. buzzword, buzzword, buzzword!" Chop, slash.
It was probably in either Esquire or Rolling Stone, to list the publications I read at the time that would have been likely to run a piece like that. If anyone can refer me to it, I’d be interested to go back and read it again.
So what got me to thinking about that? Nothing much. I got a press release from the Romney campaign that consisted of nothing more than this statement (I think it was related to the debate yesterday):
A STATEMENT FROM SENATOR JIM DEMINT (R-SC)
"The fact is our federal government has gotten too big, taxes are too high and federal spending is way out of control. This is why Governor Romney believes Republicans must first make changes in our own house, because as he said, ‘Change must begin with us.’ Today, Mitt Romney once again showed that he is the real candidate of change for fiscal conservatives and that is why I am proud to support his candidacy."
— Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)
October 9, 2007
… and I was struck, for about the billionth time, with the fact that our most ideological politicians — from DeMint to Pelosi — often seem to communicate almost entirely by way of buzzwords and cant phrases.
There were no specifics in that statement. No reference to a particular point made about a particular situation. Just broad generalities of the sort that communicate (I suppose) to like-minded ideologues but one message:
I’m one of you. I speak your language. So does this other guy.
The statement is as bland and ignorable as beige wallpaper, but it is apparently designed to go "buzz" in somebody’s head.
No attempt to cite an example of something government does that is unnecessary (even thought it would be easy, even for an anti-libertarian such as myself), or a tax that’s too high or an economic argument demonstrating why it’s too high, or anything. Just a sort of bumper-sticker sentiment, too boring in its repetitiveness even to evoke a high-five from the truest of true believers; it was worth at the VERY most a slight nod.
When I read non-statement statements such as that, I often wonder whether the person who typed it and sent it out thought, at any point in that process, "This is a useless exercise. It offers nothing to the debate, for good or ill." Or did he or she think, "Well, at least I’m getting paid for this."
Or perhaps: "Buzzword!" Slash, chop. "Buzzword, buzzword, buzzword!"