Buzzword. Buzzword, buzzword, buzzword!

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):

"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!"

3 thoughts on “Buzzword. Buzzword, buzzword, buzzword!

  1. bud

    Brad, now you know how I feel whenever I hear the words: “We must win in Iraq”. That’s an expression that has absolutely no useful value. Another is when I hear people suggesting that the reason we have so many traffic crashes in South Carolina is because, “we have too many bad drivers”. These kinds of expressions may sound good but they are of no real value. It’s kind of like hearing someone’s fingernails scrapping across the blackboard. Skreeeeeeeeeeeech! Yikes.

  2. Doug Ross

    Here’s what a non-Libertarian government gets you (from Larry Kudlow, NRO):
    When you look at the non-defense, non-security budget between FY 2001 and FY 2007 — when the GOP controlled three houses in Washington — spending rose roughly $550 billion dollars. That’s a whopping 38 percent, or 5.5 percent each year. It’s also more than twice the 2.4 percent inflation rate during that period.
    The Education Department was by far the biggest transgressor. It posted an alarming yearly growth of 11.4 percent. Other obvious abusers include the Interior Department, which grew at 5.8 percent, and Transportation, which came in at 4.4 percent. Rounding out the profligate herd was Energy with 5.1 percent; Agriculture at 4.5 percent; and HUD at 4 percent. Every single one of these government agencies ballooned its budget well beyond the inflation rate.
    So what exactly have we got from that huge increase in spending on the Department of Education? Anyone, anyone, Bueller?

  3. Brad Warthen

    Ferris is out sick.

    But hey, I’m with you on the U.S. Dept. of Education — do away with it. But that’s not about ideology; it’s about a belief in the differing roles of different levels of government (which is actually consistent with communitarianism; I first read the term "subsidiarity" in The Good Society). Education is a state responsibility; the feds have NO business mixing into it. And they generally screw it up when they do.

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