This column originally appears in POLITICO
I have always enjoyed the late comedian George Burns’ advice that “the key to success in show business is sincerity. And if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Here in Washington, or “Hollywood East,” the political branch of showbiz has developed its own brand of semantic fakery ... clichés, where true meanings are often camouflaged. As a public service, I’ll list a few with their real definitions.
Bipartisanship: a platitude used by someone who is trying to gain partisan advantage.
Comity: the overarching rule governing debate in the United States Senate. Often confused with “comedy.”
Ethics: whatever you can get away with.
Ethics reform: for whatever you didn’t get away with.
Supplementing my testimony: finally telling the truth. As in Illinois Democratic Sen. Roland Burris’ claiming he was “supplementing” his claims under oath about contacts with the brother of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“We wish him/her well”: seen constantly in today’s economy, the refrain from employers who have just let someone go. What it really means is “may he burn in hell.”
“I will always treasure my memories here”: the refrain from the just-fired employee, saying the same thing about his boss and eternal damnation.
Rahm: a verb meaning to persuade. Usage can range from sweet talk to profane threats, frequently in the same sentence.
Stimulus: a term describing legislation that spends massive amounts of money and includes lots of provisions, snuck in when nobody was looking, to benefit contributors to members of Congress.
Free-market system: an excuse for unregulated thievery.
Bailout: billions upon billions of dollars provided to the most ardent advocates of the free-market system.
Nationalization: another word for “bailout.”
Executive pay: obscenely ridiculous salaries and bonuses, combined with stock subterfuges — compensation packages that business leaders will somehow continue to receive even with restrictions attached. There is an inverse relationship between the amounts they get and how well they have done their jobs.
Plan: a collection of confusing, incomplete generalities, designed to give the appearance that problems are being addressed. Some of the most recent examples have come from the Treasury Department and the auto manufacturers.
You can see that in these changing times, language is evolving. What hasn’t changed is the hope that our president succeeds. That’s the Republicans’ wish, too. In fact, their exact words are "We wish him well". And they meanjust that. Sincerely.