In 2008, perhaps more than any year in history, words made a huge difference in politics. If I had to pick one word that caused the biggest stir, my choice would be: 'lipstick.' Yes, ma'am. Sarah Palin's 'lipstick-on-a-pit-bull' moment at the 2008 Republican Convention rocketed her to the center of American life faster than Tesla Roadster, and will likely keep her there longer than most people would prefer. Of course, more important than 'lipstick,' Barack Obama built the most significant election campaign in history out of the simple phrase: 'yes we can'--three little words whose iconic status will take up a well-deserved spot for posterity alongside 'I have a dream' and 'Nothing to fear, but fear itself.' Yep, 2008 was a big year. But what can we expect in 2009?
Without further ado, here are the predictions from Frameshop of 10 words and phrases that will shape politics in 2009.
With so many voters believing they elected Barack Obama to get the U.S. out of Iraq, one of the first political phrases to be rolled out by the new administration will try to control expectations at home while setting in motion policy change abroad. Already, the Obama-Biden transition team is using the word 'phased' to describe their gradual approach on a variety of policy areas, but the most prominent example is their proposal for Iraq. 'Phased Withdrawal,' will no doubt be presented to the American public early and often in 2009 and, as one might expect, will not satisfy very many people anywhere in the political spectrum. Right-wing pundits will seize upon the phrase to attack Obama for being weak on defense. Left-wing pundits will focus on the phrase to critique Obama for moving too slowly to end the U.S. occupation. Oh, what a mess this debate will be.
Health insurance is probably the influenza-stricken elephant in the room that nobody in American politics really wants to acknowledge, but this year the problem will grow too great to ignore. With so many layoffs, the number of Americans without insurance will spike to even more shameful heights. And yet, the real issue that will drive this discussion is not the un-insured, but the 'under-insured.' This phrase will seize public attention because it will describe the rising panic amongst middle class families and retirees who have insurance, but are discovering at alarming rate that their coverage does not meet their needs. The realization that most people are 'under-insured' will sweep through America this year, leading to the first big moment of anxiety and impatience with Congress. While politicians have been able to hold the 'un-insured' at arms length, the 'under-insured' are increasingly organized and far more adept at making their concerns heard by politicians.
With President Obama promising to invest massive amounts of money in public works projects, the big question on every state contractor's mind will be: Where's mine? In an effort to explain to the public why some projects will get money sooner than others, the new administration and Congress will inject 'shovel-ready' into the media. 'Shovel-ready' is a great political phrase because it turns a very abstract concept--funding priority--into a very concrete image: a steam shovel dropping its blade into the ground. Moreover, by prioritizing projects that are 'shovel-ready,' the Obama administration will be able to re-frame economic investment in relatively non-political terms. Despite having spoken about investing in 'green jobs,' the real test will be readiness, not environment--pragmatism, not ideology. As one might expect, some green projects will be funded right away, but many will be not. Hence the phrase 'shovel-ready' will make environmental policy wonks (ehem...) hot under the collar.
No matter how much Barack Obama says he supports civil unions for same sex couples, his inclusion of Rick Warren in the inauguration ceremony guarantees the the phrase 'civil rights' will dominate political debate for at least the first few months of 2009. The terms of this debate have already been put in place by the 'Prop-8' campaign in California, and the fire will continue to spread. On on side, politically invested church group call for the 'definition of marriage to be protected,' claiming (falsely...as it happens) that 'marriage' has had the same meaning for 5,000 years (which, of course, it has not). On the other side, activists for marriage equality call for the elimination of any barriers to civil rights. This debate has an unexpected, if not very uncomfortable, aspect to it. Many people who see their own identities through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement in the South, are offended by efforts to frame marriage quality in terms of 'civil rights.' Given this situation, it is not difficult to predict many talking-head debates on the meaning of 'civil rights' to come in 2009.
Believe it or not, one of the biggest trends of 2009 could be: drinking fountains. The reason is that the phrase 'bottled water' is set to explode in the media as the environmental target for the year. Driven by activists in the Great Lakes region and by environmental policy groups in DC, the anti-bottled water movement already has great momentum, but will take off big for summer. Want to be cool at school this year? Better get yourself an custom-printed, eco-friendly SIGG bottle. Just like Exxon became the enemy of the clean energy movement, companies like Perrier will be the new environmental enemy of 2009. It is likely that by the end of 2009, the White House and Congress will be pressured to eliminate bottled water altogether and return to water in sweaty pitchers and dripping glasses. Why? Because the critique of 'bottled water' is straightforward and the solution is easy as pouring a glass of water. Actually, the solution is pouring a glass of water.
With credit card debt rising and credit card companies increasingly clamping down on delinquent accounts, a big story for consumer politics in 2009 will be 'layaway' programs at retailers. 'Layaway' is a ready made media feeding trough for a few reasons. First, it harkens back to days of yore when, instead of charging them to credit cards, Americans saved money to buy the things they could not afford ("Tell us another story, Grandpa!"). Second, while layaway works great for small retail items like toasters and TV, it is breeding ground for scams on large items like new cars. Third, talking about layaway programs opens onto all kinds of political topics: middle class struggle, Depression-era conditions, bailout failure, and so forth. By the end of 2009, the media-watching public can at least one high-profile story where a major retailer saved themselves from bankruptcy by promoting layaway on merchandise. Politicians will not be able to resist talking about 'layaway' in this environment, because it provides a way to talk about 'responsibility' that is both new and old at the same time.
Given all the hoopla over print newspapers failing in the economic downturn, the phrase 'digital delivery' will likely get lots of play in 2009. Telling your readers that the paper that has always been tossed on
their lawn by a pimply 13 year-old will now switch to 'digital delivery' is a way of saying, "We're bankrupt, but we're not giving up!" But the larger discussion, here, is a topic that makes for good media banter: citizen journalists stealing market share from brick-and-mortar news outfits. Moreover, Barack Obama is likely to be the most tech-savvy President of all time, and will no doubt be spotted in 2009 carrying a Kindle as he crosses the White House lawn en route to Camp David. This incident will spark a whole series of media reports on the future of printed news and the rise of---'digital delivery.' It may not seem like a big political story at first, but the coverage will lead to discussions between bloggers and print journalists about the future of political journalism, and likely open up the can of worms about the credentialing of bloggers at the White House and other high-profile venue.
Americans already weary from trying to learn the names of foreign leaders and towns will need to swot up on Afghanistan once Barack Obama takes office. Switching the focus of U.S. foreign policy from Iraq to Afghanistan is a slow moving freight-train that Democrats have been riding for several years, but it will finally happen in 2009. As a result, the White House will need to inform the public on the new details of their policy, thereby pushing a host of names and places into the media. Inevitably, there will be some setbacks and scandals as well. As in any new military focus, Afghanistan is destined to create controversy in 2009. Stay tuned, and keep your phonetic dictionary close at hand.
"Zero To Five"
Although it may sound like a performance description for a new GM hybrid, 'zero to five' will be the heading used by the Obama-Biden administration for a bunch of education policy proposals aimed at boosting pre-pre-school programs for American toddlers. By increasing funding for Head Start programs, day care, the new administration hopes to increase the number of working class children who succeed in school right out of the gate. What could be controversial about this, you ask? Shrinking the federal government's role in the education of America's children is a rallying cry for right-wing pundits, who will no doubt find a way to attack the new administration's 'zero to five' policies as being some sinister effort to 'indoctrinate' kids into communism (e.g.). Pre-school children at the center of a right-wing media storm in 2009? Stranger things have happened.
Global warming will continue to be a big issue in 2009, but the word 'sunlight' will take on a new meaning as a result of the massive effort by the Obama administration to include the public in the process of turning proposals into policy and law. Already, the administration has set up an interactive website that allows citizens to ask questions about current issue, but the term 'sunlight' generally means 'secrecy and mystery begone.' Federal contracts, corporate tax loopholes, lobbying influence, public spending, and the crafting of legislation are among the many things the Obama administration plans to expose to 'sunlight.' Time will tell exactly how the process of governing will or will not change as a result of this new openness to and engagement with the public. Meanwhile, including voters in the process of governing and shining 'light' on the scampering special interests who live in the dark corners of Washington--all that will make for plenty of good news copy in the months ahead, particularly on the Sunday talk shows. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the likes of Wolf Blitzer asking a White House spokesperson the ill-informed, but inevitable question, "Are you really going to hand over governing decisions to members of the general public?" Ah, yes. In 2009, the mainstream media will be roughly the same as it was in 2008. Such is life.
(cross posted from Frameshop)