Political Phrasebook: Translating the Candidates

The language of politics is riddled with teasing and diversions. Fluency is rare and, when achieved, well-guarded. Given the precious nature of the rabble, there's little incentive to share such hard-won secrets with a curious public. Rather, the tradition is to cover one's tracks, and head for the nearest campaign or consulting firms.

So for you, dear reader, traveler on this lonely, pockmarked road, here is a phrasebook, a map, of sorts, to help you navigate the next 77 days.

Below is a list of 25 things you'll hear, followed by what's really being said. Learn these terms and you should be able to order a meal in Election Land with the relative ease of a native.

Hello!: This is a swing state. So I'm here.

The American people want ...: Me, my party, and our political base want ...

We need to have a national discussion about ...: We're not doing anything about this, so let's yell a bit and move on.

Let's take back Washington: I'm not the incumbent.

The debt is mounting, threatening the very foundation of the country and our children's futures ...: Let's spend more! – or – Let's lower taxes!

The liberal elite media: The media (if you are a Republican.)

Conservative propaganda machine: The media (if you are a Democrat.)

My opponent is engaging in class warfare: My opponent is addressing the economic divide in this country, however tepidly.

My opponent has refused to make difficult decisions: My opponent hasn't done what I would maybe do.

The middle class is struggling! We need to strengthen/rebuild it: Having trouble paying your bills? That stinks that my opponent did that to you. And America.

We want to give you choices: The government isn't paying for that anymore.

We will unite America!: (Applause now!)

I want to thank your outstanding governor-mayor-school bus driver here: Here is a person you guys like, who is willing to stand on a stage with me. I can't be that bad!

The stakes in this election could not be bigger: Vote for me or we're all in big trouble.

We need to restore that American dream: I'd like to take you back to a time and place that never actually existed.

There are no quick fixes to the problems we face: This problem is way bigger than me, so I'm actually not going to promise anything crazy here.

American workers are the best in the world: It's not you, baby, it's global economic dynamics.

That's why I'm running for office: As for how and with what resources, well, that's a whole other story.

We're going to cut spending that we don't need: We're going to cut spending in other places. Not here. Promise!

These are tough times for people across (add state name here): If you are unemployed, I acknowledge that.

This is a time for telling hard truths: The foremost of which is that the other guy really screwed up.

He and I have very different visions for America: By "very different," I mean "slightly different" on the whole, with the exception of certain wedge issues.

We need to hold China responsible and make them accountable: Just like anyone would with someone they owe lots of money.

Families balance their checkbooks, government should, too: This might be a false equivalence, but that's beside the point. You're awesome and the government is not. Vote for me?

We have to encourage entrepreneurs and small-business owners, keep their taxes down, get regulators off their backs and let them fly: All that, and multinational corporations, too.