Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.
In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.
How does a pop song from a South Korean musician garner nearly a billion hits on Youtube? If we could answer that, some media conglomerate would have packaged and trademarked it by now. As for this song in particular, I think it points to our desperate need for something fun and light to help distract us from the present challenges. Escapist entertainment booms, after all, when the future is hazy at best, and dire at worst. Enter: PSY and his catchy bubblegum ditty and easily mimicked dance – the Macarena of the new millennium.
What happens when a gentrified career politician from a patriarchal religion tries to sound progressive on matters of gender? Phrases like this! Though not the biggest gaffe of his campaign, Romney’s debate flub further exposed how out of touch the GOP candidate was with what it means to live in a more pluralistic, egalitarian society. Following is the full statement:
“We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet [in Massachusetts]. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
When asked which three federal agencies he would eliminate, GOP contender Rick Perry came up one agency short:
“I would do away with the Education, the, uh, Commerce, and, let’s see. I can’t. The third one I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Governor. It tolls for thee.
Perhaps not as well known as the other quotes and phrases, but this phrase from a teary four-year-old Abigael Evans to her mom speaks volumes baout the entire nation’s campaign fatigue. Asked by her mom why she was crying, she responded, between sobs:
“I’m tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney.”
Preach it, sister.
Though speaking to the myth of the so-called bootstrapped self-made man, President Obama got nailed for sounding anti-business in one of his campaign stump speeches.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”
To borrow a phrase from Mr. Perry – oops.
It’s one thing to take a hard pro-life line in the political world; it’s entirely another as a man to speak both the the biology of women’s reproductive systems while also dropping the less-than-sensitive phrase, “legitimate rape.” The Republican representative successfully alienated himself from his fellow republicans and poured fuel on the democratic fire, claiming that the GOP was waging a “war on women.” Here’s the full quote from Akin on a TV talk show, when asked about the validity of allowing abortion in the case of rape:
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
While Governor Romney did pretty well on his own producing gaffes, his political strategists were intent on not being outdone. In this particular case, a campaign staffer was caught speaking the truth, though perhaps a little bit too frankly. Yes, we all know that candidates present one platform to win their party’s nomination and another entirely to win the general election. But part of the game is the expectation that candidates will pretend that nothing has changed. Here’s Fehrnstrom’s quote:
“You hit a reset button for the fall campaign; everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”
How dare he speak with such candor! Political suicide, indeed.
On occasion, opportunistic political attacks backfire. Such was the case when Mitt Romney tried to accuse Obama of waiting too long to claim the attack on the American embassy in Libya was an act of terror. Obama recognized the Governor was digging himself a hole and wisely stood back and let him go at it. The exchange speaks for itself:
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I – I certainly do. I certainly do. I – I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: I – I – I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It – he did in fact, sir.
So let me – let me call it an act of terrorism –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
Little did the Fed Chairman know he was coining one of the hottest buzz phrases of the year while offering his report in late February to the House Financial services Committee. The statement was referring to the substantial mandatory revenue increases and spending cuts that would kick in as of this January if the Executive and Legislative branches couldn’t come to an agreement about fiscal policy:
“Under current law, on January 1st, 2013, there is going to be a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases.”
Not exactly as fun as “Gangnam Style,” but certainly at least as relevant.
It’s a curious concoction of political pandering, out-of-context quoting and false corollaries that led to the now-infamous “47 percent” phrase. Yes, Romney falsely drew parallels between those who don’t pay income taxes and those who receive government support, but Mother Jones reveled in sharing the seemingly classist comments with the world. Here’s the excerpt from the private fundraiser speech in Boca Raton:
“There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. … These are people who pay no income tax. … and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Combine this with his binders full of women and you have a candidate who has successfully alienated women, younger voters and much of the middle class.