POLITICS: Campaigns

Let's stop saying politicians are 'bickering'

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Georgia,2014 Elections,Campaigns

If I were in charge of the Political Language Censorship Board, I would ban the word “bicker.” It's used, often, to describe arguments between candidates, as in the headline of this Politico article on the single debate in the Republican runoff primary in the race for U.S. senator in Georgia. Judging from the article, the debate was plenty negative, with attacks and countercharges. It doesn't sound like either candidate was very uplifting. But bickering? I think not.

Bicker is a verb we use to characterize pointless arguments between children. Which one gets to play with this toy for the next two minutes? But political campaigns are not pointless. Elections determine which candidates will hold significant public offices. Candidates often differ on important issues. They have different qualifications — or arguable disqualifications. Issue differences are usually smaller in primary contests, and so debates in primary contests, like the one in Georgia, can focus on what might seem to be small matters. But the consequences for the candidates and for public policy are likely to be significant.

Adults get annoyed when children bicker, because they see how they could easily get along. But rival candidates are always going to argue. Campaigns are zero sum games. So, political writers, let’s stop demeaning candidates (even the ones we consider dim-witted) by using a verb that suggests they’re acting like children. If the facts in the article prompt that conclusion, readers will reach it on their own. No need to signal them with “bicker.”

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