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Friday, September 12, 2008
Politics ... Society ...

Human beings are herd animals, subject to herd instincts. It’s hard to be a human being and not to start imitating the other humans around you, especially the stronger and more attractive humans. This applies to choice of clothes, choice of mannerisms, and choice of words. At some point these choices pick up social momentum and become fashions. Fashions come and go, to be replaced for no good reason after a few weeks or months by another catchy song or witty phrase or tie width.

A recent fashion in the realm of words is the term “double down”. The expression comes from blackjack, a casino card game. In blackjack, you usually get three cards from the dealer, and the sum point value of those cards determines if you win or lose your bet. After you have gotten two of the three cards, you have the option of “doubling down”, or doubling your bet, based on your revised estimates of winning after knowing what your first two cards are. In other words, doubling down means that you put more at stake.

Within the past two months, this term has become popular in the political arena. You see it or hear it quite frequently from political commentators, especially with regard to the presidential campaign. It’s become what’s known as a “meme”. Here are some examples:

“Does he double down on experience?” (William Kristol, cited in Politico)

“Applying the same double-down formula to Obama, three likely contenders emerge.” (Newsweek)

“Instead of backing down, Obama asked his foreign-policy team to double down.” (American Prospect)

“Okay, so he’s double down here on his own gaffe” (Rush Limbaugh)

“it seems likely that they will want a running mate who enables him to double down on that quality” (NY Times, “The Caucus”)

“That exhausted ‘double-down’ metaphor’s like the signature line of his Presidency.” (comment about G.W. Bush on DailyKos).

“the President wanted to double down and continue an open-ended policy” (Obama, Fox News interview)

“I don’t think the American people can afford to double-down on the failed health care policies of the Bush Administration.” (Obama)

“He wants to continue the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans then double down and give tax cuts to oil companies.” (Obama)

“yet John McCain actually wants to double down on the failed policies that have done so little to help ordinary Americans” (Obama again – hmmm, are we detecting a trend here?)

Yep, it looks as if Barack Obama is the culprit; not long ago he started using this phrase to attack his opponents. It soon became “cool”; everyone else started complementing Obama by parroting him. Obama has had an incredibly powerful effect on his supporters and even his admiring non-supporters; so many people think so much of him that he’s triggered off a language fad. Gee, not even Bill Clinton could do that! Whatever happens to Obama this November, we won’t soon forget him.

But even though more of his cards are now face-up on the table, it remains to be seen whether America will double down with Obama, or pull its bet on him. Stay tuned.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:41 pm      

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