Sun, Feb 26, 2006 - Page 9 News List

No template phrase is left behind when you're on the stump

By William Safire  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

"Let us make sure no Democrat is left behind," said a Florida campaign organizer in the last midterm election.

"No Vote Left Behind" is the name of a hard-money political action committee in Seattle that takes pride in faithfully reporting to the Federal Election Commission.

In Nebraska, three young men dressed in long-tailed tuxedo coats and bow ties protested US President George W. Bush's tax cuts with signs reading, "No millionaire left behind."

On rare occasion, a political phrase becomes a template for a variety of causes. In this case, the originating phrase is "No child left behind," popularized by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund in 1993. Former president Ronald Reagan had told the National Council of Negro Women in 1983 that he had "begun to outline an agenda for excellence in education that will leave no child behind."

Another great template phrase is "We are all ... now."

After the 9/11 attacks, the French newspaper Le Monde, usually disdainful of the US, declared in sympathy, "We are all Americans now."

The Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote, "Midwesterners who long regarded the city as if it were a foreign capital know that `we are all New Yorkers now,'" a phrase used at the same time by Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"We are all Danes now," the Brussels Journal declared this year, asserting freedom-of-expression solidarity with the Danish newspaper that published a group of cartoons causing Muslim groups to launch a furious taking-offense offensive. The same sentence appeared in a headline in the Boston Globe (which evidently admires this construction) over a stirring column by Jeff Jacoby.

The phrase is bottomed on "We are all Keynesians now," startling the economic world when spoken in 1965 by the free-market conservative Milton Friedman; Lord Keynes was the exemplar of the school of government activism in driving the economy. Friedman's temporary concession was repeated in 1972 by president Richard Nixon.

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal headed a 1994 column about the emergence of grass-roots alternatives to the national media with "We are all pundits now." Eleven years later, the headline over an op-ed column in the New York Times by the blogger Andrew Rotherham of the Progressive Policy Institute used the word borrowed from the Hindi with the other template: "No pundit left behind."

Attach reform to a word and it gains a sinister connotation. That's what has happened to earmark, which in political parlance used to mean only "reserved for a particular purpose."

But after Republican Senator John McCain and others denounced the explosion of spending on "pork-barrel projects," Bush joined in with a State of the Union reformation: "I am pleased that members of Congress are working on earmark reform -- because the federal budget has too many special-interest projects."

The word began as a mark -- a cut or a brand -- on the ear of livestock to show ownership. It picked up metaphoric meaning in 1612, in a religious tract about the "eare-markt slaues of Sathan." More recently, the fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff described the House Appropriations Committee as "an earmark favor factory."

Today, the congressional earmark attached to a spending bill, like a tag on the ear of a cow, still has defenders. Republican Representative Roy Blunt said it stopped funds from being spent by Washington bureaucrats "who often have little knowledge of the need or legitimacy of projects they fund." But the phrase earmark reform has a clean-government ring to it, and the definition "particular purpose" has a hard time up against "special interest."

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