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'Out of the Mainstream': Do You Catch Their Drift?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page C01

An occasional look at the language of politics

Today's phrase:


Definition: Code phrase deployed to tag political opponents as weird, freaky, radical, not in the right clique and possibly un-American.

Recent examples: Oh, how the Bushies love this one, particularly White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who reached for it repeatedly a few weeks ago, twice in one sentence: "Senator Kerry does not want to discuss his out-of-the-mainstream record in the Senate, and he does not want to discuss his out-of-the-mainstream views, and he has done nothing to offer the American people an agenda for where he wants to lead the country."

President Bush last week referred to Kerry and his vote against banning the procedure known as partial-birth abortion: "He's out of the -- really out of the mainstream, it seems like to me, on that issue." Karl Rove, over the weekend, gave this taste of what's to come in the final three weeks: Kerry "is a typical Massachusetts, out-of-the-mainstream Massachusetts liberal, and that's not what he wants people to recognize here as we go down the homestretch."

And when several women widowed by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks announced their support for Kerry, Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt told the Dallas Morning News the women's views were "outside the mainstream."

Kerry surrogates use it less, but Joe Lockhart, on ABC's "This Week," threw it into his "W Stands for Wrong" list: "Wrong policies, too conservative, out of the mainstream . . ."

Interpretation: "It's funny," says Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America." Outside-the-mainstream labeling is "the opposite of what prevails in consumer culture, where every product is extreme and edgy and alternative and makes you an individual and puts you outside the mainstream. That's what sells best. But not in politics."

But if each camp charges the other with being outside the mainstream, who's left inside it? Such rhetoric is "a logical fallacy," says Michael Peroutka, running for president in 38 states on the Constitution Party ticket. With a platform that pledges to abolish the Education Department, prohibit women in the military, deport all illegal immigrants and base government on the word of God, he hears all the time that he's the one out of the mainstream.

"We are right in harmony with the founding principles of America," Peroutka says. Bush and Kerry "both are members of Skull and Bones, both are committed to an internationalist agenda and a new world order, issues that are really antithetical to the American view of constitutional principles. Why am I the one on the fringe?"

-- Ann Gerhart

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