An occasional look at the language of politics.

Today's phrase:


Definition: Once strictly an adverbial description of literal motion, now used to suggest progressive movement where the less hopeful fear there is none. Often used when incidents "on the ground," another Stump Speech favorite, suggest post-Saddam Iraq might be, in fact, going backward.

Recent examples: "Well, I think that the president made a serious detail presentation," Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Tom Diemer says on CNN, speaking about President Bush's recent prime-time speech on Iraq, "and I think what he was trying to convey was that things are under control, there is a plan, we're going forward."

Or, from White House communications director Dan Bartlett, on "Today," talking about "the fact that we will have a new relationship going forward, and where the Iraqi people are making a lot of the decisions."

In recent briefings, White House press secretary Scott McClellan has talked up "a leading role for the United Nations in Iraq going forward on the political process," "our strategy going forward," and, even aboard Air Force One, which goes forward very, very quickly, a reserve fund for military affairs "to make sure that there is no disruption, in terms of funding or resources for our troops, going forward in Iraq."

Antonyms: Stalled, bogged down, as in Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) telling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "You don't have security. In fact, we're bogged down." Or, even worse, going backward, as in likely Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry saying of the president, "He can't go out and talk to people about making the environment better, because he's . . . going backwards on forest policy." Bush, who likes to measure the ground he's covering when he jogs, explained to a campaign audience in Prairie du Chien, Wis., the vagaries of economic recovery: "Starting in early 2001, we went through a recession. That means we're going backward."

Interpretation: "Going forward" conveys a resilience of growth and change and hope without the giddiness of, say, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." Going forward is what we do, as sturdy optimistic Americans, when we can't cut and run.

Going forward "takes us to the future," says Jim Dyke, communications director of the Republican National Committee. "It takes us away from the past." It is like former President Clinton "building the bridge to the 21st century," but we can't go forward over that bridge anymore, says Dyke. "We can't use it. It's a Clinton bridge. We have to go forward in a spaceship" -- or perhaps a reinforced Hummer.

-- Ann Gerhart

Spokesman Scott McClellan, a "forward" thinker.