One of cardinal rules of linguistics is that the usage of words can and do change over time.
“Clue” once meant a ball of yarn. Given that a clue is metaphorically untangling a ball of yarn, the old definition became archaic while the new one became the only one anyone knew.
“Awful” once meant “reverential or respectful fear.” My fear for the buffet at a cheap hotel is indeed respectful because I treat the possibility of food poisoning with grave respect, but “reverential” isn’t a word I would use in that situation and I would definitely call it “awful” in a different, more modern context.
Meanwhile, “literally” … well, let’s just not discuss the specifics of that one, because this one literally makes me want to get that aforementioned buffet food poisoning rather than contemplate that usage shift.
(Do I mean that literally or do mean “figuratively, but with emphasis?” I guess you’ll never know, which is why this example of definitional change makes me want to literally want to spend taxpayer money to teach millennials the definition of the word “figuratively” and promote the use of it as a substitute for “literally” as a slang word denoting emphasis. I know, I’m a conservative, but this would literally be worth it.)
However, as words that will be tough to effect some kind of legitimate definitional shift for, “partisan” seems a lot more difficult than “literally.” The meaning is actually very explicit. “Partisan,” as an adjective, means “feeling, showing, or deriving from strong and sometimes blind adherence to a particular party, faction, cause, or person.”
To former Vice President Joe Biden, however, a non-partisan vote means getting the left wing of the Democratic Party together with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. Call it a linguistic hunch, but I don’t think this one’s gonna catch on.
Biden’s attempt at introducing a language shift came during an appearance on “Good Morning America” on Friday. Most of it was stuff that was written for him, one feels, because it sounded exactly like what everyone else is saying about impeachment.
One also feels he deviated from the script slightly, which is so seldom a good idea for Joe Biden because it means he’ll talk about how you need to leave the record player on for Republicans at night so they learn new meanings for words.
Like, you know, “partisan.” Biden — incidentally one of the country’s most notorious abusers of the word “literally” — was asked by “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos why he thought a partisan impeachment would have been wrong in 1974 with Nixon and 1998 with Clinton but right in the case of President Donald Trump.
“I find this defense astounding. ‘Yeah, he did it, but it doesn’t matter,'” Biden said. (Which isn’t quite any Republican’s defense, but if that qualified as a Biden gaffe on this occasion we wouldn’t be here frittering away our time talking about it, now, would we?)
“I mean, George Washington is rolling over in his grave in his farewell address saying, ‘The greatest threat to the Republic is being interfered with by foreign countries.”
And then boom went the etymological dynamite.
“It’s not a partisan impeachment. He violated the Constitution, period,” Biden said.
“Even if it’s a party-line vote, it just … reflects on those who know, in fact, in their heart and their head that, in fact, it’s a violation of the Constitution to do what he did.” [Emphasis mine]
Even if it’s a party-line vote, it’s not partisan, even though that’s what partisan literally means — as in literally literally, not just hipster guy talking about how he thought the latest Wes Anderson movie was the literally the worst movie ever — because the vote “reflects on those who know, in fact, in their heart” what Donald Trump did was wrong.
This is the weakest way I’ve heard of explaining away how partisan impeachment was by saying it wasn’t really partisan because, um, shrug emoji?
In short, this is preposterous junk weasel language that somehow manages to sink beneath the dignity of a career politician. It’s like saying a circle isn’t a circle because it doesn’t fit the definition of a square. It’s technically true and deliberately inaccurate at the same time.
I mean, the rest of that clip is wrong in so many ways, and not just because he’s lying about Trump supposedly violating the Constitution or everyone else on the Republican side knowing what they did was wrong.
It’s because Biden appears to be claiming that a party-line vote isn’t a partisan impeachment because — apparently — his party is the one involved, and he wants to pretend the Democratic Party doesn’t do anything for simply “partisan” reasons. America knows better than to believe that. Even Democrats know better than to believe that.
Unfortunately for Biden, acknowledging the truth would basically invalidate everything he’s said about an impeachment being a divisive political decision if it were a party-line vote.
What’s funny is that Biden is not the only major Democrat who’s said something like this in the past. In fact, I can think of one who said something arguably far more problematic for the Democrats’ case. Rep. Jerrold Nadler is one of the House impeachment managers behind the effort to oust Trump, but he had a different view in 1998:
I know “that didn’t age well” isn’t aging too well as sarcastic online commentary, but if you can think of any better summation of that speech that Nadler would literally spend taxpayer dollars to develop a nuclear-powered DeLorean so he could go back in time and erase it, I’d like to hear it.
That DeLorean, alas, isn’t going to come anytime soon. (Besides, I get the feeling our friend, former Sen. Biden of Delaware, would use it to go back and properly cite Neil Kinnock during a certain speech in the 1988 election cycle, which could theoretically change our presidential timeline considerably.)
So now, Biden is trying to turn “partisan” into “bipartisan.” To quote “Mean Girls”: That is so fetch!
In short: Biden, stop trying to make “partisan” bipartisan.
It’s very literally not going to happen.
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