If you’re just getting started in practical politics in Massachusetts, you may hear people using certain words and abbreviations with which you’re not familiar. Here are some practical terms you may see or hear.
Absentee and Early Voting
Walking door-to-door, visiting voters in their houses, putting campaign “lit” directly into their hands, if possible. (This activity is sometimes called “door-knocking” or “block-walking”.)
“Committee To Elect Candidate’s Name”: a typical name of the legal entity that manages the money for a political campaign.
Dialing for Dollars (an activity of making telephone calls to possible campaign contributors).
A piece of campaign literature made with a hook cutout, ready to be hung on a doorknob.
Federal Elections Commission.
Get Out The Vote (a set of activities intended to induce voters to succeed in casting ballots for a particular set of candidates).
“Literature” — that is, any campaign material printed on paper for distribution to voters.
An activity of delivering campaign literature to voters’ houses without personal interaction.
Letter to the Editor (of a newspaper, urging its readers to support some candidate or cause).
Meet and Greet (an informal event at which voters can meet a candidate, often held in a private home with neighbors invited).
Massachusetts General Laws (often seen with periods, as “M.G.L.”).
In Massachusetts, political-party committees are regulated by legal provisions in chapter ”M.G.L. c.52”.
A generic term which can refer to a Town, Ward, or City party committee.
Neighborhood Captain (or “Neighborhood Coordinator”).
Office of Campaign and Political Finance (part of Massachusetts state government, regulates elections).
Political Action Committee.
PACs are intended to be independent from campaign organizations and are forbidden from coordinating efforts with a campaign. With respect to elections, PACs typically raise funds and run advertisments intended to influence opinion.
Because PACs operate under rules in section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service regulations, they are sometimes called “527 groups”.
A small piece of “lit” designed to be handed to an voter, same thing as “push card”.
An activity in which a group of people (either paid staff or volunteers) are organized
to make voice telephone calls to potential voters, typically following a pre-planned script
and possibly assisted by some computer software or smartphone app.
The intended purpose of a phone-banking effort may be to identify voter sympathies, to promote a particular candidate, to ask for donations, or to just remind potential voters to become actual voters.
(Sometimes a campaign is tempted to use an alternative technique that substitutes impersonal machine-generated voices for the flesh-and-blood humans, accepting the possibility that voters could become more irritated than persuaded by such robo-calling.)
A small piece of “lit” designed to be handed to a voter, same thing as “palm card”.
Republican City Committee (which is constituted of members of the multiple ward committees).
A practice of using computer-generated (“robot”) voices to
automatically place telephone calls to potential voters, typically
to urge support for some candidate or cause.
The likelihood of annoying voters limits the usefulness of this practice. See also “Phone Banking” above.
Republican Town Committee (organizes Republicans in a town).
Republican Ward Committee (organizes Republicans in a single ward of a city).
A voter handout containing a list of all the party’s candidates who appear on the election ballot. (Ideally, the list is particularized for one town or ward.)
In Massachusetts politics, a standout is not some paradigm of preeminence, but rather is an activity in which volunteers “stand out” in a publicly visible location and hold up signs and placards for passers-by to see, in support of their cause or candidate.
Abbreviation for “Unenrolled”, the technically precise term for a voter who
is not registered in any party.
(Often such voters call themselves “independents”, but a conversation can become confused when the talk concerns not only true party-un-affiliated voters but also voters who are affiliated with Evan Falchuk’s “United Independent Party” or any of several other organized “Independent” parties. Another related term is NAV, “Non-Affiliated Voter”.)
Ward or Town Committee.
American Descendents of Slavery: a term popularized by YouTube video-bloggers Antonio Moore (a Los Angeles lawyer) and Yvette Carnell (a former Congressional political staffer). In 2021, Moore and Carnell engaged in a legal action versus the Harvard-Kennedy School of Government, which led to the retraction of a research publication by HKSG.
Inspired by the artificial grass developed for the first completely indoor sports stadium, the Houston Astrodome, political Astroturf is an idea or movement which presents the appearance of having been started by a local group of “concerned citizens”, but which in reality is sponsored and controlled by some hidden organization or person — whose real agenda is also hidden.
(How can you tell if some political initiative is Astroturf, when its leaders don’t want you to know? Here’s something to watch for: whenever the group conducts a rally or public protest, check the signs being carried by the protesters. Do the signs look like displays at an elementary-school science fair? Are they unevenly lettered, wildly varied in design, and held together with duct tape? If so, it’s probably a real grass-roots movement. Or, are all the protesters holding signs that are evenly symmetric, on which the machine-generated typography is accented by sleek graphics and coordinated colors? Good chance it’s Astroturf.)
Automatic Voter Registration
By Any Means Necessary (often used to describe how far-Left activists strive to defeat conservatives).
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. (Often referred to as the “McCain-Feingold Act”, this federal law was promoted as a campaign-finance reform. As enacted, the law prohibited national political-party committees (e.g., the RNC) from raising or spending any money which was not limited by federal regulation — even for use in state or local elections. The BCRA originally also put severe limits on issue-advocacy advertising, but this provision was overturned as a violation of free-speech rights by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United v. FEC decision of 2010.
The state capitol of Massachusetts (the “State House”) is located in Boston on a high point of ground called Beacon Hill. In this building are offices for the Governor of the Commonwealth and for many (though not all) other members of the executive branch, plus the chambers where the two houses of the state legislature meet. We may casually refer to the whole state government by saying “on Beacon Hill”, but sometimes by this we mean just the legislature.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (a racial classification)
A “carpet bag” is a soft-sided suitcase or satchel made out of carpet.
In American history, after the Civil War, some opportunistic politicians from
the northern states relocated (while carrying luggage of that type) to
the defeated southern states with the intention of gaining political power
under the conditions of Reconstruction.
In modern usage a “carpetbagger” is any person who relocates to a different state for the chief purpose of running for political office in the new jurisdiction. The most successful carpetbagger in modern times is Hillary Clinton, who transferred her official domicile from Arkansas to New York and from there was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Citizens for Limited Taxation (Massachusetts taxpayers organization active from 1974 until December 2022; the late Barbara Anderson was CLT’s best-known activist.)
In Massachusetts, very few public things are still organized according to county. The official political-party organizations exist at the town, ward, city, and state levels. (Thus county party committees, which are important in most other states, have no official standing in Massachusetts. However, a few county-level auxiliaries remain, such as the Norfolk County Republican Committee and the Middlesex Republican Club.)
Conservative Political Action Conference.
Critical Race Theory. An academic discipline that describes most public activity in terms of racial prejudice; the term is often extended to denote the political community of activism based on the academic theory.
A word brought into the English language from Russian, a direct transliteration
of the word “Dezinformatsiya”, part of the tradecraft of
the KGB spies of the old USSR.
The word came into frequent use during the “Russian Collusion” accusation frenzy mounted against President Trump (until the Mueller Report shattered it). Ironically, the Russian Collusion charges themselves are now known to have been entirely constructed from Disinformation (the “Steele Dossier”) generated by agents hired by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Here’s how the KGB defined “Dezinformatsiya”, in its own 1984 lexicon:
“Misleading by means of false information; A form of intelligence
work in the Active Measures field, which consists of the secret
channeling towards an adversary of false information, especially
prepared materials and fabricated documents designed to mislead
him and prompt him to take decisions and measures which fit with
the plans and intentions of the Intelligence Service.”
(That is, the plans and intentions of the KGB.)
More generally, Leftist partisans frequently attempt to discredit and censor any report they dislike by labeling the report as Disinformation.
Term derived from "docs", as in "documents". The practice of discovering private, possibly sensitive, personal information about an adversary and then (without permission) revealing it to the world via Internet social media. The person being doxxed may then suffer various consequences, ranging from mere embarrassment up to financial and even physical harm. (See also “OSINT” below.)
An activity or task conducted by one interest group or government, yet made to appear as though it were sponsored by another interest group or government. The name was derived from a tactic of naval warfare during the 18th and 19th centuries. A warship intending to launch an an attack on another vessel would first maneuver for position while flying a deceptive flag ostensibly showing affiliation with a nation friendly or neutral to the target vessel, but then — just prior to opening fire — the attacking ship would hoist a new flag displaying its real national allegiance.
A false-flag operation is intentionally desceptive. Perpetrators seldom admit to having used such a disreputable tactic. The targets may never find out what hit them! However, false-flag operations sometimes can be recognized in political conflict. In 2017, a documented, literal instance was launched at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Two agents of Americans Take Action, an organization working to promote the impeachment of then-President Donald Trump, sneaked into the convention hall, carrying 1,000 red-white-and-blue flags which were imprinted with the name “TRUMP”, and distributed them to Trump-supporting conference attendees, who waved them enthusiastically. The trick was that the free flags were the flags of the Russian Federation — and the operation was intended to link Trump with the alleged “Russian Collusion”.
(A related political term:
The Foreign Agents Registration Act is a law in the United States (22 U.S.C. § 611-621) enacted in 1938 to require individuals doing political or advocacy work on behalf of foreign entities in the United States to register with the Department of Justice and to disclose their relationship, activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of their activities.
The Freedom of Information Act is a law in the United States (5 U.S.C. § 552) which requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased or uncirculated information and documents controlled by the U.S. government, state, or other public authority upon request. (Although certain categories of information are exempted from disclosure.)
For Official Use Only (a government directive for handling sensitive information)
In public life, a gadfly is a person who is always asking questions and pointing out problems, but who never contributes ideas or effort for solving the problems.
Here’s a frequent point of confusion. The official name of the state legislature
is the General Court of Massachusetts. That’s right, in the
government of Massachusetts, the representative body that makes the laws
is called a “court” — even though we normally think of a court
as a body that interprets existing law.
The odd name is an inheritance from a 17th-Century practice in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when the colonial assembly did, in fact, sometimes serve as a kind of judicial court of appeals. In 1780, when John Adams was drafting a new state constitution for Massachusetts, he only slightly modified a name which had been already in use for over 150 years under several different systems of colonial government.
In the 21st Century, in day-to-day use, most people just say "state legislature" to describe the law-making part of the state government, which consists of the State House of Representatives and the State Senate. However, when you go to vote in the state election, look carefully at your ballot and you’ll see that you are voting for candidates for the offices of “Representative in General Court” and “Senator in General Court”.
In public life, a
is a person who advocates loosely defined “Good Government” or “Good Governance”.
The term came into use in 1894, when “Good Government Clubs” were formed in New York City to oppose the Tammany Hall (Democrat) political machine.
Grand Old Party (historic nickname for the Republican Party of Lincoln, founded in 1854).
What “Astroturf” pretends to be: an effort or group which grows organically and is based on the lives and views of ordinary people, as grass grows naturally in soil, rather than being an artificial construct installed by outside agents.
Intellectual Dark Web: a loosely associated group of independent-minded academics and journalists who reject the orthodox Leftism of Critical Race Theory, enforced Diversity and Equity, Queer/Transgenderism, and Climate Alarmism.
Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee(See also “PAC” below.)
During the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, cult leader Jim Jones persuaded his followers to have their children imbibe a grape-flavored instant drink laced with cyanide and Valium, thereby killing them. More recently, persons who commit themselves to ideas which are initially titillating yet ultimately destructive are said to have “drunk the Kool-Aid”.
Live-Action Role Playing, a recreational activity. In politics, a person whose run for office seems not to be seriously intended may be described as “LARPing as a candidate”.
The Lobbying Disclosure Act is a law in the United States (2 U.S.C. § 1601) enacted in 1995; the law requires lobbying firms and organizations to register and file reports of the lobbying activities and of certain contributions and expenses with the Secretary of the Senate and with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Low-Information Voter (“Low-Info” Voter). A person who may describe himself or herself as “not really political” and who learns about public issues by casually consuming news and opinion only via the most easily accessed media.
Partisan advocates who are working as reporters in newsmedia may write articles or social-media postings which advance a preferred cause or policy stance, but which contain assertions that are not based on verified facts. The reporter-advocate may then enlist other reporter-advocates working in other news organizations to amplify the assertions — again without regard to verifiable facts. Such activities are said to “advance the narrative.”
Non-Governmental Organization: a non-profit entity formed outside of a government, possibly an ordinary club or association, but also possibly one of several types of politically active organizations, which could be special-interest advocates, lobbyists, or information-disseminating organizations.
A party chooses its single “nominee” from among multiple “candidates”, by means of a caucus, convention, or primary election. The party’s nominee goes on to contend in the general election against the nominees of other parties.
National Republican Congressional Committee (focuses on electing the U.S. House of Representatives).
National Republican Senatorial Committee (focuses on electing the U.S. Senate).
On Background. A custom governing communication between a candidate or office-holder and a media reporter in which the reporter agrees not to directly publish the contents of the communication, but agrees to use the information disclosed as context for understanding information gleaned from other sources. (Be careful. Negotiating OB status must be the first order of business when you begin the communication, and the reporter must agree to it explicitly. Also, media reporters vary in how strictly they honor such agreements.)
Open-Source Intelligence. Information about a person in public life gathered using sources which are freely available on the Internet.
Off The Record. Especially with respect to media reporters, refers to a conversation prior to which the reporter has agreed to not reveal the source of the information disclosed. The reporter must explicitly agree to a communication being OTR before any sensitive information is transferred. The information itself may be published, in a form that obscures its source.
A model for understanding how, over time, ideas in society change and influence politics.
(The concept was proposed by the late
Joseph P. Overton of the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan.)
The Overton Window is defined as containing all the public-policy ideas which an active politician can potentially endorse, while still gaining or maintaining sufficient public support to get elected or re-elected. If a policy idea is so unpopular that it would doom any candidate who promotes it, that idea is “outside the Overton Window”.
Non-office-seeking participants in public-policy debates may, over time, be able to “move the window” and make a previously unacceptable policy idea become acceptable. However, the normal case is that the policy options available to a politician have been shaped by an entire society’s ideas, movements, and shared norms and values.
Online Voter Registration
A negative campaigning technique which seeks to influence voter opinion
while claiming to merely be measuring it.
By telephone, a caller poses as a pollster conducting an objective opinion survey, but actually poses mostly loaded questions which are cleverly worded to imply negative information (which may, or may not, be true) about some candidate, party, or cause which the organization conducting the push poll opposes.
Ranked-Choice Voting. A complex method of voting which its advocates claim will arrive at more-widely-satisfactory outcomes. (Whether those outcomes satisfy anybody other than RCV advocates is still an open question.)
Republican In Name Only (a term popularized in 1992 by John DiStaso), a candidate who shows little or no interest in certain issues deemed important by many Republican activists.
Republican National Committee (focuses on electing the President of the United States, with the NRCC and NRSC is one of the three national party committees).
Same-Day Registration (that is, registering to vote on Election Day)
Secretary of the Commonwealth, who has responsibility for overseeing elections in Massachusetts. (Most of the other states have an officer in the state government called the “Secretary of State”, but Massachusetts is a “Commonwealth”.)
The Massachusetts Republican State Committee is the governing body of the party in the state. The committee normally has 80 members, with one state committeeman and one state committeewoman elected from each of the 40 state-senate districts. (Informally, the state committee and its staff are referred to as the “MassGOP”.)
There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch:
Acronym for an economic principle described by science-fiction author Robert Heinlein in his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
(the meaning most frequently encountered while reading Internet web pages )
Urchin Traffic Monitor, parameters inserted into a web URL that permit Google Analytics to easily track web-browser activity.
A term that has become popular in the 21st Century, but is rarely defined.
One definition is that persons who are “woke” view the world
through a lens of “Critical Consciousness”, as developed by the
Neo-Marxist educational theorist
seeing all human interactions as some type of oppression, and subsequently
sorting all people into one of two categories: the Oppressors and the Oppressed.
In the political world, the “woke” point of view is a Leftist perspective.
Confusion can arise when conservatives attempt to speak using an older idiom with similar words, as in saying, “Voters should wake up to the consequences of high taxes.” In the 21st Century, this is likely to be misunderstood.
Beyond the list above, some other political terms are explained on the TRTC’s "Frequently Asked Questions" page.