Wednesday’s Word of the Week: Snollygoster

Snollygoster: Popularized in the 1890s by H.J.W. Ham, a Georgia Democrat, a snollygoster is someone who wants political office at any cost — regardless of principles or platform. It’s possible the word came from the German phrase schnelle geister, which means quick spirit.

Maggie Galehouse at Bookish included this word in her post about the book Slinging Mud by Rosemarie Ostler.

'Michelle Bachman speaking.' photo (c) 2011, Mark Taylor - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There’s a tendency these days to assume that all politicians are snollygosters–at least to some extent. All candidates for political office are corrupted, and every word they say, every action they take is calculated for effect and to get votes. So you get statements like this one from The Daily Beast about Michele Bachman:

“On Monday, Bachmann didn’t talk a lot about her religion. She didn’t have to—she knows how to signal it in ways that go right over secular heads.”

She’s a snollygoster, using her Christianity, covertly, to get votes. Kinda like a Christian fanatic undercover secret agent gal. Or maybe that’s Sarah Palin.

President Obama is accused of “pandering” to get votes–to the black community, to the gay community, to feminists, to Hollywood, to almost any group he even acknowledges or speaks to. He’s just a snollygoster who wanted to be president no matter what he had to say or do to get there.

'Rick Perry' photo (c) 2011, Gage Skidmore - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Or Mitt Romney is a snollygoster because he changed his position from pro-choice to pro-life.

Rick Perry is a snollygoster who stays as quiet as possible and enters the race as late as possible so that he doesn’t say anything that will get him NOT elected.

If they’re all snollygosters with no fixed principles and no core character, what’s a citizen voter to do? I think we’ve become way too cynical. Maybe Rick Perry is trying to be thoughtful, not evasive. Maybe Mitt Romany truly changed his mind about abortion. Maybe Obama believes in gay rights and truly wants to help the black community, and he’s doing the best job he knows how to do as president. Maybe Michele Bachman quotes the Bible because she gets her ideas and core principles from Scripture, and she’s not trying to send secret coded messages to the Christians while retaining the secular conservative vote.

And maybe I’m naive and credulous. But it’s a lot easier to assume the politicians are telling the truth about what they believe and about what they want to accomplish, and then I can decide on the basis of what they say they believe which one best fits my values and political philosophy. And if you’re a snollygoster, well, the truth will out. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

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