Most of the chatter surrounding tonight's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas is being focused on Hillary Clinton and her bruised but certainly still front-running campaign. And perhaps rightfully so. But for the linguistically savvy debate-watcher out there, here's a more nuanced trend worth following: the rise of "standing up" as the political catchphrase of the moment.
Go back two weeks, to October 30. During the presidential debate in Philadelphia that night, the seven Democratic candidates had a lot to say about "standing." Over the course of two hours, they enlisted the phrase—in one form or another—a total of 26 times.
Clinton led off the charge, reminding viewers and audience members of her record of "standing against the Republicans, George Bush, and Dick Cheney." John Edwards quickly followed, noting that Clinton's pledge to "stand up to George Bush on Iran" hadn't quite won him over. "I think we have to stand up to this president," Edwards then said. Barack Obama, not to be eclipsed (or, perhaps, "outstood") by his two rivals, entered the fray a little later, talking passionately of the need "to stand up to special interests."
By the time MSNBC closed the debate two hours later, the final count stood as follows: Clinton, 3 "standing" references (or permutations thereof); Obama, 2; and Edwards, 6. Yet the real winner of words that night—dare we say the "last man standing"?—was Dennis Kucinich, who managed to stand up for "standing up" with 15 total references, including five in a single sentence.
The purpose behind all of this standing up is not particularly opaque. Clearly, the Democrats, in both their policy and now their language, are trying to express their willingness, if not zeal, to be combative in the face of an administration that has made macho-ness a ruling virtue.
We'll see who sets the stand-ard tonight.