When Prop. 1A hit man Peter Foy opened a can of whupass on wannabe governors Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman this week, his cruelest cut was calling them “squishy” on taxes.
The charge leveled by the GOP Ventura County supe, who’s toying with a run against the two objects of his ire, resurrected one of the most heinous ad hominem labels one Republican can tag on another. While using the adjectival “squishy” is, well, a little bit squishy, calling someone a “squish” is the GOP equivalent of trash talking someone’s mother in gangsta circles.
In a wide-ranging investigation including a couple of Google searches, multiple emails and an actual long distance phone call, the Calbuzz Linguistic Desk spared no expense in its effort to shed light on the origin and usage of the term.
“Very good question,” said Ken Khachigian, California’s dean of Republican wordsmiths. “I can’t honestly recall when it entered my vocabulary, though I’m sure I’ve used it frequently.”
Khachigian, who made his bones working in Dick Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, added that “using the word ‘squish’ is almost always in the context of questioning someone’s level of commitment or strength.”
Wiktionary defines a squish as a “political moderate (derogatory term used by conservative activists in the 1980s),” while conservative think tanker and journalist Amy Ridenour blogged this recollection on the web site of the National Center for Public Policy Research:
“’Squish’ was in frequent use in the College Republican National Committee office when I worked there in 1981 and elsewhere in conservative circles during the era. There was a much firmer line of demarcation back then within the GOP between conservatives and moderates (ed: that’s because there still were GOP moderates in 1981)
“Examples of prominent (perceived) ‘squishes’ circa 1981: Vice President George H.W. Bush, James Baker III,” Ridenour wrote. “I recall Baker being seen as the invisible hand behind many, many a squishie plot.”
In advance of the 2006 mid-term elections, a top (George W.) Bushman in the Justice Department used the phrase to ding Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., in an email that argued against extending campaign aid to the congressman’s re-election effort; the email was uncovered in one of L.A. Dem Rep. Henry Waxman’s probes of political chicanery at the Bush White House.
“My two cents,” Roveian hatchet man Kyle Sampson wrote at the time, “I wouldn’t choose a sort of weird, maverick squish . . . to team up with.”
But senior statesman Khachigian traces the possible derivation of squish much further back, at least to his first Nixon campaign: “Your younger readers won’t have any connection with one possible progenitor of the word, but back in the ’68 presidential race (yes, I was there), Ted Agnew accused Hubert Humphrey of being ‘squishy soft on communism.’”
Update: An email early Friday from William Safire, political lexicographer, famed columnist and ex-Nixon speech writer, buttresses Khachigian’s theorem: “It was popularized by Vice President Agnew in the 1970 mid-term elections as ‘squishy soft,” Safire says . . .
You can only pick one, Gavin: Scrolling through Gavin Newsom’s web site the other day put us in mind of the famous New Yorker cartoon in which an exasperated Charles Dickens sits in the office of his editor, who tells him: “I wish you would make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It could scarcely be both.”
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Newsom’s version: “Mayor Newsom has organized an exploratory committee for Governor as an initial and technical requirement to begin organizing a potential campaign. Mayor Newsom has organized an exploratory committee so he can make the decision about a campaign for governor from a position of knowledge and strength.”
Brown outtakes, Take 1: At one point in Calbuzz’s recent interview with Jerry Brown, he spoke wistfully about maybe settling down on “a nice ranch that’s been in the family” for generations, near Colusa. So we asked him why the hell, at the age of 71, didn’t he just pack it in and kick back there with the lovely Lady Anne.
“That’s a good question,” he answered, before a rare pause. “You know something, and the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you derive a certain pleasure from it.” . . .
That’s -30-: Ex-Sacbeeman, the Rev. Jim Richardson, has started a blog for folks to leave their memories of the late, great LA Timesman Jerry Gillam. The blog is here if you want to leave a comment. Or you can email your recollections and photos for posting to Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org