Bob Franken


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There should be a Cliche Hall of Fame to honor the trite phrases and overused metaphors that have stood the test of time. There certainly would be a political wing, complete with a statue that has running water coming from somewhere, depicting a hack streaming hackneyed expressions nonstop. It would need to be located in Washington, with our constant gush of banalities.
The best cliches are all-purpose, like something or other not being “off the table.” Anyone can use it and everyone here does. President Donald Trump spouts it frequently. In fact, he told The New York Post that a pardon for Paul Manafort is … wait for it … “not off the table.” Could that be a signal to Manafort — who faces a ton of time behind bars and who just might have the goods on alleged Trump campaign collusion with the Russians — that he doesn’t have to sweat whatever that big bad witch hunter Robert Mueller does to him? Could “not off the table” also be a trial balloon, a way of softening up America for a pardon when it comes? Is “trial balloon” another cliche?

The atmosphere is cluttered with balloons right now, as various Democrats float them to gauge interest in their running for president in 2020. John Kerry is among the latest to declare that the possibility he’ll take another shot at it is “not off the table.” He’s not the only one. It’s a pretty cluttered table these days, crowded with the dozens of people from both parties who might launch a campaign against the Trumpster. It may be an uphill battle unless Bob Mueller comes up with absolute proof that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin personally colluded to throw the U.S. election — in other words, uncovers a smoking gun.
Oh wait, is that a clever segue or what? “Smoking gun” is right up there in the idiot idioms collection. What’s remarkable is that no one seems to have one. Here’s Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking about the death of Jamal Khashoggi: “We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved. Not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.” Wow! That was a two-fer. Mattis was among those leading the charge for the administration, insisting that Saudi Arabia is too important an ally to let a little trifle like the assassination and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist get in the way. No smoking gun perhaps, but there is a CIA analysis that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did order that Khashoggi be killed. A “smoking gun” presumably would have to be video of Salman audibly saying, “Kill Khashoggi.” That demonstrates another function of these cliches: They gloss over truth, whatever that is.
That’s the case not just in the wild and wacky world of politics, but certainly in my endeavors, which have included TV news. You can’t watch a local broadcast without the anchor stating constantly how the station is “working for you” or is “on your side.” So many shows begin with the words “breaking news” splattered over the screen, because some consultant has determined that it can boost ratings. Never mind that the “breaking news” happened many hours before, it’s going to shatter again.
The sports world also is riddled with cliches, of course. Among the worst are the pious declarations by the teams that they’re against domestic violence and for patriotism. Then please explain why the NFL’s Washington R-words signed linebacker Reuben Foster, accused of repeated violence against his girlfriend, but will not hire Colin Kaepernick, a badly needed quarterback, simply because Kaepernick has led the refusal to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The timid owners conveniently have forgotten all about the First Amendment.
Let’s face it, we hear a constant stream of cliches, mostly empty ones. And we will continue to, because no one, in any field, is willing to take them off the table.

(c) 2018 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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