I nominate a new catchphrase for 2007: "holding mud." I first heard it last week on 24, which remains a popular and guilty viewing pleasure despite its cartoony, far-fetched plots. By mirroring America's war on terror in exaggerated (or not) ways that have made this Fox drama must-watch TV for Beltway conservatives, it's fun and voyeuristic to root for federal agent Jack Bauer who is the Harry Reems of torture porn.
Towards the end of this particular episode, Jack is busy inflicting pain on his black-sheep brother Graem into divulging information about stolen nukes and clandestine terrorist contacts. Jack's duplicitous bro' has taken over the family business-- a defense firm with shady ties to black-market arms dealers. But even Jack grows weary of this Cain-and-Abel match of wits, and leaves the room in shame; the task of squeezing additional facts from Graem will have to wait for another day, and it will most likely be conducted in an interrogation room back at Counter Terror Unit headquarters.
As Jack momentarily reviews the nature of his own role in television's all-time dysfunctional family, their father walks into the room and appears to comfort Graem who is still strapped in a chair. "I held my mud," boasts Graem. He even repeats the phrase, while admitting that his confession about organizing the assassination of a former U.S. president was simply calculated to throw Jack off his game. Because he didn't spill those "other" larger, more damaging secrets, dear old dad is protected from possible criminal prosecution. The firewall of secrecy wasn't breached. Graem acts like a proud schoolboy bringing home a report card filled with A's. But his father knows that his weak-willed adult son will eventually capitulate and drag himself into the entire sordid mess. He needs an immediate out. And so he kills Graem by re-injecting him with the lethal heart-stopping drug. After Graham is put down, his father tenderly kisses his bald head before shouting for help. (Talk about nuclear family meltdown!)
So think about it. "Holding mud" means the ability to keep secrets under the worse kind of distress or dire situations. Under threat of torture, grand jury indictment, public embarrassment, or having Nancy Grace show up on your front porch, you might be forced to reveal some minor truths, but the really Big Lies you keep under lock and key.
Yet aren't there times when it makes practical sense to fold--and not hold--your mud? While Mark McGwire held his mud during Congressional hearings into baseball's steroid abuse scandal, there's no joy in Mudville for the beleaguered former Big Leaguer.
The pathologically secretive Vice President Cheney is a seasoned pro at holding his mud by never admitting to failure or showing weakness in interviews. President Bush also seems adept at holding his mud by never finding fault with his own actions or decisions, though he seemed to have grown squishy during his "60 Minutes" appearance several weeks ago. But because Iraq is such a quagmire, Bush will futilely continue to throw whatever he can find at the wall to see what sticks.
When you don't hold your mud, you can often find yourself knee-deep in the muck. Soon after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom came forward and publicly apologized for having an affair with the wife of his former campaign manager, he told the press that he's seeking counseling for his drinking problem. Only time will tell if all this grime will eventually wash away --and voters opt to give him a freshly-laundered bill of health in the upcoming mayoral race.
Senator Biden certainly didn't hold his mud when, like an idiot, he referred to Sen. Obama as being clean. Biden's gaffe immediately turned into a media mudslide that buried his presidential aspirations. Call it poetic justice.
As the 2008 presidential race goes into full swing, it will be interesting to see which of the top-tier candidates will hold their mud and who will crumble under the accumulated strain. John McCain is battle-tested from past elections. Hillary Clinton is a brick house. John Edwards is too lawyerly. The thin-skinned Rudy Giuliani is a good bet to be the first to have his levee break on the campaign trail.
Because dirt and politics go hand in hand, it makes sense for someone to create a website that tracks the ebb and flow of negative campaigning, screwups, and mudslinging. As of this morning, I checked with Network Solutions and the domains holdingmud.com, iheldmymud.com, and holdmymud.com are still available.