THE BLOG

It's The Overused Headline, Stupid

10/18/2010 11:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"It's the economy, stupid" is a phrase that has lived on longer than anyone would have expected. You may recall it originated during Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign that presented President Bush as too foreign policy-focused and neglectful of the economy that had recently been through a recession, according to Wikipedia. As Obama campaigns for Democratic candidates across the nation, the economy is again the focal point of the elections. The AP's Julie Pace reports:

The president has been blunt in recent campaign stops, acknowledging that with 9.6 percent unemployment, the sputtering economy makes this election season difficult for Democrats. "It's hard because we've been through an incredibly difficult time as a nation," Obama said Sunday. "We've gone through a tougher time than any time in the lifetime of most of us."

The "it's the economy, stupid" message has come in loud and clear throughout 2010. It has "become a political cliché," admits Daniel Gross in a March Newsweek column focused on the upcoming midterm elections, an article that nonetheless ran with that headline. Matthew Yglesias used it similarly on his blog at Think Progress in July. The Weekly Standard attached the headline to an August story about possible tax raises this fall.

It's not just the midterm elections that caused a resurgence in the phrase. Back in January, it was used in Reason to explain Obama's falling approval ratings. And Karl Rove invoked the phrase as early as last June in The Wall Street Journal to talk about unemployment. Variations exist, too, which include Dan Gerstein's November 2009 Forbes column that argues the reverse position - it's "the stupidity about the economy in Washington and on Wall Street that's driving most voters berserk," he says.

But the phrase's real staying power is represented in the variations it has sparked for non-election news coverage. Over the past month, the "economy" in the phrase has been replaced in headlines by everything from "biography," to the "school system," to "federalism," to "lack of competition." Foreign Policy has had two headlines over that time that fit the model.

If election fatigue has already set in for you, just imagine how hard newspaper editors are working to make old arguments appear new again.