You heard him say it, right there on your own TV, and you've been thinking about it ever since. It was only one word, one moment, in a torrent of pre-Election Day words and moments that all start to run together. But it stuck with you. Even as you bounced from channel to channel, from website to blog and from blog to website, from the very latest poll numbers to even-later poll numbers, it stuck with you -- one interview among hundreds, but different somehow. Clarifying.
It all starts to run together, but you're pretty sure this particular interview involved a guy named Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, and you're pretty sure he was being questioned by one of the NBC O'Donnells -- Kelly or Norah. (All these months of political junkie-hood and you're still having trouble keeping them straight!)
Anyway, Kelly-or-Norah was questioning probably-Tucker about Joe the Plumber, and it was plain from the questions -- and the evasive answers -- that Joe had lost a bit of his glow. This was only days after Joe's sudden arrival on the scene, courtesy of John McCain, who'd found Joe's story so compelling (as told by Joe, anyway) that he dropped his name -- and dropped it, and dropped it -- into the final presidential debate.
By sunup, the man was a legend.
By sundown, the facts -- the real facts -- had started to emerge. With every passing hour, you heard how yet another piece of the Joe the Plumber story -- his income, his tax bracket, his prospects under an Obama tax plan, even his plumber's license -- wasn't quite as advertised. And that's even before you got to his comparing Barack Obama to a tap-dancing Sammy Davis Jr. (Open-minded, are we, Joe?)
So anyway, there was Kelly-or-Norah grilling probably-Tucker, and there was probably-Tucker claiming that, even if some of the details were off, Joe the Plumber was still "emblematic" of the plight of small-business owners. He kept saying it; Joe the Plumber was "emblematic." And you found yourself thinking, "When did 'emblematic' come to mean 'phonied up'?"
But Kelly-or-Norah wasn't letting probably-Tucker off the hook that easily. Why, she wanted to know, hadn't the McCain campaign done a better job of vetting Joe before they launched him?
And that's when you heard it. That's when you heard him say "spontaneous." "Spontaneous" things sometimes happen toward the end of campaigns, probably-Tucker was explaining. This was one of those "spontaneous" things. Joe the Plumber had had his conversation with Barack Obama about taxes, and the cameras had been rolling, and John McCain had found out about it, and about Joe's story, and he went with it. It was one of those "spontaneous" things.
And you found yourself thinking, "Haven't we heard this before?" And the answer came screaming back as soon as you'd asked the question. Sarah Palin!
Sarah Palin was another one with a great story (as told by Sarah Palin, anyway). She was the Maverick-Reformer-Family-Values-Hockey-Mom. And John McCain, who barely knew her, fell for the story -- fell in love with the story -- and picked her to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Spontaneously.
By the time the facts -- the real facts -- about Sarah Palin started emerging, it was too late to turn back. They hadn't vetted her either. They hadn't done their homework. That's one big difference between Barack Obama and John McCain, you realize. One of them does his homework. The other one just goes with his gut. "Spontaneous" is one way to put it, you're thinking. So is "sloppy." So is "slipshod." So is "slapdash." It's a complicated world out there.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.