Speaking Politics phrase of the week: 'Groundhog Day'

'Groundhog Day' is becoming an increasingly popular way to bemoan Washington's fruitless repetition. 'Groundhog Day' is becoming an increasingly popular way to bemoan Washington's fruitless repetition. 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa (c.) apparently often feels like Bill Murray trapped in D.C.

“Groundhog Day”: The popular political way to refer to fruitlessly doing something over and over, as memorably depicted in the 1993 comedy classic.

“Groundhog Day,” the movie, has been getting lots of attention. It’s being made into a stage musical scheduled to open in London this summer and on Broadway next year (though its star producer just dropped out). And Bill Murray, who played the acidic TV weatherman forced to relive the same 24 hours over and over until he becomes a better person, recently learned he’s receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Political usage of the phrase isn’t confined to February, reflecting that world’s devotion to drawing from pop culture. “I don’t want ‘Groundhog Day’ here,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) said last week of her new quest to find some compromise on gun legislation in the wake of the Orlando, Fla., shootings. “I don’t want us to go through the same thing we went through last year with no result.”

And it’s being incessantly invoked on the campaign trail, usually to reflect weariness with the whole process. In FiveThirtyEight.com, Clare Malone discussed the anxiety about this month’s looming final primaries: “Would it ever really come, or would cable just loop endlessly, ‘Groundhog Day’-style, talking about ‘the GOP Establishment’s last stand’ ”?

In the Huffington Post, Chris Weigant referred to GOP lawmakers continually having to justify Donald Trump’s outrageous remarks. “Republicans running for office had better get used to what has happened over the past week or two, because it is going to be the ‘Groundhog Day’ event of the entire campaign,” he wrote. In The New York Times, Gail Collins opined on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tendency not to deviate from his stump speech: “Amazing experience to hear Bernie Sanders address a rally. Once. By the third time it’s like a very loud ‘Groundhog Day.’”

As you’d expect, mentions of “Groundhog Day” spike in Congress when the actual animal shadow-seeing event occurs. But as the Sunlight Foundation’s terrific CapitolWords.org shows, its frequency has been inching up in other months. The bigger user – by far – is Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), who’s known for his anger at government agencies that repeat their mistakes.

Writing in National Review in 2005 – in an essay that, naturally, has been re-published every year – Jonah Goldberg analyzed what makes the movie so great. He concluded that its funniness outweighs its philosophical message – but that the two are perfectly blended.

Murray’s cranky character “doesn’t find paradise or liberation by becoming more ‘authentic,’ by acting on his whims and urges and listening to his inner voices. That behavior is soul-killing,” Goldberg wrote. “He does exactly the opposite: He learns to appreciate the crowd, the community, even the bourgeois hicks and their values. He determines to make himself better by reading poetry and the classics and by learning to sculpt ice and make music, and most of all by shedding his ironic detachment from the world.”

Chuck McCutcheon writes his “Speaking Politics” blog exclusively for Politics Voices. 

Interested in decoding what candidates are saying? Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark’s latest book, “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” is now out.

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