The Phrase ‘Signature Achievement’

It’s not only Undemocratic, it’s Un-American

Am I the only one bothered by this? Not the overuse of the phrase, but the phrase itself. ‘Signature’ legislation. ‘Signature’ achievement. The arrogance, the vanity associated with it–okay, yes, that bothers me, and well get to that, but–they’re the things that bother me least about it.

It’s that it’s got everything exactly backwards.

imagesIt implies a Ruler, and subjects. The Ruler, or Monarch, would endeavor to preserve a “signature achievement”. Like a Master Chef guarding the secret sauce in his ‘signature dish’. The purpose of this tradition is the opposite of serving the interests of the public. It’s to serve the interests of the Ruler. To bestow honor upon his Majesty’s historic legacy. While the scribes and poets and servants and subjects weigh the fortunes and perils of legislative achievements of the Great One in power. I don’t just mean the current president, either. Any president.

Since when is it our job–as citizens–or the media’s job–or the job of historians–to facilitate the White House occupant’s ego-gratifcation? We’re supposed to invest in preserving the ‘historic legacy’ of an elected official? A public servant?

We already pay for the house. The plane. The Secret Service detail. The vacations. The library. The whole thing.

Are we actually enduring the catastrophe of The Patient Care and Affordable Care Act‘s spectacular, epic, cascading failures primarily to protect president’s vanity?  A chief executive unwilling to compromise, and a governing party dedicated–not to doing the least harm to citizens, but to minimizing harm–to the ruling party? To help insure a signature stack of 11,000 pages of regulations’ special place in history’?

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, we are not required to be burdened with bad law because we’re afraid of hurting the lawmakers’–or the president’s–feelings.

I try to imagine Thomas Jefferson consulting with his advisors, concerned about how the pamphleteers would regard the controversial debts incurred in order to produce Jefferson’s “signature achievement”, the Louisiana Purchase. Or John Adams’ allies in the Senate fretting over his’ ‘signature legislation’, the Alien and Sedition Acts, rightly concerned for how it might negatively impact president Adams’ ‘historic legacy’. Did legislators boast, in 1919, about the ratification of the doomed 18th Amendment? Did president Wilson entertain the notion of preserving his signature legislative achievement? Did such conversations take place? Perhaps they did. If so, it was a bad idea then, too.

I can imagine Charles Manson reading books about the Tate LaBianca massacre and proudly discussing the historic significance of his “signature achievement” with his prison mates.

Google News brings up 9,780 hits on the phrase ‘signature achievement’. And 15,300 on the phrase ‘signature Legislation’.

Who is the master, and who is the servant?

It’s undemocratic. It’s un-American.

I vote to retire the phrase.


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