An alarming outbreak of 'regime' amnesia 

Time's Joe Klein got some attention over the weekend when he said, on "The Chris Matthews Show," that statements from Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are "right up close to being seditious." What received less attention was the statement immediately following Klein's, from New York magazine's John Heilemann, author of the best-seller Game Change. "Joe's right, and I'll name another person," Heilemann said. "You know, name Rush Limbaugh, you know, who uses this phrase constantly, talks about the Obama administration as a 'regime.' That phrase, which has connotations of tyranny."

Heilemann's accusation echoed one that Chris Matthews himself made on MSNBC's "Hardball" April 2, when he denounced Limbaugh's use of the word 'regime.' "I've never seen language like this in the American press," Matthews said. "We know that word, 'regime.' It was used by George Bush, 'regime change.' You go to war with regimes. Regimes are tyrannies. They're juntas. They're military coups. The use of the word 'regime' in American political parlance is unacceptable, and someone should tell [Limbaugh] to stop using it." A quick search of the Nexis database revealed more than 6,500 uses of the word "regime" to refer to the Bush administration since January 20, 2001, in the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, and, yes, by Chris Matthews himself.

So now John Heilemann has spoken up. Which leads to an obvious question. Has Heilemann himself ever used that word, with its "connotations of tyranny"?

A search of the Nexis database shows four recent examples of Heilemann using "regime" to refer not to tyrannies but to American domestic politics. He even used the phrase "Obama regime." For the record:

In the January 19, 2009 issue of New York, Heilemann wrote that Barack Obama had no particular expertise in economics, "So it's ironic, to say the least, that the first defining moment of the Obama regime happens to revolve around matters macroeconomic -- dealing not just with a nasty and potentially prolonged downturn, but with a wrenching, epochal crisis of capitalism on a global scale."

In the January 5, 2009 issue of New York, Heilemann wrote of "the power troika of Bob Gates, Jim Jones, and Hillary Clinton, each of whom plausibly could have filled the very same jobs in a John McCain regime."

In the December 1, 2008 issue of New York, Heilemann wrote that all administrations experience internal conflict over foreign-policy issues, "And Obama's regime -- with Joe Biden in the building and Robert Gates likely to remain atop the Pentagon -- will be no exception."

In the November 17, 2008 issue of New York, Heilemann wrote that Obama's choice of veterans of previous administrations satisfied some supporters, "But for other Obamaphiles, it fuels the anxiety that the regimes of the new boss and the old boss will end up resembling one another all too much."

At other times, Heilemann used "regime" in ways that he would now pronounce acceptable -- to refer to Middle East autocracies and the like. But he clearly used "regime" as a synonym for "administration," in the American political sense, on more than one occasion. Did he mean to convey "connotations of tyranny"?

About The Author

Byron York

Bio:

Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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