Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Okay, enough. Our language is filled with colorful expressions, but they deserve to be used properly and the Paladino campaign, among its other sins, is guilty of twisting useful turns of phrase out of their useful meanings. This first came to my attention during the now infamous, "I'm going to take you out, buddy," confrontation between Carl and NY Post reporter Fred Dicker. Paladino accused Dicker of being a "stalking horse" and a "bird dog" for Andrew Cuomo. As they say in The Princess Bride, " I do not think it means what you think it means." Per Wikipedia, "a stalking horse is a person who tests a concept with someone or mounts a challenge against them on behalf of an anonymous third party. If the idea proves viable and/or popular, the anonymous figure can then declare their interest and advance the concept with little risk of failure. If the concept fails, the anonymous party will not be tainted by association and can either drop the idea completely or bide their time and wait until a better moment for launching an attack." In politics in is generally used to mean a candidate who runs as a sort of surrogate for another-- Wesley Clark was said by some to have been a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton, for example.

A bird dog is a sandwich made of a chicken strip placed in a hotdog bun and typically topped with honey mustard, popular in  South Carolina.  No, wait, that's another kind of bird dog. Again, per Wikipedia, "a Bird Dog is a person who is paid a referral fee for locating and promoting business opportunities for someone else." Alternatively a bird dog is a free-lance baseball scout. In 1985 we were in the second row at Shea for opening day behind some people who knew Neil Allen from his Mets days. He jogged over and chatted with them for a bit about another player then in the low minors, and Allen mentioned that he knew a Bird Dog scout who might be interested in the player.  That's how "bird dog" is used properly.

Now comes Rabbi Yehuda Levin, erstwhile Paladino supporter, who says that Carl has “folded like a cheap camera” on the question of gay rights. Although the image is charmingly retro, what the rabbi means is that Carl folded like a cheap suit. C'mon people-- this campaign is too amusing to be spoiled by this kind of sloppiness.

UPDATE: I suppose the case could be made that Carl was accusing Dicker of being a stalking horse in the sense that he was reporting about Paladino's affair to see if that was a topic that Cuomo could exploit; and I guess you could stretch bird dog to fit that meaning too.  I think the word he should have used was "catspaw".

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