Let's reach out to end the overuse of a phrase

November 24, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Today's politicians and other public figures need arms so long that their hands drag on the pavement.

They need these long limbs in order to "reach out." You've probably noticed that "reaching out" is what most politicians do these days. Hardly a moment passes without one of them reaching out or saying that someone else should reach out.

I had a computer search for the "reach out" phrase in three newspapers -- the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post -- to see how many times it was used this year.

I can't give you a precise figure because the computer churned out a stack of paper as big as a phone book.

But as I suspected, one of the biggest reacher-outers is President Clinton.

Just the other day, Clinton expressed anger at those who "would criticize me for trying to reach out for the support of all people."

Earlier, he said: "We have to reach out to every one of our young people who want a job. . . ."

In another speech, he said: "Today, I am here to challenge you to reach out your hands to them for we have been divided for too long."

And while urging whites to support Mayor David Dinkins of New York, he said: "It's this deep-seated reluctance we have, against all our better judgment, to reach out across these lines."

In urging people to vote, he said: "Reach out and call your friends and family and tell them this is the most important election . . ."

Clinton has also praised Israeli leaders for "trying to reach out to the Palestinians."

By the time Clinton leaves office, he will probably be the reaching-outest president in our history.

In contrast, I couldn't find even one reach-out by George Bush, which wasn't surprising. Bush is of a restrained generation, while Clinton came of age in the touchy-feely era.

However, some of Bush's supporters weren't above it. In a campaign speech, one of them said: "The president himself will have to reach out to a broader group." Alas, the broader group was out of reach.

But the Clinton administration is far deeper in reacher-outers.

Vice President Albert Gore: "I will do everything I can to give this country an opportunity to reach out for change . . ."

Gore again: "I personally participated in that effort to reach out and asked a whole series of Republican leaders about the possibility of creating a bipartisan approach."

Gore once more: "It is time to end the categories of us and them, you and me, and reach out for 'We the people.' "

David Gergen, Clinton's communications chief: "The president has made quite clear that he wants to be an innovative, centrist president, to reach out . . ."

David Wilhelm, the Democratic chairman: "If we can prove that we can govern, that's the best way of reaching out to the people we need to reach out to."

Aide George Stephanopoulos: "President Clinton wants to reach out to Republicans on key parts of his legislative agenda . . ."

Health Secretary Donna Shalala: "Each of us, every day, can make a difference in the life of some child if we are willing to take the risk to reach out."

Members of Congress are also big on reaching out. (No, I'm not referring to when they reach out and say, "Thanks for the campaign contribution," which is their favorite form of reaching out. Or when Sen. Bob Packwood reaches out for anything in a skirt.)

Sen. Bill Bradley, for example, said: "I hope that President Clinton encourages Americans to reach out generously toward the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and the other republics."

And others, too numerous to name, have recently talked about reaching out to all of us by creating laws that make us happier and more prosperous. Of course, they plan to do this by finding new ways to reach out for money.

This has led to Ross Perot's using the reach-out line, but in a less touchy-feely context. "Our legislators are arrogant. We've got to organize and reach out and tap them on the shoulder and let them know we're watching."

It should be no surprise that Jesse Jackson is one of the leading reacher-outers: "Above all, Democrats, we must reach out to our children. Our children are in trouble. We must reach out to our children."

A sentiment echoed by Ben Chavis, head of the NAACP: "I know we need to reach out and embrace our young people."

Louis Farrakhan, the noted honky-basher, is getting into reaching out. But not with smooches. He said: "It is not enough to tell blacks to reach out to America's mainstream. America's mainstream must also reach out to us."

Reaching out has become so popular that it has even spread to the sports world, where reaching out used to be limited to punching and tackling.

Michael McCaskey, the owner of the Chicago Bears, has said: "If you are trying to establish a Bear family feeling, then you reach out to people when something off the field causes them genuine distress."

Nancy Lopez, the woman golfer, said the women's golf tour has to appeal to more women. "I think we really have to reach out to women, because I think women have a lot of power."

Even Richard Esquinas, who wrote the shabby book about his golf gambling matches with Michael Jordan, said he wrote it because he was trying to "reach out to Michael." Sure. Or maybe Michael's checkbook.

I will close by saying that I hope this column serves to reach out to public figures and encourages them to shut up about reaching out. This should not become a nation of gropers.

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