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August 21, 2007

Getting Third-Railed

In February, William Safire of the New York Times used his On Language column to look into the origin of the oft-used warning that a particular issue is "the third rail of American politics." He found that the phrase—first coined by Kirk O'Donnell, an aide to former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil—has been in existence for only 25 years. For most of that time, the "third rail" only referred to Social Security (and trains). Lately though, every political stance beyond kissing babies seems to be cursed.

Social Security remains a third rail of US politics.
Christian Science Monitor, August 14, 2007

Health care is the third rail of politics.
National Review, August 1, 2007

Few issues showcase this paralysis as much as immigration reform, which has become the new third rail of politics—touch it and you die, the saying goes.
Chicago Tribune, June 29, 2007

Abortion Politics: The Third Rail
The New York Times, June 26, 2007

The domestic political risks of the Arab-Israeli peace process have been called the third rail of American politics
The American Prospect, June, 2007

The issue of same-sex marriage is becoming the third rail in American politics, when it should be a major "front" in the struggle for civil rights.
Newsday, April 30, 2007

Talk of new taxes, however, is a third rail of politics.
Washingtonpost.com, April 30, 2007

The welfare state, the third rail of American politics
Human Events Online, March 21, 2007

Economic disparity has become a third rail of American politics.
Christian Science Monitor, January 24, 2007

After Social Security, the draft is probably one of the most powerful third rails in American politics.
National Public Radio (NPR), January 9, 2007

Eminent domain has become the Third Rail in American politics.
Herald News (Passaic County, NJ), November 20, 2006

Gun control is the third rail of American politics.
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, October 17, 2006

Medicare has again become the third rail of politics.
The Washington Times, October 17, 2006

Domestic surveillance powers remain the third rail of American politics.
UPI, May 22, 2006

Gas prices this year could be the third rail of American politics
Scarborough Country, MSNBC, April 25, 2006

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