Connotations of Chestnut
Ted Anthony of The Associated Press is fond of incorporating the noun “chestnut” into his articles. He seems to use it a lot. Like in this article on John McCain from April 28, 2008:
Gently, carefully, he invokes a classic GOP chestnut – taking a shot at the 1960s.
– “McCain says Americans Most Willing to Sacrifice” by Ted Anthony, April 28, 2008
Or in this article on Washington Outsiders from October 27, 2008:
The tale of the outsider blowing into town with maverick sensibilities has been a campaign chestnut since the days of America’s first true populist, Andrew Jackson.
– “When Washington is Broken, Enter the ‘Outsider’“, October 27, 2008
Or in this article on the arrival of Election Day from November 3, 2008:
We’ve heard charges of socialism and guilt by association, accusations of incompetence and elitism and, that old chestnut, lying.
– “Finally: Decision time for a deeply divided USA” by Ted Anthony, November 3, 2008
Or this one on the election decision from November 5, 2008:
The focus on change comes after a campaign that brought a useful national chestnut back into play: the American vision of the future, which as a concept was a driving political force throughout much of the country’s history.
– “A worried America chooses its course for change” by Ted Anthony, November 5, 2008
When Anthony uses the word “chestnut”, he’s not referring to trees. There is another meaning — “An old, frequently repeated joke, story or song.”
In his 2008 articles, Anthony exposed repetition and past patterns with the phrases “classic GOP chestnut”, “old chestnut”, “campaign chestnut” and “national chestnut.” On February 25, 2009, he found another opportunity when writing about Obama’s address to congress. Staying true to his formula, Anthony prefixed the noun “chestnut” with a descriptor. This time he chose the word “American”:
Facing lawmakers and Americans by the millions, Obama traded doomsaying for optimism and invoked an American chestnut – the tenacity of hope. “We will rebuild, we will recover. And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” he said.
– “The 21st-century fireside chat: Did Obama connect?” by Ted Anthony, February 25, 2009
Suddenly the phrase has added connotations. When I read it, instead of thinking of a theme or slogan that is repeated frequently in our nation’s history, I thought about the work of the American Chestnut Foundation. I thought about all the people in the past century who worked desperately to save the species and died before they could see success. I thought about all the people along the way who planted and cared for trees that were destined to contract the fungus and perish. I thought about today’s scientists who are closing in on the journey, but will not live long enough to see the formidable girths of aged trees in the Appalachian forests.
Why did people plant trees they knew were going to die? Why do researchers work so hard for giants they will never get to see? It’s simple.
Hope. Because of hope.
So when I saw the phrase “invoked an American chestnut”, that was my immediate interpretation. In my mind, the phrase “American Chestnut” is synonymous with “hope”.
Of course, some people don’t see it the same way. My friend Larry had a third, very different, take:
[Socialism] is the blight that will sink our ec[o]nomy just like what happen[ed] to the amer[ic]an che[s]tnut.
In his February 25, 2009 article, Ted Anthony paired together two words… and provided us at least three ways to think about it. There’s a return on investment.