Everyone’s hitting the reset button

Pam Frampton
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“‘Press the reset button.’ Is there any phrase more enticing in the modern lexicon? We all know what it means: press the reset button, watch your computer reboot, and presto! A nice, clean screen appears, and you start again from scratch. Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling, pressing that reset button.”
— Columnist Anne Applebaum,
The Washington Post, March 24, 2009

Want to get rid of your messy past? No worries, just “hit the reset button.”

Honestly, that phrase has been overused in this province lately to the point where I wish I could hit reset on all the times I’ve heard it.

As The Canadian Press reported in October, “Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale hit the reset button Wednesday on her majority Progressive Conservative government after a bruising first half of her four-year term in power. Dunderdale took a page from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s playbook as her office first announced a sweeping cabinet shuffle via Twitter.”

Talking to “As it Happens” on CBC Radio Wednesday night, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Kent — long a diehard Dunderdale loyalist — suggested the former premier’s departure was an opportunity for the provincial Progressive Conservatives to “hit reset” and start anew.

Reflecting on Dunderdale’s resignation and the search for a new leader that will soon commence, Health Minister Susan Sullivan told The Advertiser in Grand Falls-Windsor this week that, “Leadership reviews always bring an opportunity for the party to hit the reset button. I believe that will happen for us over the next bit of time.”

No doubt floor-crosser Paul Lane — who recently discovered his fervent Liberal leanings and ditched the floundering Tories — hopes he’s hit reset on his political career and aligned himself propitiously in advance of the next election.

Now, it’s not the phrase itself I object to — it’s effective enough and has been used to describe a process of renewal for roughly a decade.

What I do object to is the notion that a fresh slate is so easy to be had — just the touch of a button away. Hit “reset” and all your past foibles mysteriously disappear, ridding you of the possibility of being tripped up in old baggage or having to take responsibility for the poor decisions you made previously.

William Safire wrote about the “reset button” in his New York Times Magazine On Language column back in April 2009.

He writes that “reset,” which as a word has a long history of being used in other contexts, has taken on usage as a sort of panacea or cure-all in politics.

He quotes J.D. Biersdorfer, a technology columnist for The Times, who said: “… reset, as in reset button — that’s a nice, comforting physical switch you find on everything around the house from electrical outlets to video-game consoles. Push that button, and everything is supposed to be all right. Everyone wants the magic button.”

In the case of Paul Lane, I’m sure he hopes that by pushing his own reset button voters will magically forget all that has gone before in his political past, from his fervour for padding online polls to his junkyard-dog defence of everything Tory — including the draconian Bill 29 and an austerity budget that saw 1,000 civil servants tossed out on the curb.

No doubt Kent and Sullivan would agree that hitting reset on the premier’s post is what the provincial Progressive Conservative party had to do in order to try to regroup and position itself as a viable option for voters when the election rolls around.

It’s kind of like when a manufacturer sticks a “New and improved” label on a longstanding product; you hope the new look distracts consumers from the fact that what’s in the package tastes as bland as it always did.

So by all means, politicos, stab those reset buttons with all the frenzy of Paul Lane and Steve Kent clicking frantically to vote for the question of the day. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s an effective strategy.

I suspect, though, it’s going to take a little more than the metaphorical push of a button to make some voters forget what happened in the past.

Call it a “reset” if you like; sounds a little like revisionist history to me.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Canadian Press, CBC Radio, The Times

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Grand Falls-Windsor

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