Politico is a Latin term translating as politician. Essentially it refers to anyone who is a politician, but it also can refer to people active in politics who don’t hold public office. This could include people like fundraisers for politicians, those who campaign on behalf of a politician, or those people who follow politics closely and are passionate about the political system. A politico can also be someone who is involved in the politics of an office, a school, or any workplace. A union member involved in keeping a union going might be a politico.
The term has come into use more recently with the 2007 founding of the popular US print and Internet paper, The Politico, which is freely distributed in Washington DC, and has an extensive Internet following. The focus of the paper is all politics, especially the politics of the US Congress, and the Executive and Judicial branches of the government. Sometimes journalists from this paper, and other papers that follow politics are referred to as politicos because they are hip deep in analyzing and parsing political behavior.
In fact in 2007, as particularly the Democratic race for the presidential nomination heated up, many would describe themselves as politico people, or simply as politicos. Twenty-four hour media coverage, and the introduction of social media in the form of candidate websites created much in the way of blogging, thinking, writing, and organizing for political candidates. Democratic contender Howard Dean in his unsuccessful 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination used this Internet approach quite successfully though he lost the nomination to Senator John Kerry. Its application in the 2008 election, which many argue was most successfully used by Senator Barack Obama, caused large numbers of average folks to be far more involved in the political process than before.
If too many cooks can spoil the soup, the same might be applied to too many amateur politicos. While there are benefits to the private politico working on behalf of a candidate, the issue of controlling a candidate’s message arises with increasing frequency. Supporters of a candidate who are not actually employed to be supporters may make unfortunate comments, inflammatory statements or choose to act in ways that are not in concordance with a candidate’s platform. This occurred with significant frequency on both the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton Internet site blogs, and sometimes in the mainstream media as well. Whole blogs were devoted to “I hate Barack” and “I hate Hillary” platforms that neither candidate endorsed.
Nevertheless, the amateur politico may play a significant role as unpaid organizers of grassroots movements that garner a candidate more support. The professional politico, a politician or one aspiring to political office, can also urge grassroots movements to fall into line with his/her platform. They may also have success distancing themselves from people who claim to speak for them, but in truth are not employed by them.