Repealing Obamacare is a nonstarter?

中国日报网 2013-11-05 13:22



Repealing Obamacare is a nonstarter?

Reader question:

Please explain “nonstarter” as in this sentence: Repealing Obamacare is a nonstarter...

My comments:

Many Americans, particularly rich republicans don’t like Obamacare, the new health care law championed by US President Barack Obama, who is a Democrat. They think Obamacare gives too much free benefits to the poor. Hence, some republicans are proposing that the new law be repealed.

Or, in other words, revoked, rescinded, declared null and void.

However, that kind of proposal is deemed a nonstarter, something doomed to fail.

Enough American politics. Let’s focus on the word nonstarter, or preferably non-starter for it is formed that way.

Non-starter, you see, is literally not a starter.

Starter is a term widely used in many sports. Let’s take the game of basketball for instance. The game of basketball is played five on five, i.e. five against five, five on each side. And the players who are on court at the beginning of the game are called starters, as against bench players who begin the game seated on the bench along the sidelines.

The starters, also called the starting five, are usually the best players on the team, barring injuries and so forth. They’re more skilled than the bench players, whose job is to replace the starters to give them a breather during the course of the game.

Coaches play their best players at the beginning of games in order to, obviously, get off to a good start and set the tone. Put one’s best foot forward, in other words.

A non-starter then is, as name suggests, a player who’s not among the starters. You may infer that he’s probably not very good.

In horse racing, a nonstarter also refers to a horse that refuses to leave the gate at the beginning of the race, therefore failing the test altogether. Here, the idea is, a nonstarter is an utter failure.

Therefore, figuratively speaking, if someone’s proposal is deemed a nonstarter, it is not very good. In fact, it is so bad that you’d better not even raise it in the first place.

In our example from the top, the message is this: Even though many Americans don’t like Obamacare, it is here to stay. To propose to repeal it is a non-starter, something doomed to fail and therefore not worth considering at all.

In other words, don’t even make the proposal in the first place, since doing so will only lead to a waste of everyone’s time.

Alright, here are more media examples for you to get a better hang of nonstarters, of one sort or another:

1. “The Arab nations must understand that the right of return is a red line as far as Israel is concerned,” said senior state officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expects the Arab League Summit in Riyadh will lead to significant changes in the Saudi peace initiative, including dropping the right of return clause.

“Arab nations seeking to advance the Middle East peace process must remove the right of return from the equation,” said the state officials. The peace initiative agreed upon by the Arab League in 2002 calls for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders, including the Golan Heights and Sheba Farms in the north, as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The 2002 initiative also calls for an agreement on the matter of the Palestinian refugees.

In Jerusalem officials made clear that Israel considers the right of return a “nonstarter demand”. As long as Arab nations demand the right of return – no progress can be made. The other difficult issues, the 67’ borders and East Jerusalem, are open for discussion, but not the return of Palestinian refugees to the Green Line.

- Right of return – ‘a nonstarter clause’,, March 22, 2007.

2. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the U.S. debt limit to cover a few months of borrowing activity is a “nonstarter,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday.

“Speaker Boehner’s plan, no matter how he tries to dress it up, is simply a short-term plan, and is therefore a non-starter in the Senate and with the president,” Reid said in a prepared statement.

- Reid: US Republican debt-limit plan a nonstarter,, July 24, 2011.

3. The American newspaper--born in Boston sometime between 1690 and 1721, depending on the prerequisites one prefers--is dying a remarkably sudden death. Overall circulation, adjusted for population growth, is about half of what it was in 1946 and is declining rapidly. And while the number of Internet readers is rising, they are no replacement for print readers from the standpoint of advertisers, who must pay the freight. To ad buyers the worth of an Internet reader is barely 10 percent of that of a print customer. Because of these and other no less destructive trends, publicly owned newspapers lost roughly 15 percent of their already falling advertising revenue last year, and with it, according to the invaluable analyses of journalism and technology maven Alan Mutter, a whopping 83 percent of their already decimated stock value. From an economic perspective, this is what it looks like to fall off a cliff.

The industry has finally wakened to the seriousness of its predicament but continues to come up empty-handed vis-à-vis anything resembling a solution. And the almost universal response to the crisis--an orgy of downsizing that is destroying the worth of the product whose economic value it seeks to restore--demonstrates how ill equipped newspaper owners and publishers are to find a way to save themselves.

Clearly an Internet-only newspaper is a nonstarter. The Huffington Post, perhaps the most successful news website, relies largely on free labor and produces precious little of what we have traditionally understood to be “news.” Internet evangelist Jeff Jarvis has made much of the fact that ad revenue for covers the cost of its newsroom and proposes that the Times go paperless. He forgets, however, that even without the costs of paper production and delivery, "backroom operations" for a newsroom can be almost as expensive as the cost of the reporters and editors. There's travel, technology, rent, business planning, ad sales, health insurance, pension payments and, well, plenty of things that make this calculation a net loser. Walter Isaacson, writing in Time, has proposed a program of micropayments to be made by the reader, but if these average out, as Michael Kinsley predicts, to just $2 a month, it won't come close to covering the costs of reporting, editing and distributing the news.

- Save the News, Not the Newspaper,, February 11, 2009.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Step on your toes?

Crying wolf?

什么是“幸运小姐”(Lady Luck)?

Won’t break the bank?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



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