The NYT's Andrew Rosenthal complains that "This is the period when overpaid political consultants talk about the 'unofficial start' of the presidential campaign – a notion as meaningless as the 'official start.'" His complaint has merit. Mitt Romney's campaign, for instance, has officially commenced in a quasi-official blur of unofficiality (were there such a word), and the metamorphosis from one stage to the next will be noticeable to no one but political taxonomists and the Federal Election Commission, which no one bothers to notice.
Even more complaint-worthy, however, is this year's obsession among the enlightened elite with the term "invisible primary" — roughly synonymous with "unofficial start." It was in occasional use four years ago, and perhaps before that — it's nowhere to be found in Safire's Political Dictionary, 1993 ed. — but I don't recall its compulsory use. Now, no pundit who's "in the know" will permit a column or "Hardball" appearance to escape the burden of this rather instant cliché. To do so would expose one as being out of the political-hipster loop, in which status and laurels of insight are conferred not through demonstrating original thought, but by deploying the latest in cool-kid rhetoric. (Little has changed since high school, I guess, and I say "I guess" because I never attended high school, having been thrown out on my sorry incorrigible ass after five days as a sophomore.)
No, these days one must never reference the embryonic stage of a presidential campaign; one must instead reflect on its "invisible primary" implications, which fundamentally are no different today from what they were in 1896 or 1968: Who can raise the most boodle? From there, the embryonic scans suggest the leviathans. But one's diagnosis of this elementary process will seem much keener if one blathers shamanistically about mystical invisible-primary goings on.
In brief, "invisible primary" — or "dark money," or the "deep state," or some other such buzzwordy commonplace — is in fact an empowering, 24/7 paradigm shift for the chattering class who cherish inside-baseball nontransparency in their journalistic poise. Did I miss one?