The phrase “got your back” is one of President Barack Obama’s favorites. He deploys it to indicate to various groups that he supports them, even if he does so quietly. (The most notorious case: Obama’s assurances to pro-Israel voters that he has “Israel’s back,” though he has often undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance.) Lately, the phrase has been used by other Democrats, and Republicans have picked it up, too. It is time to get rid of it.
“Got your back” has quasi-military implications. It is the sort of thing said in cop movies by one partner to another as they are about to stalk the bad guys: you lead, I’ll follow and protect you from the rear. In that way, “got your back” perfectly encapsulates the Obama administration’s philosophy of “leading from behind,” in which America declines its traditional leadership role but offers other western allies (largely empty) assurances.
The phrase “got your back” also has connotations of betrayal: if one person has another’s back, that also means they are in the perfect spot to stab them from behind. The Urban Dictionary captures both meanings of the phrase:
GOT YOUR BACK
1) An expression assuring someone that you are watching out for them. Comes from making sure you are safe by watching what’s behind you when you’re busy looking ahead.
2) Can be converted to a threat: “Watch your back,” from the possibility someone might injure or kill them from behind when they aren’t looking.
The latter definition rings true with regard to the broken promises of Barack Obama. For that reason, as well as the violent, faux-macho context of the phrase, it is time to drop “got your back” from the political lexicon.