The third rail of a nation's politics is a metaphor for any issue so controversial that it is "charged" and "untouchable" to the extent that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject will invariably suffer politically. The metaphor comes from the high-voltage third rail in some electric railway systems. It is most commonly used in North America. Though commonly attributed to Tip O'Neill, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives during the Reagan presidency, it seems to have been coined by O'Neill aide Kirk O'Donnell in 1982 in reference to Social Security.
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