Be Wary of Simple, Playful Metaphors

Saturday, May 3, and the Kentucky Derby. To some of us it might as well be just a British hat, but it seems to be famous horse race. And Big Brown won. Of course it was, this year, a horse race was filled with symbolism. All the horses were male, save for one, which had led Hillary Clinton to a strange place 


She said that she was sorry that she would miss the Kentucky Derby, but noted that Chelsea would be on hand.  


“I want everybody to place a little money on the filly,” she said.


The filly was Eight Belles. She came in second, and then had to be euthanized after breaking both ankles just after crossing the finish line. And not only did a male win – the name was Big Brown. One should be wary of playful metaphors.


At his Washington Monthly blog, Kevin Drum sees where this is heading:


So here’s the contest: Who do you think will be the first pundit/columnist/talking head to use this as an idiotically extended metaphor for the state of Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Matthews? Dowd? Jonah Goldberg?


Or has someone already done it?


Digby at Hullabaloo says don’t go there:


I realize that a lot of people find the symbolism of this both exciting and hilarious…. And maybe the metaphor will be perfectly fulfilled next week as Clinton comes in second and breaks both her metaphorical ankles and is metaphorically euthanized right on the metaphorical track, but the classy thing to do would be to leave it alone. It’s sickening on many levels.


Resist the impulse to be cute about this. The horse died. You’ll like yourself better for it.


Okay – fair enough. But one should avoid playful metaphors. Trying for the simple comparison can be deadly.


And anyway, it was also a day to play nice. Note Barack Obama including Hillary Clinton in his explanation of whole rationale for his campaign:


I would not be here were it not for the fact that somebody, somewhere stood up for me. Because one person stood up, a few more stood up. Then a thousand stood up, and then a million stood up. That’s why Hillary Clinton can run for President. That’s why I can run for President.


That was the night before that odd horse race. The day of the race Hillary Clinton, faced with chants from Obama supporters, responded to them with this:


If Senator Obama is the nominee, you better believe I’ll work my heart out for him.


Is something changing? This is very odd. She didn’t shout back at them with what some think would be natural for her – Jeremiah Wright! Jeremiah Wright! Jeremiah Wright!


After all, her husband had appeared on the Rush Limbaugh Show on the eve of the Texas primary and she was coming off two days on Fox News – those extended chats with Bill O’Reilly – and had been endorsed by both Ann Coulter (even if sarcastically) and Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who funded the Arkansas Project, the effort to have her husband impeached and to have her arrested for the murder of Vincent Foster. Perhaps she hadn’t gone over to the dark side, or decided she’s better return from there.


The other side certainly can take care of things. They have David J. Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, and curiously a Canadian, the son of a Toronto dentist who later became a multi-millionaire as a real estate developer. Frum is as neoconservative as one can be – he gave us the phrase “axis of evil.” And now that he has left the White House, he is cheering his cause on, from the sidelines. If Hillary Clinton won’t shout about Jeremiah Wright he will. Here he is in the National Review Online:


The reverend’s ravings are good partisan stuff that badly hurt Barack Obama in Pennsylvania and may well inflict damage on him in Indiana and North Carolina too. Fox News in collaboration with Wright’s speaking agents and publisher will do its best to sustain the excitement through November. And I’m all for it. Our team needs all the help it can get.


Our team? One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has a problem with that:


So let’s see if I’ve got this straight. A former White House speechwriter acknowledges what we all knew already… that Fox “news” is functioning as a coordinated appendage of the Republican Party? Almost seems as if this might warrant a mention from Howie Kurtz or one of the other self appointed media lapdogs (sorry. “Watchdogs”, I meant to say) but I’m not holding my breath.


I will stick up for Fox’s First Amendment rights for as long as is needed, but it does make me wonder what kind of evidence would be needed to demonstrate the level of coordination needed to treat Fox News’ reporting as a monetary contribution within the ambit of the campaign finance laws.


Not sayin’ that that would be a good idea at all. Still, I feel about 99.9% sure that there is some evidence out there, though probably nothing as strong as an internal memo.


On the other hand, at the American Scene, Peter Suderman doesn’t understand why anyone even slightly left of center gets so upset when Democrats go on Fox News:


Perhaps I’m not enough of a partisan, but I wouldn’t be bothered – in fact, I’d be rather thrilled – to see any conservative candidate, especially one I particularly liked, do an interview with Keith Olbermann, or even, say, a sit down with The Nation.


At his Atlantic Magazine blog, Matthew Yglesias sets Suderman straight:


The difference between Fox and The Nation is that The Nation makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is. If a conservative politician sits down for an interview with Katrina vanden Heuvel or Eric Alterman or Chris Hayes or any other worthy Nationeer they’d be engaged in an interesting exercise in reaching out to self-consciously progressive media. Fox News, by contrast, is heavily invested in selling the idea that it’s a “fair and balance” straight news source even though it’s run by former GOP political operatives and people go from being Fox anchors to running the White House press shop.


Sitting down for Fox interviews is thought to lend legitimacy to this pretense of neutrality that Fox is seeking to foster, a pretense that makes Fox’s anti-Democrat biases all the more damaging to Democrats.


Ah – you do not cooperate in a charade. That makes sense.


And those folks do hate Democrats, and one in particular. See Andrew Sullivan on the right’s anger over Obama:


Obama was, I think, brought up and lived for a long time in an atmosphere in which occasional left-wing excess did not grate on his ears or his temperament as they would on people like, er, me. And his desire to connect to a black experience he never fully had himself also played a part in not distancing himself from some aspect of his pastor’s rhetoric or friends’ associations. But to go from this to the vicious attempt to portray Obama as a fraud, an actor, and another phony politician is a sign of the hard right’s nervousness. When you listen to Sean Hannity, you hear someone who looks at Obama and sees every racial fear he has ever had about black Democrats personified. The difficulty of making distinctions between, say, Sharpton, Jackson and Obama is just too much for him. They’re all black Democrats, aren’t they? They must all be traitors or far left anti-American hate-mongers. He doesn’t even hear the broader Obama message, the full Obama manifesto, the book, the countless speeches, and interviews and debates in which Obama’s broader post-racial, post-partisan appeal is exposed. One can only hope that most people will see the full picture. But the right-wing freak show machine will do all it can to prevent it.


There’s much more at the link, but it all comes down to the heavy investment they’ve made in George Bush. And Sullivan argues that the chickens are coming home to roost:


In fact, I think Bush has made Obama possible. Many of us are so disgusted, repelled and appalled by what has been done these past few years – massive spending, massive debt, a fantastically bungled war, the legalization of torture, the demonization of minorities, etc. – that we are prepared to look over some ideological and political differences to back the person who most represents a total repudiation of the Bush Republicans. That Obama also represents a repudiation of boomer culture warfare, transforms our racial politics and single-handedly rebrands America as a decent force in the world is, of course, hard to get across to those who still regard Bush as a great president.


So yes, this is in part about the toxins of the Bush years: a desire to flush them as emphatically as possible from the communal bloodstream. Of course, the Republican right can’t get it. But the polls on Bush’s disastrous presidency reveal how marginalized the Bush right now is.


But the right tells us it’s all very simple. Obama hates America. His long association with Jeremiah Wright proves it – case closed, no matter what Obama says now.


There’s some interesting push-back on the in this video clip from Bill Moyers Journal (warning – it’s both subtle and humane):


Wright’s offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently (than John Hagee, Pat Robertson and Billy Graham). He doesn’t fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone’s neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettle some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship.


We are often exposed us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I’ve never seen anything like this – this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner – before our very eyes. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves.


All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said “beware the terrible simplifiers.”


That’s good warning, even if there are more than a few of them on the left too.


In the Washington Post, E .J. Dionne, one should not simplify all this:


After Wright’s bizarre and narcissistic performance at the National Press Club on Monday, Obama would have looked weak and irresolute had he not denounced him. But if there was a moment of courage in this drama, it was not Obama’s condemnation of Wright but his earlier and now much-criticized effort to avoid a complete break with his unapologetic pastor.… The catalogue goes back to Bailey Smith, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Speaking at a 1980 religious convention that was also addressed by Ronald Reagan, Smith declared that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”

… Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Jerry Falwell, appearing on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” declared: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”


… And, of course, there is the endorsement of McCain by the Rev. John Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, who has called the Catholic Church “the great whore of Babylon” and “the anti-Christ.”


Dionne raises the obvious question – “Do white right-wing preachers have it easier than black left-wing preachers? Is there a double standard?”


Matthew Yglesias says yes, of course, but it is not what you think:


I think there is a double standard, but it’s a double standard for politicians, not for preachers. After all, all those right-wing nutters attracted their fair share of condemnation. The difference is that a white politician is presumptively assumed to be “one of us” so if some religious figures he has a relationship with has wacked-out views, those are seen as his views and not necessarily a problem for the politician. A black politician, however, is expected to constantly prove that he’s “one of us” rather than “one of them.”


Maybe that too complicated, even if it is true. But Big Brown did win that horse race.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Complexity, Fox News, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah Wright, Kentucky Derby, Obama, Political Pandering, Political Posturing. Bookmark the permalink.

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