Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Driving a Metaphor Into the Ground

The President won't let go of the car image--Republicans spending eight years crashing the economy and expecting him to pull it out of the ditch in two.

Now the highway metaphor is in a linguistic pileup as Martin Wolf of the Financial Times posits an ambulance picking up a roadside heart attack victim, taking him for treatment that results in "a protracted but partial recovery," then two years later having him sue the paramedics and doctors for malpractice, insisting "he would be good as new...if he had been left alone."

We are in "no good deed goes unpunished" territory here, victims turning on helpers in denial of their distress and the need to blame someone, a condition first described to me by a friend who grew up in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression to see saved farmers turn on FDR and become solidly Republican to erase the memory of their helplessness.

The nation's financial condition is not exactly a roadster, and the Federal government is far from an auto club, but Presidents can't seem to resist seeing themselves behind the wheel.

After retirement, Eisenhower described his executive style as reasoning with competing interests to drive in the middle of the road "with all its usable surface and avoid slipping into the ruts and ditches on either side."

A comfy image during post-World War II prosperity, but Obama's road is cracked and twisty, with forward motion impeded by Republican linguistic improvised explosive devices like those used against our troops in the Middle East.

Andrew Sullivan maintains "Obama's record is about as good as one can expect from a human being inheriting a catastrophe and acting with limited knowledge in real time...

"Obama is the president many Independents voted for: pragmatic, smart, non-ideological and remarkably successful under the circumstances. But they have been blinded by propaganda, enabled by profound and resilient joblessness that, in a perfect world, Obama might have prevented, but in the real world, did about as much as he possibly could to alleviate, within prudent parameters."

But "alleviate" and "prudent parameters" are not sound-bite or bumper-sticker language to derail the Tea Party steamroller from tearing up the American road ahead.

In the real world, the economy is sputtering along, but even those nine out of ten voters who still have their jobs are like deer caught in the headlights, too terrified to get out of the way of an ideological disaster.

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