September 29th, 2006

Revenge of the Metaphors: Rainville, Termites, and Burning Sacks of Crap

by Philip Baruth

Nothing offends VDB like a mishandled analogy.

In our wilder days, we would actually track down political figures who had botched a metaphor on cable television, and then leave burning paper bags full of dog crap on their porches — or rather, paper bags full of something like dog crap, something fully as nasty as dog crap — before ringing the bell and fleeing.

We’re not proud of it. But we were young, and metaphor seemed worth dying for.

So imagine VDB’s reaction to this exchange from the September 18 AARP Congressional Forum, one of the long series of Welch/Rainville debates.

Moderator Steve Delaney to Rainville: “How do you change the direction of Washington if the same leaders go back because of your organizational vote?”

martha hearts georgeRainville: “I don’t think changing Congress means merely changing the faces of the leadership. If you had a house and termites were eating away at your foundation, you wouldn’t — you would want to rebuild your house, not just redecorate. And we’re talking about redecorating by changing the faces of the leadership.”

Now, don’t get VDB wrong — we love the termite part.

It’s a nicely disturbing analogy for the way that the Bush administration, in concert with a whole insectile host of Congressional allies and business cronies, has managed to undermine the basic infrastructure of the American democratic experiment.

But the rest of the thinking behind the comparison is so muddled, so desperate, it borders on the alarming. Is this really the way that Rainville thinks? If you find out you have termites, you “rebuild your house”?

You immediately declare your home a loss, raze the structure, and throw up a new one? Not to get all GOP-talking-pointy about it, but doesn’t that just give aid and comfort to the termites?

What about standing and fighting? What about the Orkin Man? What about just killing the freaking things?

And how, exactly, is removing the leadership “redecorating?” Rainville clearly wanted to bump onto another analogy — one with a certain deliberately fem quality to it — to heighten the sense of the ridiculous, but you can simply stay with the original comparison to see how badly the logic is being strained.

In other words, wouldn’t removing Hastert and Boehner and the rest actually be analogous to removing the head bugs, the queens, the ones who control organization, the ones who set schedule, and decide when and if to swarm?

And speaking of removing the queen, doesn’t that actually work with bees or termites, things with a hive consciousness? You move the queen, or kill the queen, and the motive force of the group is seriously reduced or eliminated?

In short, Rainville knows that changing the leadership could potentially produce radical changes in the behavior of the US Congress. And if she were running as a Democrat, she’d come right out and say so.

But she’s not, and she plans to vote for Hastert when and if, so she’s forced to obfuscate, forced into bizarre metaphors, into finger-pointing and termites and redecorating.

And those metaphors — after being twisted and distorted enough — take their revenge.

George Bush won in 2004 partially because he was able to speak in simple yes-and-no. Kerry spoke in long tortured paragraphs, paragraphs that were all too vulnerable to later critical examination.

Two years later, the tables have turned all but completely. When asked, Democrats have sharp, short answers to the burning questions of the day.

rummyRather than come out and say that Rumsfeld should go — after saying for months that he shouldn’t — Rainville now needs six paragraphs to explain that maybe he should go, come to think of it, but Congress doesn’t have the power to fire him, and so it’s a waste of time to discuss the prospect.

Rather than come out and say that the troops should come home according to a loose timetable, Rainville needs six paragraphs to recapitulate the Bush stand-up/stand-down fantasy.

And rather than say that she won’t vote for Dennis Hastert or Boehner — she’ll vote for a moderate or abstain if none is available — Rainville needs termites and redecorators to argue that the question itself is useless. When it so undeniably isn’t.


Look, Martha, you can knock us down, and you can step on our face, slander our name all over the place. You can steal our car — drink our liquor from an old fruit jar, etc.

But lay off the bad analogies. Because VDB don’t play that.

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  1. Vermont Daily Briefing » Is That Your Final Answer, Martha? Think Long and Freaking Hard said,

    on October 1st, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    […] We had a lot of fun with this last notion Friday afternoon. Then came last Friday, and suddenly it wasn’t all that funny any more. […]