Deconstructing Mitch 

An idiot's guide to interpreting metaphors

An idiot's guide to interpreting metaphors
Last week, our new governor caused quite a stir with his criticism of House Democrats in the Indiana General Assembly. After they staged a walkout and let the clock expire on more than 140 pieces of legislation, Gov. Daniels likened the Democrats' boycott of House chambers to a car bombing.
It seems to me that Gov. Daniels was speaking metaphorically and because metaphors are not meant to be literal, thinking people ought to consider whether or not his figurative description was accurate.
Democrats and their supporters reacted with explosions of outrage, indignation and incredulity. In every case, the "how dare he!" exclamations (implicit or implied) hinged on the literal interpretation of car bombers equaling murderous terrorists - ergo, Daniels was calling the Democrats murderers. Or at least that's what the Democrats would like us to believe. But does anyone other than the self-righteous really believe Daniels was equating Minority Leader Pat Bauer with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? It seems to me that Daniels was speaking metaphorically and because metaphors are not meant to be literal, thinking people ought to consider whether or not his figurative description was accurate. State politicians, like those at the federal level, use war metaphors endlessly to describe both themselves and their opponents. They speak of the "battle" for the Statehouse during the elections, the "war" of words, the "strategy" of House sessions, how opponents often "shoot down" ideas and progress and the bills that "die" as a result of political bickering. War metaphors, like war itself, lose their sting over time and we become desensitized to their literal meanings. Perhaps the outrage over Daniels' comments comes because the sting was felt and the rawness of the metaphor has yet to be absolved of guilt and personal responsibility. Assuming for the sake of argument that the governor was not calling the Democrats murderers, what other possible interpretations are there for his car bomber metaphor? Well, those who use car bombs are typically dissidents, typically a minority population who resents the imposition of majority rule. Rightly or wrongly, this disgruntled minority is outnumbered and overpowered. As a result, they fight back with dirty tricks because that is all they have in their arsenal. The dissidents are most often ideologues who believe their ideology trumps any sense of personal responsibility or rationality. The ends justify the means, even if those ends lead to innocent victims. Sound familiar? House Democrats are the minority in the Statehouse this year. And to say they resent the authority of the Republicans is putting it mildly. During the course of this session of the General Assembly, they have been outnumbered and out-maneuvered at nearly every turn. And because they themselves are ideologues with no sense of compromise or cooperation, they believe it is better to stage a protest than see progress being made. The walkout last week was an act of protest. It was meant to disrupt the process. It was meant to undermine authority. It was meant to demonstrate solidarity. And it was meant to punish. Those who blow up marketplaces and buses believe they are targeting the enemy, but the victims of the improvised weapons are innocents. Like those who use car bombs, the Democrats would have us believe that they were fighting dirty because they had to. They would have us believe that the death of 140 bills was simply "collateral damage" in their war against the Republicans. As a result, the Indiana economy will suffer; Indiana schools will be short-changed; health care, crime and poverty will not see significant improvement. In short, every citizen of the state will suffer and will be victimized because Democrats wanted to be right. They wanted to show the majority power that they wouldn't play nice. Democrats resorted to dirty tricks and booby traps in the Statehouse last week. Is it the equivalent of a car bomb? Maybe not, but then again metaphors only approximate truth, they represent figuratively what has happened literally. Granted, Daniels' words were loaded. They stung, they implied both guilt and personal responsibility. And that's what offended Democrats most. Maybe the governor should forego metaphors in the future and just speak literally. But simply calling the Democrats cowards - like those who use car bombs - doesn't have the same effect. And it's time somebody said enough is enough. Ideology shouldn't trump personal responsibility. Not in Iraq, and not in the Indiana Statehouse.

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Laura McPhee

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