I have recently received a great compliment: An English professor in California has informed me that he is having his students in one of his writing classes use my blog as they analyze political metaphors. While I was considering how I could create a few posts to help his students, I came across an amazing email solicitation from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (dscc.org 7/12/13) asking for contributions for a particular campaign. I deviate from my usual blog style to provide a brief analysis of this fundraising rhetoric.
Even though the 2014 elections are more than a year away, Republicans and Democrats are already raising money for state and national candidates. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for reelection in Kentucky. He is being challenged by Democrat Alison Lundergan. Here is how the folks at the DSCC described the campaign. I have highlighted some critical metaphors in bold font. Analysis to follow.
“Mitch McConnell’s scheme to win? “Carpet-bomb” his opponent with attack ads. He’s running “the nastiest race in the country” according to the Washington Post.
But after McConnell abused the filibuster 413 times, Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes has pulled this race into a true toss-up: McConnell (R) 45, Grimes (D) 45.
BY MIDNIGHT, we must match the McConnell Super PAC’s $260,000 infuriating ad blitz dollar-for-dollar and ensure their lies in Kentucky and across the country don’t go unanswered. We’re so close to matching them — we need just 700 more contributions to fight back against McConnell and Republicans like him.”
Campaigns have been very negative going back hundreds of years. It is common parlance to say that one candidate attacks the other in ads or debates, as if the candidates are boxers in a ring or soldiers in a war. Thus, most negative campaign ads are simply referred to as attack ads. It is also common to describe the response against an ad as fighting back, again as if the candidates are in a war. Interestingly, the authors also employ the term blitz, German for “lightning” made famous in the World War II term blitzkrieg meaning “lightning war.” In modern parlance, a blitz is anything that is done quickly and with great force.
However, the usage of the carpet-bomb metaphor is quite extreme in this fundraising description. Carpet-bombing was a practice used during World War II and the Vietnam War in which bomber planes dropped hundreds or thousands of bombs in one area at one time, as if one were laying a carpet of bombs. To describe a series of ads as carpet-bombing indicates that there are many ads distributed in one area at the same time.
There are two interesting factors to note about this use of carpet-bombing. Stylistically, note that the authors used quotation marks in this instance. As I explained in my analysis of the use of the phrase fiscal cliff, the use of quotation marks around a metaphor indicates that the authors consider the phrase to be new or unusual. After the usage becomes more common, the quotation marks tend to disappear. Secondly, one must wonder at the suggested violence in a phrase such as carpet bombing. I believe it speaks of the level of acceptable violence in American culture that metaphors of great violence are used so commonly and without objection by the average person.
I should also note that this fundraising text also describes the campaign with popular metaphors from other semantic domains. For one, the campaign is referred to as a race, a term derived from horse racing, comparing two candidates in an election to several horses in a horse race. The election is also described as a toss-up, a term derived from gambling, i.e., flipping a coin to determine the winner or loser of a particular bet. Finally, the campaign attack ads are described as going unanswered. This is a much more tame metaphor, indicating that the exchange of ads, however negative, may simply be described as a conversation or an exchange of letters between friends.
This fundraising solicitation beautifully illustrates the complexity of metaphor usage in American politics. Some metaphors may be considered neutral while others may evoke feelings of anger or war. I believe that these metaphors are used deliberately to help the fundraising team achieve their political and financial goals. It is my hope that American citizens will be consciously aware of this metaphor usage and base their voting or giving of donations on the candidate’s qualifications and not simply on political rhetoric.
Next time: More analyses of metaphors in political ads