Offensive Tactics in War and Politics

To continue my discussion of war metaphors, I would like to share some examples of how offensive tactics in a battle are the source of metaphors used to describe political strategies in campaigns and government policies.

hold the high ground

Battles between armies sometimes go back and forth gaining and losing territory.   Holding a position on a hill gives one army an advantage in being able to see a great distance and shoot down on the enemy.   Thus holding the high ground is always a top priority in a battle.  Metaphorically, maintaining a political or ideological advantage in an argument may also be called holding the high ground.

Example:  Democrats often claim they hold the moral high ground when they try to raise taxes on millionaires to make the tax codes more fair for the middle class.

common ground

The land where battles are fought between two armies is called the common ground.  In an argument, the points on which both sides can agree may also be called the common ground.

Example:  Republicans and Democrats have much different views on how to run the U.S. government.  However, in some cases they find common ground to get bills passed that benefit the American people.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 - Currier and Ives, 1862
The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 – Currier and Ives, 1862

charge ahead

When an army is on the offensive, they may charge ahead into enemy territory in order to gain a victory.   In common terms, when people begin a new project with great energy and focus, we may also say that they are charging ahead.

Example:  When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, they charged ahead with their conservative agenda on tax reforms.

attack, assault

The word assault has its origins in a French word meaning the attack of an army.  In modern days, an assault can be an attack by a military force or by an individual person.  We may also say that a verbal attack on someone or something is also an assault.

Example:  In 2011, Democrats complained that the Republican bills to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans were essentially an assault on the middle class.


For hundreds of years, armies consisted of both soldiers on foot and other soldiers on horseback.   The unit of soldiers riding horses was called the cavalry.  In many battles, especially those depicted in American movies, the cavalry came to the rescue of soldiers or captured civilians.  In common terms, people who rescue a situation from becoming a disaster are called the cavalry.

Example:  When Barack Obama ran for reelection in 2012, he called in the cavalry of all the progressive groups that helped him get elected in 2008.


The word stealth derives from an old word meaning to steal.  Later it came to mean something that was secretive or hidden.  In military terms, a stealth jet is one that cannot be detected by radar.  In common terms, any process that is secretive or not well known to the general public may be called stealth.

Example:  Barack Obama’s support for social programs led critics to accuse him of being a stealth socialist.

soldier on, soldier through

In a war, soldiers must continue fighting under horrible, exhausting conditions.  They must continue to fight to win the war.  This phenomenon may be called soldiering on or soldiering through the war.  A person who works very hard to accomplish a goal may also be described as soldiering through the process.

Example:  An American president must soldier through many challenges and setbacks to be a successful leader.


In some cases, a military force may completely destroy a building or encampment of the enemy with bombs or missiles.  Natural disasters may also destroy buildings and infrastructure.  In politics, we also talk about an event or action destroying a person’s career.

Example:  In the early years of the Obama presidency, critics complained that his health care and tax reform policies would destroy America.

capture the White House

In some wars, one military force with capture enemy soldiers and hold them prisoner until the end of the war.  In metaphorical terms, any idea that is well understood, or any office that is won in an election may be described as being captured.  In American politics, the presidential election may be called capturing the White House.

Example:  Barack Obama was the first African-American to capture the White House.

Next time:  Defensive Tactics in War and Politics