The first Democratic debate was held two weeks ago. It already feels like ancient history since two of the candidates, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, have since dropped out of the race. Nonetheless, after wading through 55 pages of the transcript and sifting through dozens of metaphors, I can offer a few analyses here today. However, there are so many metaphors, I will have to split the descriptions into two different blog posts. Today I will describe some of the more unusual metaphors, and next time, I will analyze some interesting examples of more common metaphors. The conceptual metaphors today are based on experiences with education, furniture, light and darkness, magic, card games, the military, width and personification.
As always, the examples are taken directly from the transcript of the debate. The quotations are cited according to the candidates: Hillary Clinton (HC), Bernie Sanders (BS), Martin O’Malley (MO), Jim Webb (JW), or Lincoln Chafee (LC). Some quotations are also from the CNN commentators Anderson Cooper (AC) or Juan Carlos Lopez (JCL). Italics are mine.
Almost everyone in the United States is lucky enough to attend school. We all study English, math, social studies and many other subjects with countless lessons carefully crafted by hardworking teachers. Not surprisingly, we have a few conceptual metaphors based on our experiences in educational settings. In the debate, we saw a few examples from lessons, grading, homework, math formulas and multiple-choice answers such as all of the above.
grades from the NRA
Example: “… as somebody who has a D-minus voting record [from the NRA]…” (BS)
Example: “And I have an F from the NRA, Senator.” (MO)
powerful lesson/lessons from Benghazi
Example: “I’m the former chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, and in that capacity I learned a very powerful lesson about the cost of war, and I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq…” (BS)
I did my homework
Example: “…if you’re looking ahead, and you’re looking at someone who made that poor decision in 2002 to go into Iraq when there was no real evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — I know because I did my homework, and, so, that’s an indication of how someone will perform in the future. And that’s what’s important.” (LC)
Example: “And the third [strategic failing of the U.S. government] was the recent deal allowing Iran to move forward and eventually acquire a nuclear weapon, which sent bad signals, bad body language into the region about whether we are acquiescing in Iran becoming a stronger piece of the formula in that part of the world.” (JW)
Example: “We did not land a man on the moon with an all-of-the-above strategy. It was an intentional engineering challenge, and we solved it as a nation. And our nation must solve this one.” (MO)
Example: “And when I was in the Senate, I was an all-of-the-above energy voter. We introduced legislation to bring in alternate energy as well as nuclear power.” (JW)
Light and Darkness
A common set of contrasting metaphors is the difference between light and darkness. We are all familiar with the tremendous contrast between daylight and nighttime. Normally, daylight is equated with goodness, while darkness is associated with evil. Similarly, anything described as being in the shadows is considered to be criminal or corrupt. We even have the word shady indicating something that is not legal. Several candidates mentioned metaphors of shadows.
Example: “I brought criminal justice reform out of the political shadows and into the national discussion.” (HC)
Example: “But we also have to worry about some of the other players — AIG, a big insurance company; Lehman Brothers, an investment bank. There’s this whole area called ‘shadow banking.’ That’s where the experts tell me the next potential problem could come from.” (HC)
take people out of the shadows
Example: “My view right now — and always has been — is that when you have 11 million undocumented people in this country, we need comprehensive immigration reform, we need a path toward citizenship, we need to take people out of the shadows.” (BS)
Example: “I think what you did see is that, in this debate, we tried to deal with some of the very tough issues facing our country. That’s in stark contrast to the Republicans who are currently running for president.” (HC)
The debates revealed a couple examples of metaphors derived from our perceptions of reality. A magician is a person who tricks the audience into believing something that is not true. In politics, a presidential candidate must be perceived as a person who lives in reality and gets things done for the American people. In another more common example, we can talk of objects disappearing from view, such as when the sun sets and goes out of our perception. In one case, a candidate talks about the middle class disappearing as if it is literally disappearing from our human perceptions.
Example: “Thanks to President Obama, our country has come a long way since the Wall Street crash of 2008. Our country’s doing better, we are creating jobs again. But we elected a president, not a magician, and there is urgent work that needs to be done right now.” (MO)
Example: “Are we better off today than we were then? Absolutely. But the truth is that for the 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing.” (BS)
Politics is often compared to card games or casino games in which money can be betted and lost. Money bet in these games are called stakes. Metaphorically, we can speak of important matters being at stake in an election. In some cases, a dishonest dealer can prearrange the cards in a way that will help a certain person win the game. This is known as stacking the deck. In politics, critics of government bureaucracy may claim that the rules are prearranged to favor certain powerful people or interest groups. One candidate n the debate that she wanted to un-stack the deck and make the government more fair for ordinary people. Finally, a normal deck of playing cards has 52 cards in four suits: clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. In some games, a player must put down a card on his or her turn that matches the suit of the previous card. This is called following suit. Metaphorically, one can follow suit by doing the same thing that a previous person has done. In politics, a president may follow suit with a certain program or policy that was already in place when he or she became president.
Example: “The planet — the future of the planet is at stake.” (BS)
Example: “You know, when I left law school, my first job was with the Children’s Defense Fund, and for all the years since, I have been focused on how we’re going to un-stack the deck, and how we’re going to make it possible for more people to have the experience I had.” (HC)
Example: “Jim [Webb] and I, under Jim’s leadership, as he indicated, passed the most significant veterans education bill in recent history. We followed suit with a few years later passing, under my leadership, the most significant veterans’ health care legislation in the modern history of this country.” (BS)
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.
An army that tries to hold a position will need to stand their ground. Also, for hundreds of years, the main weapon in a war was the sword, and the swordfighter protecting himself by holding a shield to ward off blows from opponents. In common terms, the term shield is used metaphorically to indicate something used to protect someone from a literal or abstract attack.
common ground/stand my ground
Example: “I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done. And I know how to find common ground, and I know how to stand my ground, and I have proved that in every position that I’ve had, even dealing with Republicans who never had a good word to say about me, honestly.” (HC)
Example: “For a decade, you [Bernie Sanders]said that holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for mass shootings is a bad idea. Now, you say you’re reconsidering that. Which is it: shield the gun companies from lawsuits or not?” (AC)
Another way in which we create conceptual metaphors is to describe something abstract as if it were a concrete, real object. In some cases, we describe an abstract difference between two entities as being a gap or divide, as if it were a physical space between objects. Thus we have examples such as closing the gap between the rich and poor, or healing the divides in the United States.
close the gap/the gap between rich and poor
Example: “You’ve (BS) argued that the gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time since the 1920s.” (AC)
heal the divides
Example: “And I will do everything I can to heal the divides — the divides economically, because there’s too much inequality; the racial divides; the continuing discrimination against the LGBT community — so that we work together and, yes, finally, fathers will be able to say to their daughters, you, too, can grow up to be president.” (HC)
A very common form of metaphor is personification which occurs when an abstract object is described as a person. In the debates we heard that ads can write themselves and capitalism must be saved from itself. We also heard that a political party can act as a person and leave someone, instead of the person leaving the party. Finally, we have an unusual example of a personification and religious metaphor, with the phrase of a politician not keeping a promise to a certain group of people, referred to as leaving them at the altar, as if they promised to marry someone and failed to show up to the wedding.
the ad writes itself
Example: “You (BS) — the — the Republican attack ad against you in a general election — it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t — doesn’t that ad write itself?” (AC)
save capitalism from itself
Example: “And I don’t think we should confuse what we have to do every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself.” (HC)
the party left me
Example: “The [Republican] party left me. There’s no doubt about that. There was no room for a liberal moderate Republican in that party.” (LC)
Example: “Senator Sanders, in 2013, you voted for immigration reform. But in 2007, when Democrats controlled Congress and the Bush White House was onboard, you voted against it. Why should Latino voters trust you now when you left them at the altar at the moment when reform was very close?” (JCL)
Example: “I didn’t leave anybody at the altar.” (BS)
This odd collection of conceptual metaphors illustrates the great breadth of sources of metaphors. Everything from card games to shadows to multiple-choice questions on tests. Who would believe it if it weren’t true?
Next time: More metaphors from the Democratic debate.