More Shutdown Metaphors: Time Magazine, Part 2.

More Shutdown Metaphors: Time Magazine, Part 2.

Today, as Congress is in the process of ending the government shutdown, I continue Part 2 of my analysis of political metaphors about the shutdown from a recent Time magazine article –  Scherer, Michael and Altman, Alex, “Loss Leaders: The Fever Never Broke.  Cooler Heads Have Not Prevailed.  And the Next Self-Inflicted Crisis May be Worse than the Last.”  Time, October 14, 2013, pp. 20-26.  In this post, I will analyze a few metaphors from the categories of journeys and war.


            Many political processes are compared to people going on a journey.

pave the way

Modern roads are paved with asphalt to make them smooth.  New roads must be paved before people can travel on them.  Metaphorically, one needs to pave the way to start a new project.

Example: “Heritage Action and the others paved the way for the ambitious junior Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, a slick and silver-tongued rookie who appears to have noticed that Obama once had those same credentials” (p. 24). 


While on a journey along a road or highway, roadblocks can literally block the continuous progress on a journey or metaphorically block the progress of a program.

Example:  “In late July, Heritage began promoting a plan backed by Cruz to turn the approaching budget crisis into a roadblock for Obamacare” (p. 24).



Some obstacles in the road are very small and can simply be avoided by walking around them.  We can call this action sidestepping the obstacle.  In common terms, we also say that one can sidestep a problem or an issue by not dealing with it directly.

Example: “Speaker Boehner and his top lieutenant, Eric Cantor of Virginia, preferred to sidestep a shutdown, fearful that it would boomerang on the GOP” (p. 25).

Michigan 106 Mile markermarker on the road

Countries around the world routinely put markers on the sides of roads and highways indicating miles, exits or important points of interest nearby.  People use these markers to measure the distance travelled on their journeys.  Metaphorically, road markers indicate the amount of progress being made towards a collective goal.

Example:  “The sad news is that the shutdown may be just another marker on the road from bad to worse, where the power of minority rule, refined by the politics of safe seats, paralyzes the body politic indefinitely” (p. 25).


            In my research, I discovered that metaphors derived from actions of war are the most common of all political metaphors.  This fact is perhaps a sad reflection on the state of politics in the United States.  As with the term game, the metaphorical term war is used to describe politics as if it is a literal term.  In the following excerpt from the article, Scherer and Altman use a series of war metaphors.  In one case, the term skirmish originally meant a fight with a sword.  In modern language it describes any type of physical or verbal fight.  Also, when a gun or cannon is fired, gunpowder explodes and blasts the bullet or shell from the barrel.  Metaphorically, a blast is any type of sudden or powerful burst of information.

daily messaging war / skirmish of email blasts

Example:  “…each faction busies itself with the daily messaging war, an unending skirmish of e-mail blasts, tweets, viral videos and cable-news sound bites, making the eternal case that someone else is to blame” (p. 26).

top lieutenant

The hierarchies of political organizations are often compared to military ranks.  To repeat an earlier example…

Example:  “Speaker Boehner and his top lieutenant, Eric Cantor of Virginia, preferred to sidestep a shutdown, fearful that it would boomerang on the GOP” (p. 25).

First landing of Columbus on the shores of the New World, at San Salvador, W.I., Oct. 12th 1492, 1862 : Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín.
First landing of Columbus on the shores of the New World, at San Salvador, W.I., Oct. 12th 1492, 1862 : Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín.

stake their flag

In the early days of global exploration, European explorers would claim lands for their home countries by putting or staking their flag on the beach of the “new” country (of course ignoring the native peoples who already lived there). Thus staking a flag meant claiming ownership of that land for the home country.  Metaphorically, staking a flag indicated claiming ownership or commitment to a particular policy.

Example:  Speaking of some conservative Republican groups, “Sidling further and further toward the far flank, they eventually stake their flag on zealotry” (p. 23).

blow up Senate rules

Explosive devices were originally invented as weapons of war.  Bombs and cannon balls were used to blow up enemy infrastructure.  Metaphorically, to change something completely may be described as blowing it up. Repeating an earlier example…

Example:  “… Senate Majority leader Harry Reid threatened to blow up Senate rules if Republicans did not allow the confirmation of a gaggle of presidential appointees” (p. 25).

self-inflicted wound/ shoot the party in the foot

In some cases, soldiers may shoot themselves in order for them to be removed from the battlefield.  As in the subtitle of the Time article, the authors describe the shutdown as a Republican “self-inflicted crisis.”  Also, to shoot oneself in the foot metaphorically means to deliberately harm oneself or create obstacles to one’s own progress.

Example:  “…Boehner allowed the hardcores to shoot the party in the foot rather than provoking them into setting it on fire” (p. 25).

blog - war - triggerpull the nuclear trigger/ a civil war within the party

Shooting a gun requires a person to pull the trigger.  Metaphorically, pulling a trigger means to begin a new process or set an action in motion.  In nuclear weapon, the device that ignites the bomb is known as the nuclear trigger.  Also, a civil war literally means a war between two factions within one country.  In politics, we can also see a metaphorical civil war between two factions of one political party.

Example:  Quoting Republican Congressman Peter King speaking of John Boehner, “’When does he decide to basically pull the nuclear trigger and start a civil war within the Republican Party?’” (p. 25).

the next battle

Political arguments are often compared to battles.

Example:  “Even as the shutdown begins to take its toll, the next battle is looming. On October 17th, Congress must pass a bill to lift the federal debt limit or risk economic calamity” (p. 23).

Battle of Chattanooga--Gen. Thomas' charge near Orchard Knob, Nov. 24, 1863, Kurz & Allison, 1888.
Battle of Chattanooga–Gen. Thomas’ charge near Orchard Knob, Nov. 24, 1863, Kurz & Allison, 1888.

destructive combat

The fighting in a war is known as combat.  Political arguments are also commonly referred to as combat.

Example:  “Voters will have to wait another year to decide at the voting booth who wins this unseemly and destructive combat” (p. 26).