Say what? Tortured metaphors of the debt debate

By Nancy Benac

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 31 2011 10:35 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this July 28, 2011, file photo House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference in Washington about the debt crisis showdown. The debate has triggered a spiral of rhetorical one-upmanship that has all sides stretching for new analogies and catchy one-liners to sway public opinion. Boehner contributed to the debate when he complained that negotiating with the White House was like "dealing with Jell-O."

J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Not too long ago there was lofty talk of doing something big. Of a reasonable path. Of a grand bargain.

That was a few weeks and a few thousand tortured metaphors ago.

The debate over raising the federal debt limit has triggered a spiral of rhetorical one-upmanship that has all sides stretching for new analogies and catchy one-liners to sway public opinion. Stretching far enough to pull a few muscles.

It was one thing when the president spoke of his desire for a "big" deal.

And quite another when press secretary Jay Carney explained that "reasonableness and bigness walk down the street hand in hand."

There's been ominous talk of driving off a cliff, collateral damage, loaded guns, hostage situations, the dark cloud of uncertainty and the fog of the Twilight Zone.

There have been catchy catchphrases like "cut, cap and balance," later derided as "duck, dodge and dismantle."

Whole genres of metaphorical warfare have sprung up, producing some hits, more misses.

FOOD FIGHT

"We might as well do it now," President Barack Obama admonished a few weeks back, urging Congress to buckle down to the unpleasant task of raising the debt limit. "Pull off the Band-Aid, eat our peas."

It was an apt metaphor, one that tea party activists were happy to plop in a spoon and fling right back at the White House.

"Eat your own peas!" read a tea party sign at a rally on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner made his own culinary contribution to the debate when he complained that negotiating with the White House was like "dealing with Jell-O."

The Republican National Committee liked that so much it gave the president a new title: "His Jello-Ness."

AT THE MOVIES

Everyone likes a good film, so it's no surprise that politicians are trying to create a little movie magic of their own.

House Democrats complained that the repetitive debt debate was starting to feel like "Groundhog Day."

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., accused Republicans of taking the country into "The Twilight Zone."

House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy tried to rally GOP support by playing lawmakers a clip of the bank-robber film "The Town," in which Ben Affleck tells an ally: "I need your help. ... We're gonna hurt some people."

Carney countered with a cringe-worthy film analogy of his own, harking back to the 1982 movie "Sophie's Choice," in which a Jewish woman must choose which of her two children should be saved from a Nazi death camp.

The White House spokesman said failure to raise the debt limit by Tuesday's deadline would require the government to make difficult choices about which bills to pay and which ones to let slide.

"It's a Sophie's choice, right?" Carney said. "Who do you save? Who do you pay?"

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi invoked "Star Wars," saying that Boehner "chose to go to the dark side" when he changed his own legislation to satisfy tea party lawmakers and other critics.

It's probably only a matter of time before someone invokes the Grinch: Obama adviser David Plouffe warned Thursday that extending the debt ceiling for just a few months could create a new crisis that would "ruin Christmas."

One House Republican skipped filmography in favor of a literary allusion.

Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania described Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's actions over the past few months as "Profiles in Cowardice."

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