To give some idea of what it could mean for a concept to be metaphorical and for such a concept to structure an everyday activity, let us start with the concept ARGUMENT and the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. This metaphor is reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions....
-- George Lakoff, Metaphors We Live By
First, it was mockery: “The Tea Party is a bunch of troglodytes,” they said. (I’ll pass over references to scrota, dropped with the gusto of 12-year-olds at summer camp.)
Then they flashed a familiar card: “The Tea Party is a bunch of racists!” That didn’t work. People for whom liberty is a first principle almost always judge others by the content of their character.
“The Tea Party is violent!” is the latest effort to tar the merry band of freedom-lovers with the ad hominem brush. And that won’t work, either.
Sorry. Calling people “violent” is not an effective tactic. You might win a couple of folks at the margins who don’t want vaguely to be identified with “hate.” But any gains will be short term.
A Resonant Doctrine
If name-calling isn’t that effective, what is? Anyone who wants to win hearts and minds over the long term needs to offer people a consistent, resonant doctrine.
History shows the Founders were right to be skeptical of state power and they wanted to check it. The Tea Party wants the same thing. That is, people have coalesced around the rationale for our very founding. And that’s effective.
While it’s tempting to trash folks by cashing in on, say, a single violent act, it just kind of comes across as cheap. (Just saying.) People can smell inauthenticity. I realize your playbook says otherwise. But look around you.
Consider also governments’ checkered history. You really don’t sound credible if you claim to renounce violence but routinely lead cheers for the expansion of state power. Why? Government is inherently coercive -- that is, violent. That’s why reasonable people want to limit it.
Such may sound like the rantings of a anti-authoritarian. But if you spend your days and nights dreaming up legislation meant to fashion the society of your dreams, you are an authoritarian. Here’s the principle you have devoted your life to:
Hey America: if you don’t do things our way, we’ll point guns at you and take you to jail.
What could be more violent?
Zeal and Discourse Drift
People who are convinced of the state’s power to make meaningful social change are almost religious in their zeal. They’re no better than theocrats on the right who want to legislate and enforce morality. And if you’re willing to capitalize on whatever unfortunate event eventually swims along like a black swan? Your zeal is on full display.
What’s the saddest part about all of this? America is currently having a dumb conversation about politics when we should be having a smart conversation about mental illness. But the left has let the discourse drift down, down, down into their version of the fever swamps. In other words, “The Tea Party is violent!” strains credulity just like “Obama ain’t no American.” And frankly, most Americans are just not ready to give up any more of their sovereignty in the name of another crisis.
So what does the act of one mentally unstable kid from Arizona mean for America? It means we need to start thinking about how best to help people with mental illness. We need to determine meaningful standards for what constitutes agency in a world that affords us no bright lines. And, of course, we need to think about how to help people like Jared Loughner without robbing them of their rights or their dignity.
We can only assume that the self-righteous former congressman Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa), writing recently in the New York times, was being metaphorical when he said of Florida’s new governor Rick Scott: "That Scott down there that's running for governor of Florida" ... "Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him." A rhetorical flourish, I'm sure.
Recent events mean we need to start gunning for (gasp) people who stoop to cheap discourse while real people suffer. We must attack, relentlessly, those bent on scoring political points on tragedy -- all while underlying social problems persist. I’m putting my rhetorical crosshairs on Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann and Clarence Dupnik for starters.
Oh. and if you’ve got a problem with my metaphors, take it up with left-liberal advisor George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist who writes:
[T]his is the ordinary way of having an argument and talking about one. The normal way for us to talk about attacking a position is to use the words "attack a position." Our conventional ways of talking about arguments presuppose a metaphor [argument as war] we are hardly ever conscious of. The metaphors not merely in the words we use--it is in our very concept of an argument.
And if you still can't get over my use of words as weapons, I leave you with a parting thought: Metaphors don’t kill people. People kill people.
Max Borders is a writer living in Austin. He blogs at Ideas Matter.