Entry from August 19, 2010

He’s at it again. As The New York Times reports, at every stop on his recent campaign swing, President Obama was “road-testing” his mid-term stump speech, and every time he made use of the same metaphor, the one about how the Republicans have driven the country into a ditch and the Democrats are stuck with the job of getting it out of the ditch:

“We put on our boots and walked into the ditch — it’s muddy and hot and dusty and bugs everywhere — and we’re pushing,” Mr. Obama said of the efforts of the White House and its Democratic partners in Congress. And we’re slipping and sliding and sweating, and the other side, the Republicans, they’re standing there with their Slurpees watching us,” Mr. Obama said, building up to the punch line, which he has been refining (minus the Slurpees) for several months. “Finally we get this car to level ground. Finally we’re ready to move forward, go down that road once again to American prosperity, and what happens? They want the keys back. Well, you can’t have the keys back,” he said to cheers in Milwaukee on Monday. “You don’t know how to drive. You got us into the ditch.”

But, pace Helene Cooper, the Times reporter, this is not the punch line. The punch line is still to come:

“You notice that when you move forward in your car, you put it in ‘D’; when you want to go backwards, you put it in ‘R?’ ” Mr. Obama said to wild cheers in Seattle, where, for the first time, he pantomimed drinking a Slurpee as he caricatured his Republican opponents. “Back into that ditch! Keep that in mind in November. That’s not a coincidence.”

It precisely is a coincidence, but it’s also a very odd sort of ditch that he’s imagining, isn’t it? The President’s metaphor would work only if we had been backed into the ditch. Most people take their vehicles into ditches, as the U.S. economy in the middle aughties was certainly taken, very firmly, even recklessly, in D, heedless of what might lie ahead, not behind. That means that we have to try to get out of it by putting our machine, still spinning its wheels in a vain attempt to keep going in the same wrong direction, in R — though, as in most ditches, we will probably also need a bit of a push in the R direction. That’s what the tea partiers are for, perhaps.

Beyond this mistake, however, is another, and more significant one that I have noted before. For the President’s metaphor is also typical of the Democrats’ “progressive” and historicist delusion, inherited from Marx, that there is only one direction forward, that only they and their allies know what it is, and that it is always the right one. The same delusion was evident last summer when President Obama, while declining to do anything to further the cause of the Iranian pro-democracy protestors, very kindly assured them that they were “on the right side of history” — and so, presumably, were assured of success even without his or America’s help.

Likewise, last winter, he was prepared to overlook Harry Reid’s injudicious language about his own lack of a “Negro dialect — unless he wanted to have one” by saying that he was “on the right side of history.” Also, “a good man,” which perhaps comes to the same thing in his book. Not long before, Senator Reid himself had scolded the Republican opponents of his and his Democratic colleagues’ disastrous and misbegotten health care bill for not “joining us on the right side of history,” and compared them to apologists for slavery. Those possessed of such rhetorical over-confidence are even more unlikely than most people to respond to Oliver Cromwell’s plea: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” But they do remind us of which party it is that supposes the best way to get your car out of a ditch is to gun the engine in D.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts