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    Fangs for the Metaphor

    Bernie Sanders, the Socialist Senator from Vermont, has given an old-timey rip-snorter of a speech that’s gone viral among true believers. Figaro declares it a rhetorical failure. 

    Everything about the speech is off:  the timing (better to stir up the troops before the election), the accent (Bernie, who grew up in New York, sounds like a Socialist), and the metaphor. Especially the metaphor: “There is a war going on in this country.”

    Politicians love war metaphors. War brings people together to join forces and battle evil. Or it’s supposed to, anyway. But even the sexiest metaphors don’t work if they fail to match the subject. You can declare war on poverty, but poverty doesn’t fight back. It just sits there, a passive-aggressive enemy. You can declare war on drugs, but drugs just retreat back into their dens, where they do drugs. The “war” Bernie talks about isn’t a war at all. It’s a vast shift of wealth from 99 percent of the nation to the richest one-tenth of one percent, as Bernie himself points out.

    It’s Label Monday again, so let us suggest a different rhetorical strategy for Bernie and his gauche-wing compatriots: label your opponent, not the phenomenon. Call the super-rich the Vampire Class. They suck the life force from the American economy, hide their identity behind anonymous political ads, and glamour independent voters with their mysterious mock-patriot charm. The Vampire Class. They’re coming to a Main Street near you.

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    Reader Comments (10)

    Wait. Doesn't America LIKE vampires?
    December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSantalooch
    Only the kind who glitter, and they aren't real. The real vampires--the ones who get to shag Anna Paquiin on True Blood--are a repressed if powerful minority. GOD HATES FANGS says the signboard in the opening credits.
    December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Steinberg
    What do you mean "gauche" wing? Tacky? I don't get it.
    December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Johansen
    "Gauche" means "left" in French, lending a touch of je ne sais quois to the phrase. It also means "indecorous" in the rhetorical sense, failing to fit in with the audience.
    December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    You're being unfair to Bernie. He tells it like it is. Don't tell me you're another of these right-wing types who disguise themselves as reasonable.
    December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Faxon
    "Tell it like it is" makes a perfection expression on demonstrative speech, on the order of "They don't get it." It's tribal speech, sounding perfect only to a particular tribe. That's what Bernie is doing: talking to his supporters on the left.

    And right-wing types don't talk about vast shifts of wealth unless they're in the wrong direction.
    December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    That's quite brilliant, and you've inspired me to try to make a similar rhetorical twist in my field. Off to a thesaurus!
    December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Barry
    Whilst I sympathise with Bernie Saunders, and I agree with all your points. Is the problem specifically with the metaphor of war, or is it in how that metaphor has been used lazily? For example what if he expanded on that metaphor, and continued describing the various ends used by the wealthy as military manouvres, with lobbyists, tame governors, etc. as troops and generals, if he compared the forces that have been marshalled by one side of the argument and compared them to those marshaled by the other side, say volunteers in homeless centre, if he then framed the statistic he uses as the start of his speech in terms of a blitzkrieg like victory these forces have been winning, would that do the trick?

    I think the problem with how the maeaphor of war is used, is that it isn't used, the modern rhetorical use of the term has become a cliché, one can just as easily have a war on prices as a war an terrorism.

    The thing about clichés though is that they're usually quite brilliant, and in the process of becoming clichés that brilliance becomes dulled, approaching a cliché from a new angle, such as say with not just calling it a war, but illustrating that metaphor further and building on it, so that people would actually see it as a war, and react to it as one should react to war (which I imagine is what Bernie Saunders would want), would sure be more effective?
    December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSeanán Kerr
    I'd love to hear your thoughts on Senator Dorgan's tax cut speech from last Saturday morning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECX0VoHoYiU I thought it was a far better speech and yet nobody I know has really been talking about it as they've been talking about Sanders.
    December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh M
    Here are the flaws in Sander's argument from the first 6:44. (I couldn't get beyond that):
    1. He is hypocritical in his denouncing the rich as wanting more, more, more. Yet he serves in Congress and believes in government that wants more, more, more. Where is the limit to big government, Mr. Sanders?
    2. He states, repeatedly, that the top 1% earns 23% of the income, but fails to also state that the top 1% pays over 40% of the income taxes in this country.
    3. He talks about the rising level of poverty in the country and how the middle class is "collapsing." Yet, he has no stats or evidence to support this claim. In fact, he is implying that there is a limited supply of money and the rich are hogging it all. The standard of living in this country is higher across the board than in decades past. That is because our economy, over time, creates wealth. Sanders has stats about how well off the wealthy are over decades, but he does not reinforce his argument by showing with stats that the middle class is equally worse off over decades.
    4. He blames the Wall Street for economic collapse. Again, he is leaving the government out of his argument. The housing bubble was fueled by the government forcing banks to engage in subprime lending. Freddie and Fannie packaged the toxic mortgages into securities that were underfunded. Wall Street took what the government gave them. To blame Wall Street alone for our economic woes, Sanders is being disingenuous.
    5. The Bush tax cuts brought record levels of income to the government. The tax cuts didn't created the debt. The issue before Congress is not more tax cuts, it is the extension of the status quo. There are no new tax breaks for the wealthy.
    6. The government debt is due to Congress spending more than they have. The 2009 stimulus bill added $800-900 trillion to our debt and did nothing to create jobs and stimulate the economy. The health care bill will add to our debt. Yet Sanders rants on and on about how greedy and unfair the wealthy is.

    That is enough forensic analysis about how flawed Sander's argument is. If he is serious about the government debt and reducing the burden on the economy and the middle class, he will tell us what is going to be done about the unfunded government liabilities. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are anchors on our economy. I would like to ask Sanders how his rant is going to address those issues. If he showed that much passion towards the solving of those government created problems, I would have a lot more respect and support for his efforts.
    December 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMallard

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