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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems: look closely at the language and metaphors that self-proclaimed “middle of the road” pundits use to criticize Obama: it provides an ironically revealing indication of their deep intellectual dishonesty.

Democrats really don’t need any assistance in finding examples of intellectual dishonesty in the writings of the self-proclaimed “nonpartisan” or “sensible middle of the road” commentators who criticize Obama but let Republicans escape with little or no condemnation. But there is one particular characteristic of this group that provides a psychologically fascinating demonstration of their subconscious bias toward the GOP.
Consider one of the most popular political metaphors of recent weeks — the demand that Obama should act like “the adult in the room,” basically by making completely one-sided concessions to the GOP. This “adult” metaphor is invariably presented by middle of the road commentators as something that is self-evident; to them, the demand seems entirely reasonable and politically neutral.
But the intriguing psychological fact about this metaphor is that it carries a very clear and completely unavoidable set of implications about the other side of the equation – the GOP.
If Obama is being called upon to act as “the adult in the room” this inescapably implies that the GOP is behaving like a bunch of children. Indeed, it actually implies a good deal more than that: it implies that the Republicans are acting like spoiled, undisciplined and misbehaving children. In most people’s minds, when children’s behavior becomes so unruly that it becomes urgently necessary to call on someone to act as the adult in the room it tends to suggest a whole series of subsidiary concepts — that the children needing adult supervision are behaving like spoiled brats, that they need a good spanking, that they are being indulged and pampered. That their parents are not doing them any favor. That they need tough love or they are going to grow up as deeply damaged selfish and self-centered adults.
Now, how many times have you seen a middle of the road commentator connect his or her call on Obama to behave like the adult in the room with any of these images of the GOP? The answer, of course, is absolutely never.
And in fact, this refusal to take their own language and metaphors seriously is repeated again and again in the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed middle of the road commentators.

Obama is called on to display “Leadership as President” because it is his responsibility in that high and exalted position but Republicans are not held to have any corresponding responsibility to show even minimal respect or deference for either the man or the office.
Obama is called on to display political “courage” but Republicans are not criticized for failing to show even the most minimal political bravery of their own.
Obama is called on to “rise above politics” but Republicans are not condemned for gleefully wallowing in it.

In short, virtually the entire range of sanctimonious, one-sided demands made on Obama by the middle of the road commentators inherently imply equal or greater failings on the part of the Republicans, but these implied failings are never directly expressed or criticized.
(Note: After two years of savage criticism by progressive writers like Greg Sargeant, Paul Krugman and others, middle of the road commentators have now finally begun to add a pro-forma sentence somewhere in their columns that quickly notes that “of course, Republicans can be argued to be more at fault than Obama”, but they quickly make up for this brief criticism of the GOP by throwing around a dozen or more terms like “Washington” “the political parties” “congress” and so on, all of which are calculated to indicate that they really believe both sides are equally to blame.)
So the bottom line is this: the same exact language that middle of the road commentators so widely use to criticize Obama simultaneously implies that Republicans should be viewed as “spoiled brats” who “need a good spanking” because they are “disrespectful”, “ill-mannered”, “ill-behaved”, “cowardly”, “selfish” and “self-indulgent,” but the middle of the road commentators absolutely never – never – follow their own language and metaphors to their logical conclusion.
This is not only powerful evidence of a deep intellectual dishonesty but — for people who are paid to exercise literary skill — it also demonstrates a genuinely startling inability to perform the task for which they were hired.

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