The Safety Net Safety Net
Opening Remarks at the Metaphor Debate


Welcome to the 2012 Political Metaphor Debate.  As for metaphors, it's a wide-open evening, so let's begin.

First of all, since we last gathered, many metaphors have entered the campaign — “Pork barrel,” “sacrificial lamb,” “witch hunt,” “blank check.”  No doubt, we are entering the critical season of political metaphor where expressions like these and others — “straw man” and “sacred cow” — take on added weight.  Rather than simply shorthand expressions for you, as politicians, to avoid answering a question with any specificity, these metaphors can, at this time in the political calendar, help shape a campaign.

For example, recently the image of  “safety net” was invoked by one of you on the stage tonight — Mitt Romney.  Mitt, you know that you’re in no need of a safety net.  Your father, a successful businessman and Governor of Michigan, gave you a great cushion to land on, in case you ever fell.  And you’ve been padding that cushion at places like Bain Capitol ever since.  Nevertheless, Mitt, you wanted to talk about safety nets.  As we all know, a safety net in politics means money to finance a kind of socio-economic security guarantee that prevents people, especially “the very poor,” who are in medical and/or financial free fall, from doing a face plant against the hard unforgiving socio-economic floor.

Safety nets as non-metaphors come in two categories.  First, there are safety nets for people in need of jumping out of burning buildings. The people in these burning buildings don’t choose to be there. Emergencies services provide these nets.

Secondly, there are safety nets for people doing high wire acts.  They are usually for circus performers. Those performers choose to be where they are.  Circus management pays for a their net.  On the other hand, a community pays for a community emergency safety net.  Or so you would think.

But back to you, Mitt.  Traditionally, presidential candidates are not supposed to say “I'm not concerned about the very poor.” That would be seen as callous.  But you said it, Mitt.  Then you called on a metaphor.  We have a safety net there,” you said in regard to the very poor’s position. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

The press tore you a new resume over these remarks and, in response, you said, that you misspoke.  According to you, Mitt, it wasn’t that you didn’t have concern for the very poor.   It was that you didn’t have concern for their net.  “We have a safety net that cares for the poor,” you said, giving your safety net a persona. “I want to keep that safety net strong and able.”  Notice the word “keep” as if the net, under the current administration, is already strong and able.  We’ll talk about that later.

“The wealthy are doing just fine,” you added.  “But we really need to focus on middle income people in this country.” 

The middle income middle class is, of course, where you, Mitt, can pick up votes.  I presume that’s why you say you want to fix their net.  Fair enough.  But who’s really fixing the net by providing the tax funds to do the fixing?  Why, that would be the middle class.  In fact, it’s the middle class that ends up financing most all the safety nets.

How do these safety nets work?

If you’re poor and plummeting you can try to get food stamps and assisted housing provided you play the game correctly.

If you’re middle class, you can try to get better loans and educational subsidies.

But where does that leave the upper class?  Remember, Mitt, you said the wealthy are doing just fine. Well, of course they are. Presumably, they’ve built their own safety nets because they’ve got money to spare.  But apparently that’s not enough for the upper class.  They need a safety net under their safety net.  Which gives them the biggest and best safety net system of all, kept strong and able by the middle class. 

A few years ago, Wall Street fell off a tight rope and a huge safety net appeared underneath it.  The safety net was so strong and able, that today many of those who fell are now better off than ever.

The auto manufacturers of Detroit had a slightly less “strong and able” safety net under their safety net.   But they bounced back, too — thanks again, to the middle class. It seems that one man’s safety net is another man’s tax refund.  That’s the beauty of a metaphor. 

So, given that the very poor are still very poor and that their safety net isn’t nearly as giving as Wall Street’s safety net, can you tell us, Mitt, what metaphors you’ll be using in the future?

Your response tonight, Governor?

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast February 10, 2012

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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