Monday, August 01, 2011

Marco Rubio and the right metaphor

Conservatives have been enjoying this video of Senator Rubio's speech on the Senate floor on Saturday explaining how we got to the position we are today. He was then interrupted by Senator Kerry doing his typical Kerryesque explanation of how it doesn't matter that Democratic leaders such as Senators Obama, Biden, and Reid all voted against raising the debt ceiling previously because hey, their votes didn't matter back then so it wasn't significant if they voted irresponsibly. It's a great exchange and so revealing of the way Kerry thinks. This is in accord with the research that Byron York did finding that Democratic leaders such as Majority Leader Harry Reid and Whip Dick Durbin voted against raising the debt ceiling when Republicans controlled the Senate, but in favor of increases when the Democrats controlled the Senate. Mitch McConnell's voting pattern is not as partisan. For Democrats, partisan votes on the increasing the debt ceiling are perfectly okay as long as their votes don't matter. That's typical of their concept on responsible leadership.

But that wasn't the main point of Rubio's speech. Rubio wanted to make the much more important point that our goal shouldn't be simply to have a compromise to get past this current debt-ceiling compromise; instead we need to have a plan to address the fiscal catastrophe that we're facing.
“Compromise is fantastic.

“I would love nothing more than to leave this building tomorrow night having said the republic still works. I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with people from states far from mine with views different from mine but who love their country so much that we were able to come together and save it when it faced this catastrophe.

“I would love nothing more than compromise. But I would say to you that compromise that's not a solution is a waste of time.

“If my house was on fire, I can't compromise about which part of the house I'm going to save. You save the whole house or it will all burn down.

“We either save this country or we do not.

“And to save it, we must seek solutions.”
He's absolutely right. This deal is just the start. We need to work to solve our situation where, as Rubio laid out earlier in his speech, we're borrowing about 40 cents for every dollar we spend.

His burning house metaphor reminds me of two other famous fire metaphors in American history. In 1831 in his inaugural issue of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison wrote an editorial to declare that he would fight to end slavery immediately and would accept no compromise with the evil that was slavery.
I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; —but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.
Now that is determination not to compromise. And like the historical metaphor that John Podhoretz used below, it took Garrison over 30 years to accomplish his goals of abolition. The fight was long, but we needed those who were regarded as extremists back then such as Garrison in order to move the fight forward just as we need those to the right of Boehner who are keeping us focused on the ultimate goal.

And here the Democratic hero with another burning house metaphor. This is FDR in a December, 1940 press conference explaining his Lend-Lease program.
Well, let me give you an illustration: Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire. Now, what do I do? I don't say to him before that operation, "Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it." What is the transaction that goes on? I don't want $15--I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. All right. If it goes through the fire all right, intact, without any damage to it, he gives it back to me and thanks me very much for the use of it. But suppose it gets smashed up--holes in it--during the fire; we don't have to have too much formality about it, but I say to him, "I was glad to lend you that hose; I see I can't use it any more, it's all smashed up." He says, "How many feet of it were there?" I tell him, "There were 150 feet of it." He says, "All right, I will replace it." Now, if I get a nice garden hose back, I am in pretty good shape.

In other words, if you lend certain munitions and get the munitions back at the end of the war, if they are intact haven't been hurt--you are all right; if they have been damaged or have deteriorated or have been lost completely, it seems to me you come out pretty well if you have them replaced by the fellow to whom you have lent them.
This is regarded as one of the most successful metaphors in presidential rhetoric to explain in clear language why we couldn't worry about Great Britain paying us right away for the military equipment we were going to be lending them because their house was burning down and we didn't have time to dicker about the price.

I think Marco Rubio's metaphor is the right image for the situation we're in. We don't need a compromise just for the sake of a sweet photo op. We need one that will go towards changing the trajectory we're on.

The house is burning. Let's save it.