Mo’ better metaphors

A month ago, I wrote a piece for the Daily Standard called “Argument by Metaphor.” I subtitled it, “The left may lack substantive heft, but it’s not short on figures of speech.” The article showed how the left increasingly uses dramatic metaphors instead of arguments to attack the American government and traditional American values. Thus, a professor named Alex Hinton compared our prosecution of the war on terror with the genocidal acts of the Khmer Rouge; Maureen Dowd equated the assertion of strong Christian beliefs in political debate with theocracy; President Bush morphed into Hitler in amateur commercials that appeared on’s website; and Ward Churchill equated the 9/11 victims who worked for capitalist firms at the World Trade with Nazis.
The latest example of this emerging leftist idiom is, of course, Amnesty International’s claim that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay constitutes a gulag. This is too much for E.J. Dionne. “Human rights,” he intones, “are too important to be lost in bad metaphors.”
Dionne’s biggest problem with Amnesty International’s metaphor is not that it’s a slander against a great nation and the military that’s working so hard to protect it. Rather, Dionne seems most concerned that the use of the absurd metaphor enabled President Bush to brush off legitimate criticism thus making the president’s life “so easy for him.” But it’s my impression that the left often uses these sorts of metaphors precisely because many of its adherents have become incapable of performing the hard work required to level and support reasoned criticism. Indeed, no such criticism appears in Dionne’s piece — he merely assumes that Gitmo represents a major scandal and calls those who agree with him “truth-tellers.”


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