The Spectacle Blog

Administration Mixes Metaphors, Botches Literal/Metaphorical Distinction

By on 8.24.10 | 5:01PM

The Hill quotes Biden as saying, in response to John Boehner's speech calling for the resignation of administration officials, "Before we arrived in the West Wing Mr. Boehner and the Republican Party ran the economy literally into the ground."

OK, that's exactly the opposite of what literally means. Biden should have said "metaphorically." But that's only the beginning. The "economy" is not something that can be "driven into the ground," in the sense of "driven with a forceful blow" or "driven by the wind," because it consists of relationships and actions, not any physical thing. And in the sense that I think Biden means "driven," as in driving a car, nothing -- including the economy -- can be driven "into the ground." I.e. you can't drive a car into the ground. Into a garage yes, into the ground no. 

The problem seems to be that Biden was trying to stretch President Obama's favorite obnoxious metaphor to fit the situation. From the same article: "[Deputy White House spokesman Bill] Burton referenced the president's now familiar campaign theme that Republicans drove the economy into a ditch, criticizing Boehner for calling for the resignations of the people trying to drive that car out of the ditch."

Here is an example of the metaphor in action, as early as May: 

It gets old, but at least it has an interior logic. That logic seems to have escaped Biden.

And the entire concept of a metaphor appears to be lost on Burton, who suggests that Boehner has both driven a car into a ditch (an action inside the metaphor) and called for the administration economists' resignation (an action outside the metaphor). In or out, buddy. 

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