Bad analogies are not criminal.
If they were, I would be incarcerated.
But we’re getting awfully close.
It is one of my most deeply held beliefs that anyone, given enough time and a microphone, will make a career-ending gaffe. But our lack of tolerance for bad analogies isn’t making it easier.
Often people say “That would be like” when they mean “This would be as ridiculous as.” Then everyone gets snippy. They shouldn’t. Analogies — as anyone who took the SAT before they removed them could tell you — compare the relationships between two sets of things, not the things themselves.
“If you were to marry Bob, that’d be like the moon marrying a garbage truck!” someone says.
“Are you calling me fat?” you ask. “Are you saying I am big enough to have my own gravity?”
“No! I was trying to compare the relationship between —” but by then you are screaming loudly about disrespect, and it seems easier for the other party just to apologize.
Recently, RNC chairman Reince Priebus should have said that the idea of a GOP war on women was ridiculous. What he actually did was to make an analogy to a war on caterpillars.
“Well, for one thing,” he said, in response to a question about the popularity gap among female voters, “if the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars. The fact of the matter is it’s a fiction and this started a war against the Vatican that this president pursued. He still hasn’t answered Archbishop Dolan’s issues with Obama world and Obamacare, so I think that’s the first issue.”
And just like that, it started.
Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, cried that “Reince Priebus’ comparison of Republican attempts to limit women’s access to mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and contraception to a ‘war on caterpillars’ shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health.”
Well, er, look.
For the love of Pete, nobody thinks that women are caterpillars. Nobody even thinks that women’s issues are like caterpillar’s issues. And if you can’t tell the difference, here is a handy guide!
You’re Probably Waging War on Caterpillars If...
— mulberry leaf consumption is a major issue
— nobody is yelling, but someone left some recently chewed leaves outside your house in a threatening fashion
— there are no votes at stake
— the word “chrysalis” keeps coming up
— Debbie Wasserman-Schultz seems unmoved
— nobody has referenced the 1950s yet in a sneering tone
— everyone is upset that no mulberry leaves were offered to a panel testifying before Congress on reproductive issues
— enemy secludes itself in a pouch for several days, emerges with wings
You’re Probably Waging War on Women If...
— nobody has mentioned mulberry leaves at all, come to think of it
— Debbie Wasserman-Schultz cares a lot
— you threaten to step on your enemy and she starts laughing hysterically
— lots of audible yelling from all sides
— you lock enemy in a pouch for several days, no one emerges with wings, you are charged with manslaughter
— bringing mulberry leaves to the panel testifying on reproductive issues does nothing to improve the situation
— actual voters seem at least mildly concerned
— you can go up to the enemy and say, “Hey, are you a caterpillar?” and she can say “No.”
But look, we’re getting away from the point on analogies, like a thing that gets away from another thing. (See how careful I am being?) You can’t use colorful language these days. These are lean years for the folks who never met a metaphor they didn’t like.
Once they removed the analogies from the SAT, it was all downhill. Nobody understands that you aren’t comparing the objects themselves but the relationship between them. Remember when Hank Williams compared the president golfing with Boehner to Hitler golfing with Netanyahu? It violated the first rule of public commentary (Never Compare Anyone To Hitler, Ever) but it was first and foremost a bad analogy. And he paid for it, more than perhaps he should have.
We have to make the world safe for bad analogies, however ill-constructed and strange. And caterpillars. You can’t have a civil debate if every time anyone stoops to metaphor, you go digging through it for Freudian resonances. It’s unfair, almost as unfair as . . .
Well, you know. Something.