MythicAmerica explores the mythic dimension of American political culture, past, present, and future. The blogger, Ira Chernus, is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Apocalypse Management: Eisenhower and the Discourse of National Insecurity.
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Guns and violence are “a deep illness in our society,” columnist Frank Rich opines. “There's only one other malady that was so deeply embedded into the country's DNA at birth: slavery. We know how long it took us to shake those shackles. And so ... overthrowing America's gun-worship is not a project that will be cured in a legislative session; it's a struggle that's going to take decades.”
I wonder if Rich is too pessimistic. He assumes that the gun-control issue is now where the slavery issue was in perhaps the 1820s, when the abolitionist movement was just beginning to gather steam as an organized Protestant reform effort. But that doesn’t seem a fair comparison.
There has already been a well-organized, well-publicized gun control movement in the U.S. for decades. And it has already had a brief era of great success, in the early 1990s: the Gun-Free School Zones Act in 1990 (revised 1995), the Brady Bill in 1993, and the 10-year assault-weapons ban in 1994. That era was followed by a strong and relatively successful reaction from anti-gun-control forces, leaving us now with a common but mistaken impression that most Americans have always been reactionaries on this issue.
If the analogy is to the slavery debate, it might be more accurate to think of 2012 as akin to 1852. In the preceding years pro-slavery sentiment in the South, and the pro-slavers’ political clout in Washington, had grown much stronger. Then Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s epochal novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared. The immensely popular book, and the many dramatizations of it that were quickly produced, gave powerful new energy to the anti-slavery movement.
Although historians are supposed to refrain from predicting the future, there is no rule against imagining hypothetical possibilities. So I’ll suggest, with lots of qualifiers, that it’s possible that the dreadful murders in Newtown might turn out to play a role in some way akin to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Who would have thought that Barack Obama, so deeply immersed in such delicate negotiations about taxes and budget, would run the risk of publicly advocating specific gun control measures: banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and requiring background checks before all gun purchases. Granted, they are popular measures, as Obama himself admitted.
But there will be plenty of pushback from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups, who have proven very effective in the past. So the president knows he is taking a considerable political risk.
In fact, if the 1850s is the appropriate decade for comparison, it’s a safe bet that the movement Obama has now joined will suffer losses in the near future. The anti-slavery movement was shocked by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the ensuing battle over “bloody Kansas,” the Dred Scott decision in 1857, and the hanging of John Brown for raiding the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal in 1859 (just to name the most influential events).
Yet each of those shocks ultimately had a similar effect to the shock we received when all those little children and their teachers were killed in Newtown. They redoubled the commitment of reformers to create political change, and therefore they heightened the tension between the opposing political forces, a tension that ultimately led to massive change.
So the lesson of the 1850s is that no one event is likely, by itself, to transform public attitudes and policies. But a series of events, each one profoundly shocking, can have that effect. When the first of those events occurs, no one can know for sure that it is the first of a history-changing series. That’s something we can only know in retrospect. But we can know that change does sometimes happen in a series of spasmodic leaps.
There’s one more interesting parallel to consider. Throughout the 1850s, the total abolition of slavery always remained a minority view. The history-changing events of the decade never made the abolition of slavery a broadly popular opinion. The broad wave of support, spurred by every tragic turn of events, was for “free soil”: banning the extension of slavery to places it was not already legal.
That was clearly Abraham Lincoln’s position, the major plank on which he won the presidency. Only under fierce pressure to win the Civil War did he become “The Great Emancipator,” the prophet of total abolition.
Similarly, there is no serious talk now of a total ban on the sale and/or possession of guns in the United States. Barack Obama knows it would be political suicide to endorse such an extreme position, just as Lincoln knew in the 1850s that total abolitionism would be political suicide.
But the lesson of Lincoln’s career is that political issues and causes have a life of their own. Once you join or endorse them in even a partial way, there’s no telling where you might end up. The fates forbid that we ever have to endure anything remotely like the bloodshed of the Civil War, for any reason, including the eventual banning of guns. But even without violence history can lead us to very unexpected outcomes, sometimes in very sudden leaps, as we are learning right now.
I know it’s foolish hubris to hear about a tragedy like the school shooting in Connecticut and then immediately start writing about it. But many of us who blog do it, at least in part, as a way to deal with feelings that otherwise might overwhelm us. It’s cathartic. And it’s our wager that, in the process, we’ll say something helpful to others who are trying to make a little bit of sense out of at least some corner of the tragedy
Convincing explanations of any kind are ultimately bound to elude us. All one can do is try to shed a little light on a little piece of the immense calamity, from one’s own particular viewpoint. I naturally think about American mythic traditions that seem relevant in this situation.
After the mass killing in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater last summer I noted a point that Washington Post wonk Ezra Klein Klein confirms in a very useful post today: While the American public generally supports a number of specific gun control proposals, when pollsters ask about “gun control laws” in the abstract a growing number of Americans say they oppose it. And pollsters consistently find that mass killings do nothing to increase support for gun control.
Back then I suggested that “when nations, like individuals, try to go in two directions at once they get paralyzed. That’s where we are on the politics of gun control.” I added that the paralysis makes us ever more frightened and craving safety. The traditional American source of safety is a gun -- or two, or three, or more. I concluded that “the root of the problem is our dedication to the fantasy of absolute safety and security. The sooner we recognize that as our national fantasy and stop arming ourselves to the teeth in pursuit of it, the safer we all will be.”
At the time I did not know that the killer had been in treatment with a very competent psychiatrist. I merely assumed that it’s mentally or emotionally disturbed people with guns who kill people, at least on such a mass scale. We still don’t know anything about the killer in the Connecticut school. But again that assumption seems to be a rather safe one.
In other words, I start with the premise that the opponents of gun control are half right. Guns don’t kill people, as they like to say. But the other half of the truth is the part they won’t say: Mentally or emotionally disturbed people with guns kill people.
And now I’m thinking about the connection between mental/emotional disturbance and the widespread resistance to the idea of “gun control,” which I assume comes from the mythic tradition that equates guns with absolute safety.
I’ve been working with a group in my community trying to promote public support for mental health treatment. It has made me very aware of the profound reluctance we see all around us (even in a very liberal and wealthy county like mine) to treat mental/emotional disturbance as a communal problem.
To say the same thing from the other side: When we talk about mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals, our society puts the emphasis on “individuals.” Without really thinking about it, most of us assume that we’re dealing with peculiar cases, each one caused by some unique set of problems encased in one individual’s brain.
We just don’t have many cultural resources at all to think about mental/emotional disturbance as a societal problem. Oh, there’s shelves full of books in university libraries which can teach us to see it that way. But that academic perspective has not percolated through to our shared public myths. We still tend, as a society, rather reflexively to see troubled people as individual “weirdos,” unique outliers from the norm.
And our natural inclination, most of the time, is to stay as far away from them as we can -- unless they are family members or otherwise connected to us in ways we couldn’t escape even if we wanted to. Then we try our best to get help for them. And we usually discover that the resources our society provides are far too meager to give them the help they really need -- precisely because, as a society, we don’t think of such disturbances as a collective problem. So we don’t even think about, much less provide the resources for, collective solutions.
I suspect this pattern has its deepest roots in a tradition that was pervasive through the late nineteenth century and still affects us deeply: viewing mental/emotional disturbance through the lens of religious and spiritual language. I’ve spoken with ministers who are trying hard to bring their fellow clergy into fruitful conversation with mental health professionals. It’s an uphill struggle, they say, in part because there are still many clergy who assume that personal prayer and spiritual renewal is the only appropriate treatment.
What we have here, to some degree that’s impossible to quantify, is a living legacy of the days when mental and emotional disturbance were interpreted as signs of sin. (“Evil visited this community today,” said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, as if the the tragedy were caused by some distant, utterly alien metaphysical force.) Just as sin was seen to be the responsibility of the individual, so mental/emotional disturbance is still seen to be, if not the individual’s responsibility, at least an individual problem.
The proud American tradition of individualism is also, I suspect, at the root of the popular resistance to gun control. Discrete gun control measures gain popularity because most people think that they will apply only to others. Things like background checks and no guns for felons -- or the mentally ill -- don’t apply to me, the average respondent in a poll assumes. But gun control in general means that I may no longer have the right to defend myself, my family, and my home.
The curious fact (which I noted in my post last summer and Klein confirms) is that the actual number of American households with guns has declined fairly steeply in the last forty years. So the objection to gun control laws doesn’t come only from people who have guns and want to hold on to them (though they are the largest portion of the naysayers). It also comes from people who imagine that they might some day feel the need for a gun to protect themselves. They don’t want their individual freedom abridged.
So here is the picture we end up with: an image of a nation where at least half the people (or more, depending the poll) assert their individual rights by opposing gun control laws, while uncounted millions are walking around with serious disturbances locked up inside them -- disturbances that occasionally burst out with horrific consequences. It’s a picture made up of 300-plus million separate individuals.
Most of us see it that way because we don’t have the cultural traditions -- the myths, I’d say -- that would let us see both gun ownership and mental/emotional disturbance as societal facts, as manifestations of what the community as a whole is doing.
So we go on letting individuals arm themselves to protect their individual rights and freedom, or so the myth tells us. (Illinois just became the 50th state to allow citizens to carry concealed guns.) But we tragically underfund and ignore societal programs to help the mentally/emotionally disturbed, because we simply don’t see any relationship between them and the rest of us, or so the myth tells us.
In such an individualistic nation, the recipe for absolute safety seems simple enough: Give everyone the freedom to carry a concealed gun, and stay as far away as possible from those “weirdos.” We’ve just seen, in a Connecticut schoolhouse, what that recipe produces.
Solidarity poster from Poland in 1989 -- an effective use of the "showdown" myth in politics. Credit: Wiki Commons.
Progressive groups are trying to rally their troops to stop any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They may wish they could turn out crowds large and noisy enough to make a media splash, the way the Tea Party did a couple of years ago. But their troops are all volunteers, and as far as I can tell not enough of them are showing up for duty to make that media splash.
Barack Obama and his ax-wielding budget aides will draw the obvious conclusion: Most people say they oppose cuts to the big three “entitlements.” But they don’t care strongly enough to make any noise about it. Mostly what they want is to stop hearing about the dangers of the “fiscal cliff.”
So Democrats can make cuts to the big three, satisfy the Republicans, end the “fiscal cliff” crisis, and pay a very small political price. In fact the Dems will probably come out with a higher rating in the polls because they’ll show that they can “make Washington work.”
That’s probably what’s going to happen in the next few weeks, unless some progressive crowds get out there with Tea-Party-like enthusiasm and start screaming “No! Stop!”?
Why aren’t they out there yet? One reason, I’ve suggested, is that progressives have not challenged the metaphor that everyone uses to describe the situation: We’re headed for a “cliff.” Every metaphor tells a story. And the stories we tell shape the way we view things, which in turn determines the policies we’ll adopt or reject.
The story of the “cliff” tells us that apocalyptic peril looms ahead. We’re all in this together, and if we take one more step in the wrong direction we’re doomed. But we don’t have any consensus on which direction is the right one. Most people, facing that kind of threat, are afraid to take a step in any direction. So they just stand still, cling to the status quo, and turn more conservative.
Recently I learned that there are some progressives who understand the power of metaphor. I met some folks who are organizing to save Medicaid. They certainly want Medicare and Social Security protected too. And they’re not talking about any “cliff.” They are talking about the “fiscal showdown.”
All of a sudden the whole situation looked different to me. It’s not all of us together rushing toward a precipice, trying frantically to figure out where to direct our collective steps, constantly bumping into each other -- and sometimes trampling each other -- in our panic. If it were, we’d have good reason to feel paralyzed, afraid to move at all.
No, the “showdown” metaphor gives us two clearly defined groups -- good guys and bad guys -- facing each other in a fight to the finish. We each get to choose which side is good and which is bad. But once we’ve made the choice, we get to stand with the good guys and join in the fight. We get to take action.
Once the good guys defeat the bad guys, the people who have been blocking progress toward a better life for all are gone. The way is clear to make all sorts of improvements for our society and everyone in it.
Sure, for progressives that’s a fantasy. Even if the Republicans go down to terrible defeat in this round of negotiations (which is hardly likely, given their majority in the House), they’ll bounce right back and start trying to force some other horrible new policies on us.
But imagine if all the headlines were about the “fiscal showdown,” not the “fiscal cliff.” “Showdown” is an energizing fantasy. It creates a feeling that we can eventually “clean up this town, make it a decent place where fine folks will want to raise their families.” I think I heard that in a movie or two, or actually a few dozen.
The film history of the “showdown” -- with its familiar mantra, “draw, podner” -- reminds us that this metaphor is classic Americana. The good guy is the all-American kid. Whatever virtues he represents are, by definition, all-American virtues. And he’s expected to win an unconditional victory over the bad guy. At the OK Corral or anywhere else, the “showdown” has a fine patriotic pedigree.
If progressives go out into the street for a “fiscal showdown,” they’re acting out a traditional American drama. In a strange way that makes them more appealing to the rest of the public, even to the most conservative among us.
On the other hand, if we are hurtling toward the cliff the best we can hope for is to avoid disaster at the last minute. The only film prototype I can think of is James Dean as the Rebel Without a Cause. That’s hardly an appealing image if progressives hope to get their message beyond their already rebellious circles.
Those of us who are committed to nonviolence may not feel very comfortable with the traditional American “showdown” metaphor, since it’s so loaded with overtones of violent death. But we don’t shrink from confrontation any more than Gandhi or Dr. King did. The “showdown” we want isn’t between two groups of people. It’s between two sets of policies, each with its underlying values and mythic narratives.
When we support more funding for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and all the government’s other human service programs, we are going out to fight for a society where we are all interconnected; all threads in a single garment of destiny; each caring deeply for and feeling responsible for the well-being of all others. We are fighting against a rampant, uncaring individualism built on greed and selfishness.
That’s what this fight is really about. And when you bring it down to that level of basic values, it’s hard to see how anyone can advocate compromise. Because if greedy individualism wins, we all lose -- even the richest among us, though they don’t know it yet. So the only way to avoid sending our society over the moral as well as fiscal cliff is to make sure progressives win this showdown.
And here in America, the traditional place for a showdown is in the street, out in public, where everyone can see the victory of right over wrong.
Dear Rush Limbaugh,
The night President Obama was re-elected you went to bed thinking that Mitt Romney “put forth a great vision of traditional America, and it was rejected.” So “we’ve lost the country.” You explained to your audience that the voters had chosen a “Santa Claus” government over hard work as the way to get their needs met.
Well, now that Santa is finishing up the last toys and getting the reindeer ready to fly, I want to bring you a season’s greeting full of good cheer. I want to cheer you up by telling you about the Christmas card I just got from the Obamas. It should ease your fears that your country, the one you call “traditional America,” is disappearing.
All the Obamas signed the card, even their little dog Bo (who added his pawprint). In fact Bo is the star of the card; he’s the only one who got his picture on it. There he is romping through the snow on the Obamas’ lawn. Hey, Rush, what could be more traditionally American than that?
And then read the message inside: “This season, may your home be filled with family, friends, and the joy of the holidays.” That’s it. No government coming into your home to spy on you -- or to give away stuff. In fact, no stuff at all. And no fat guy in a red suit to bring stuff. Just a home filled with family, friends, and Christmas joy.
(Yeah, I know it says “holidays.” But seriously, when did you ever see a picture of a little dog romping in the snow as a symbol of Hanukkah, or of anything associated with Muslim culture? We are obviously talking Christmas here.)
Why do you suppose I got this card? I don’t know. The only reason I can imagine is that I’m on some list of people who volunteered for Obama during the campaign. It says it was “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” It was “paid for by the Democratic National Committee, www.democrats.org” (which means no government money was spent on the card, so don’t jump to any nasty conclusions).
But you know as well as I that the Democrats are trying to hold on to all of us who volunteered, so that when the time comes they can mobilize us in whatever political fight they need us for. I mean, you should see all the emails they still send me.
The thing is, I didn’t do very much for the campaign. There must be tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands, who did as much as I did. You’ve heard about the size of the Obama “ground game,” I bet. And they must all be getting the same card.
Now think about it, Rush. (This should really dry your tears.) The Democrats made a Christmas card to send to this huge list of people who support the Dems so solidly that they’ll give a few volunteer hours. These are all the people that you think are taking away your country, rejecting “traditional America.” The Dems surely hired some pretty high-priced PR professionals to figure out exactly what should go on that card -- what would make all of us who get it feel so good that we’ll want to volunteer even more.
And what did they come up with? Santa giving away stuff to a diverse rainbow coalition of greedy Americans? An inter-faith gathering, complete with atheists, celebrating a neutralized “seasonal observance”? A gay couple sitting down to Christmas dinner with their multi-racial children?
No. Not even a white working-class couple sitting down to Christmas dinner with their blond-haired, blue-eyed children. Just a little dog in the snow and a “home, family, friends, coded-Christmas” greeting.
But that’s not all, Rush. It gets better. The picture shows the dog in front of a grand, immense mansion, wearing a scarf no less. His head is held up straight and high, aligned perfectly with the stately pillars of the White House, as if he were marching in a military parade. And it’s all framed in a thin line of gold. Open it up and the message is embossed in gold, under the seal of the president in fine detail, embossed in the same gold.
Why, when I hold this in my hands I feel like I’ve been magically transported to Romneyland. Come to think of it, suppose Mitt had won and the Republicans sent a Christmas card to all the volunteers from his campaign. What would be different?
Well, they might leave out the dog, because that would remind people of the “tied to the top of the car” story. But surely they would have found some equally traditional Christmas-y picture full of snow, and done it in equally elegant style, with the same visual allusion to the martial dignity of America. Beyond that, only the names would be changed.
So apparently the Democrats’ best PR pros think that an elegant Romneyesque vision of “traditional America,” filled with gold, will warm the hearts of Dem loyalists. What do you make of that, Rush?
I take it as a coded message, not merely that Christmas is still the top-dog holiday around here, but that your idea (I call it your myth) of “traditional America” is very much alive and still packs an emotional wallop.
Yes, your myth took something of a hit this last election day. But it wasn’t such a serious blow. Last I looked, your guy got over 47 percent of the votes and my guy less than 51 percent. My guy did a couple of points better four years ago. But there was a congressional election in between where we got slaughtered by “traditional America.”
I bet the wizards who plot strategy and make Christmas cards for the Democratic National Committee remember that slaughter very vividly and aren’t nearly so sure as you are that you’ve lost your country. At least, they want us Dem activists to know that we had still better give lip service to “traditional America.”
I suspect it’s more than that, though. I suspect that at least the Christmas-y piece of the “traditional America” myth is still meaningful in some (perhaps subliminal) way to a lot of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. They don’t think Christmas is about Santa handing out stuff -- and no Dems I know (which is a lot) think that government is about playing Santa, handing out stuff.
But they do have some sentimental attachment to the Norman Rockwell version of America and all the values it represents. They are even impressed (though they might hate to admit it) by the elegance of gold.
So cheer up, Rush. You’ve got the old American myth on your side of the political fence. And old myths die hard -- so hard, apparently, that even a lot of us on the opposite side of the fence are still hooked into your “traditional America.”
But here’s the best news: The deepest message of this card from the Obamas is that they love a lot of old American traditions, and they assume plenty of us Dem loyalists do too. We’re all patriots, on your side and ours. We all love the same country and want the best for it, even if we have different ways of getting there.
Merry Christmas, Rush!
How the Dems could win the fiscal cliff debate: mobilize for the moral equivalent of war. Credit: Flickr/Library of Congress/StockMonkey.com/HNN staff.
Where’s that surge of public outrage that’s supposed to force the Republicans to surrender in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations? The Democrats are still waiting for it ... and waiting ... and waiting, while they teeter on the edge of the cliff.
The Dems are so busy scrutinizing the polls, they forgot to notice the impact of the little word “cliff.” Sure, it’s just a metaphor. But every metaphor tells a story. And the stories we tell (or, more commonly, take for granted, without ever spelling them out) shape the way we view things, which in turn determines the policies we’ll adopt or reject and the way we’ll live our lives.
Any story about a “cliff” is simple: We are safe now, with our feet planted firmly on solid ground. The whole broad earth supports us. But if we take one more step in the direction we’re currently heading it will be an apocalyptic step. Suddenly we’ll be plunging down through the abyss toward certain destruction, helpless to save ourselves. If we step in any other direction we will remain securely on solid ground; we’ll escape the apocalypse.
The story of the “fiscal cliff” is more complicated because the public is getting so much conflicting advice about which direction is safe and which is the truly dangerous one. When you are standing on the edge of the precipice, with so many voices yelling “Go this way!” -- “No, that way! -- “No, the other way!” -- what’s the sensible thing to do? Don’t move at all. At least that way you know you are safe.
And sensible reasoning is reinforced by emotion. When we’re confused and in mortal danger our “fight or flight” response can easily get paralyzed. We freeze; play dead. It’s a primal response, the psychologists say, from deep inside the reptilian brain.
When people are too afraid to move, they see all images of change as images of danger. Inertia carries them on in the direction they’ve been going. It seems like the safest direction because it requires no new decisions. Conserving the status quo feels like the most comforting path.
In short, when apocalypse looms and it’s not clear how to prevent it, people are likely to become more conservative. So if the Democrats want dynamic movement -- a surge of public support for innovative new policies to reduce economic inequality -- “cliff” may be exactly the wrong metaphor.
“Cliff” may also be the wrong metaphor if you want a story that actually fits the facts, as two reports in the New York Times explain: “America’s fiscal condition will be altered without a deal between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress. But not radically so, and in many cases not immediately.”
“Policy and economic analysts … said the term ‘fiscal hill’ or ‘fiscal slope’ might be more apt: the effect would be powerful but gradual, and in some cases, reversible.” “The slope would likely be relatively modest at first,” according to Chad Stone, the chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
So why do the Dems ignore more appropriate metaphors and go along with the popular metaphor of the “fiscal cliff”?
For the same reason Republicans embrace the “cliff” image, says Washington Post wonk Ezra Klein: “Legislators from both parties have concluded that crises are the only impetus to get anything -- and thus the opportunity to get everything -- done.”
That may well be true in the back rooms of DC, where there’s little sense of urgency and some confidence that a final deal will surely be cut. But outside the beltway, crisis is more likely to breed conservatism.
Except, perhaps, when we go to war. Historian Michael Sherry has shown that the most effective impetus to get anything done in American political life is to convince the public that we’re living “in the shadow of war.” Then we have a feeling of apocalyptic crisis, since Americans have always tended to talk about their wars in apocalyptic terms, as if the only alternative to victory were the demise of the nation.
But when war breaks out we also have a clear consensus on how to respond. We don’t freeze. We band together and mobilize to fight back.
The enemy need not be a foreign foe. Sherry offered copious examples of domestic societal problems framed as wars as far back as the 1930s, when Franklin D. Roosevelt often proclaimed that fighting the Great Depression was much the same as fighting the Germans in World War I. During FDR’s first term, there was widespread agreement that the New Deal was the best way to resist the enemy of a broken economy. So the nation mobilized to fight back.
However the New Deal teaches another lesson about the “war” metaphor: It triggers a dynamic common effort for apocalyptic victory -- at first. But war also breeds apocalyptic fear, which sooner or later creates a more conservative mood, at least on the domestic policy front. That was clear by the middle of FDR’s second term. Both world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the post-9/11 response all produced similarly conservative reactions on domestic issues.
In any case, this isn’t the ‘30s redux. The “fiscal cliff” is not a war metaphor. The only “war” triggered by our current economic problems is the one between the Democrats and Republicans about what to do as we teeter on the “cliff.” So talk of a “fiscal cliff” doesn’t unite the nation and set it moving in a clear direction, as war metaphors do. The political warfare only heightens the confusion and, therefore, the conservative impulse.
It’s worth wondering how the Dems would have fared if they had refused the “cliff” metaphor and opted instead for “war.” If we can have wars on cancer or poverty, for example, why not a similar war against “special privileges” or “to save the middle class”?
Those obviously metaphorical “wars” on the domestic front don’t usually generate apocalyptic fear the way actual military conflict does. Perhaps the “war” metaphor might have mobilized the kind of support the Democrats had hoped for.
We’ll never know. For better or worse the Democrats are content to leave us, and themselves, hanging on the edge of a “cliff.”