Metaphors Matter: “Safety Net”

Today Mitt Romney is having to answer easy questions about the following quotation, taken from an interview he did with CNN:

“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

Facebook and other social (as opposed to anti-social) media are active with the quotation and comments about it.

Quickly, a few points on the matter:

1. It would be easy to ignore the statement before the quotation, but let’s not: “I’m in this race because I care about Americans.” I think journalists should now be authorized to say, in response to such statements, “Knock it off.” Why must we endure such empty statements from politicians? Romney’s is one of those non-statements that’s at once true (one assumes he cares about more than one American) and false (that’s not why he’s running for president, and even if it were, the statement would be as true of any other candidate as it would be of him–that is, Newt Gingrich probably cares about three Americans, at least.).

2. I maintain we should all thank candidates, not punish them, when they tell the truth, partly because it is the truth and thus a rarity and partly because we can be sure about who the person really is. So when Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond in an obviously racist way, he was forced to resign his leadership, as if we didn’t already know he was racist? Everyone should have said “thanks for telling the truth” and then gotten to the business of asking why the GOP is, in important ways, still the party of Dixiecrats. That is the problem, not Lott’s truth-telling. Of course Romeny doesn’t care about the poor.

3. The matter of the “safety net.” It’s an absurd metaphor, and yet candidates still get away with saying it. A safety net is used in the circus for acrobats and in construction for workers who toil at heights. It’s there “in case.” Programs like unemployment benefits and food-stamp distribution are in place because of deeper structural reasons; it’s not as if most people stumble accidentally into poverty. Education, ethnicity, gender, the “global” economy, the famous “business cycle,” and other structural issues have enormous bearing. By referring to the in-apt “safety net,” candidates are allowed not to talk about the deeper issues. I recall that “safety net” was a favorite metaphor of Reagan’s, as was “trickle down,” about which this blog has opined. The short version is that getting trickled upon, especially (but not exclusively) in matters of economics cannot be a good thing.

OF COURSE Romney doesn’t care about the poor. How many politicians do? How many presidents got elected by emphasizing how much they care about the poor?

Coda: If he believes the very wealthy are just fine, then why is he opposed to taxing them a bit more so as to remedy the deficit and to be able to inject cash into highway-projects and the like? Oh, journalists, please ask such questions.


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