The Metaphor America Needs

More than two months ago, Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University, wrote a piece for the Times in which he criticized President Obama‘s failure to seize the narrative of the political issues of our times. Well, the president has made a lot of appearances in that time, but he still has yet to give the “here’s where we are, here’s where we want to be, and here’s how we’re going to get there” speech that charts a course on which he stakes his claim to lead the country. He can’t lower himself to a partisan slugfest, which is where he seems to be heading, because that isn’t going to end the Congressional paralysis which has so far wrecked his administration. Instead, he has to define a course of action, and take that plan to the electorate; if he wins, he can demand action from Congress. Which means he has to run on a plan to enact an economic stimulus, a trillion dollar infrastructure stimulus of the kind that Nouriel Roubini et al have recommended.

Obviously, given the temper of the electorate, this won’t be easy. People think it’s insane to add debt to the deficit, and it’s hard to argue that this instinct, to apply the brakes to spending, is illogical. But there is a metaphor for this predicament that the president could use, and which everyone would grasp.

The country needs to turn into the skid.

Every driver who has gone through driver’s ed has been taught that when you’re on an icy road and you start skidding, you need to turn into the skid. And every driver who had ever found himself skidding on an icy highway has had to fight the visceral instinct to slam on the brakes and turn away from the big ditch or tree or tractor trailer that is rapidly filling your windshield. Turning into a skid sounds about as sensible as advising a fighter to lean into his opponent’s left hook. But it’s physics–weight, traction, momentum–and anyone who has been able to keep a clear head knows that this is how to restore control.

The president needs to explain that right now we need to turn into the skid, that the government needs to restore demand, and that out of that investment, unemployment will drop, demand will rise, production will increase, government deficits will recede, and balance will be restored. For a long time we lived under the theory of trickle down economics, and what we’ve seen is that not very much has trickled down. It’s time to try some flow out economics.

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.