Metaphors of past success…

We’re all familiar with the war metaphor in politics; the “war on drugs” is, perhaps, the most recognizable of these. A war metaphor, however, creates a problem for politicians: the expectation of success because one should not fight a war without the intention to win. Some of these metaphorical wars are not winnable in any absolute sense.

According to USA Today, the Democrats are now engaged in an “Ideas Primary,” i.e. a long battle of wits, speeches, and fund raising leading to the first primaries and caucuses just a little more than a year from now. These candidates are using some interesting metaphors to create a sense of urgency for their ideas, and these metaphors rely on the heady scientific achievements of the mid 20th century instead of war.

In an address yesterday, Sen. John Kerry said: “We need to now go to the moon right here on Earth…by creating energy independence here in America.” Here are two more interesting metaphors:

Other prospective 2004 candidates use similar imagery to describe the goal of energy independence. Lieberman says it should be “the Manhattan Project of our generation.” Gephardt says the country needs “an Apollo Project” to jump-start the renewable energy industry.

No war on energy dependence? The war metaphor would be a poor choice in this regard because there is no clearly defined enemy. Do we blame OPEC for our fuel consumption and dependency? It seems they are doing what they are supposed to be doing: selling oil. But, in our past, Americans have achieved mighty goals in science characterized as achievements of enduring significance. This seems like a better choice of metaphor to me.

There is a drawback, however, that I wonder if the Democratic candidates considered. These are metaphors of past glory. Republicans have been hammering Democrats with the charge of positing nothing but old ideas. These metaphors play into that criticism–fairly or not.