War Imagery in Politics

Readers, remember this conversation?

Daisy: I’m going downtown to volunteer for a few more hours.

Chuck: You know, honey, the recall election is over.

Daisy: Dear, we lost the battle, but not the war. There are primaries in August and the Big Match-up in November. 

I know; Governor Walker won his recall election. He won it by a small margin, despite the millions spent on his campaign. I hope the governor is taking into consideration that he did not win easily. His side may have won one battle, but the troops on the ground are still fighting the war.

Fighting the war. The battle imagery implies fighting, attacking, attempting a take-over or worse, aiming to kill. Collateral damage will occur; people will suffer. Is that really what we want in Wisconsin?

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the language of war and the language of sports were highly recommended study topics for college graduates going into business. If young men and (especially) women didn’t know the terminology, they were perceived as outsiders and began their careers with a linguistic disadvantage. In today’s world, management language still exists, but it varies more according to workplace climate than a gender or age difference. In a working climate defined by conflict, war words might seem appropriate. Wisconsin’s current political climate is not physically violent, but it is full of pain, aggression, vitriol and rancor. Conflict is the norm and cooperation is the exception. Passing laws becomes a matter of a battle won or lost, with wounded citizens on both sides.

If instead a sports analogy came into play, the teamwork aspect could appear stronger. When team works together, they score. When players go to bat and hit grand slam home runs, their entire team benefits. In this model, legislators can train for marathon sessions or bulk up for raising heavy issues, Unruly managers and players can be removed from the game. Good sportsmanship, playing by the rules, and clean competition all become important.  In a sports metaphor, opposite sides still compete, but they do it within a structure. They compete in public, with an audience watching, cheering, applauding, and respecting the participants. Eventually the game ends with a winner and, unfortunately, a loser. A sportsmanlike competition allows the loser to graciously concede without losing status.

I don’t even want to start thinking about battle fatigue. That’ll be a whole different set of images. Readers, what kind of language do you suggest? The metaphors and analogies we use can set the scene for success or failure.

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