The Endless Spew of Debt Ceiling Metaphors

The Grinchy, trolly, no good, very bad soap opera of a debt ceiling debate

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The Atlantic's own Derek Thompson pointed out all the way back in May that the debt ceiling debate had taken on a few bizarre metaphors from "hostage negotiation" to "absurd lunch conversation." Well, since then, the debate has only grown more bizarre and so, in turn, have the metaphors. Perhaps it's because people simply are at a loss on how to describe the ever increasing stakes of the current crisis in Washington, but more and more, people seem to be turning to their favorite pop culture references to seek understanding in all this politicking. In the process, virtually no pop culture reference has been left untouched. Here's just a few:

Lord of the Rings

Senator John McCain set off a fiery debate about the finer points of the Lord of the Rings trilogy last night when he lambasted members of his own party as "Tea Party hobbits." In response Senator Rand Paul told Politico, "I'd rather be a hobbit than a troll." Sharron Angle also jumped on McCain for confusing the plot of Tolkein's trilogy. "As in the fable, it is the hobbits who are the heroes and save the land," Politico quotes her saying. "This Lord of the TARP actually ought to read to the end of the story and join forces with the Tea Party, not criticize it." Well, now that we're all caught up on our children's fiction... No, wait...

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day," says Alexander in the opening lines of this iconic children's book by Judith Viorst. Writing for The New Republic Norman Ornstein titled a post "Boehner's No Good, Very Bad Day -- And Its Consequences." We're not sure who had the worse day, Boehner or Alexander. But wouldn't it be quaint if Boehner woke up this morning and said, "The CBO ruined by debt limit plan, now I have to find another several billion dollars in budget cuts, 59 members of my caucus still don't have their asses in line so its passage in the house is in question, either way it will be dead on arrival in the Senate, and I can tell it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."


Ever since the President was reportedly "sidelined" in the debt debate last week, and even before that, sports metaphors have abounded. Author Fran Lebowitz went on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" last night  to name a few ways in which the athlete-politician metaphor could be more apt. Here's what she had to say:

"Apparently there was a lockout in football ... but they settled it. The NFL settled their problem. So I thought why can’t Congress settle the problem? I mean is this less important than football? And then I thought to myself well what are the differences between Congress and the NFL? Well, first of all, unlike Congress the NFL has fans, that was the main thing. Second of all... No football player has ever become a member of a pro football team by saying 'Me? I’m horrible at football.' But these Tea Party people, here’s how they got elected. 'Washington? Never heard of it. Politics? I know nothing about it.' ... I heard John Boehner yesterday say, let's not play politics but I never heard a football player say let’s not play football… and then I keep hearing these congressman, such as they are, say we have to have a bipartisan deal… Bipartisan politics is like anything else that starts with the word bi… it means you did it once."

Captain America

National Journal columnist Major Garrett has been running a recurring feature in which superhero Captain America fields calls from imaginary citizens who are confused about the debt debate. Notably, Captain America is even impotent to resolve the debt crisis. But he sure does have insight into it. Here's the opening from his most recent installment:

Whereupon our hero, Captain America, takes calls—he hopes for the last time—on the debt-crisis hotline.

Caller: So, this is what the abyss looks like?

CA: Actually, we’ve been in it for a while. The pressure’s just starting to get to you.

Caller: Me and everyone else. Is there a way out?

CA: There’s always a way, if there’s a will.

Caller: Hey, if I wanted a Hallmark card, I’d have gone to the drugstore. I need something tangible, something I can hold onto.

CA: So do markets from Tokyo to London to Wall Street. They’re still searching.

Soap Opera

This one's pretty obvious. The bickering, infighting, realigning of alliances that define the debt ceiling crisis (and perhaps its ability to make us watch daytime TV) in many ways resemble a soap opera. When talks broke down last week, The Atlantic's Steve Clemons wrote that the "Debt Ceiling Soap Opera Continues." And today, The Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor Alan Murray tweeted: "The debt talks have become a soap opera. Read our continuing live blog, and cry away...."

Still, New York Times Washington correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum wished the debt debate resembled a pre-recorded television show or movie in one other important way when he tweeted today, "I wish there was a fast-forward button on this debt-ceiling process. Today's episode is not advancing the plot."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.