The cliche The metaphor began months ago, in that peaceful age when reporters still had to explain to their readers what the "debt ceiling" was and why newly elected Republicans might make it an issue. In December 30, 2010 article called, "Game of Chicken," The New Republic's Alexander C. Hart wrote: "This all adds up to an insane game of chicken. To win such a contest, one must credibly demonstrate a lunacy greater than that of one’s opponent. With more than 80 undisciplined freshmen in the House and an ascendant, bomb-throwing Tea Party wing, Republicans can deliver crazy. President Obama, on the other hand, may well be too reasonable to win at chicken." As negotiations play out, it has become the media's metaphor of the moment. In a June 1 post entitled "The Debt Ceiling Game of Chicken," Andrew Sullivan sounds the exact same notes: "Maybe Obama's strategy is to allow the GOP to become so identified with not raising the debt ceiling that if we default, the GOP will be far more clearly on the hook for the consequences ... I hope Obama and the Dems resist their partisan edge right now and endorse a Bowles-Simpson-style grand bargain before the worst happens."
Now, with the debt ceiling debate in its final week, the U.S. careening toward default, and the continued inability of either side to blink, pretty much everyone has taken to the metaphor. (See, for instance, the cartoon in today's Boston Globe. Or just search "game of chicken" on twitter. You'll see.) The New Yorker's James Surowiecki gets behind it too in his article dated August 1: "In fact, by turning dealmaking into a game of chicken, the debt ceiling favors fanaticism. As the economist Thomas Schelling showed many years ago, “It does not always help to be, or to be believed to be, fully rational, coolheaded, and in control of oneself” when it comes to brinksmanship. It doesn’t, in short, help to be President Obama."