Stop the Madness! (Gail Collins, Hillary Clinton, and Boiled Frogs)

From Gail Collins in Saturday's New York Times:

The Democratic Party seems to be gradually acclimating itself to the idea that Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. It’s a little like that frog in a beaker of water that Al Gore talks about in his global warming speech — the one who won’t notice he’s being boiled to death if you turn up the heat ever so gradually.


I'm not talking about the politics of the thing*. I'm talking about the poor frog. Ms. Collins may be off the hook in attributing the frog metaphor to Al Gore -- he used it in An Inconvenient Truth, and he keeps right on using it. But he is flat wrong -- right on Global Warming, wrong on Amphibian Warming -- and so is everybody else who tries to explain things this way.

Summary of the undisputed science on this point: If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will either die or else be so badly hurt it will wish that it were dead. If you put it in a pot of tepid water and turn on the heat, the frog will climb out -- if it can -- as soon as it gets uncomfortably warm.

Please! It's mean to the frogs to keep talking about them this way. Plus, it drives me crazy! ("You see, Bobby, here's the real cause of global warming: The earth is attached to the sun by a giant rubber band, and first the band was stretched so now it is snapping back and pulling the sun closer, making us hot.") I will give a reward -- maybe some nice Chinese wine? -- to the person who comes up with the best simple metaphor for the underlying idea: that people get habituated to worsening circumstances that they'd reject if they considered them afresh. Only catch: the metaphor, unlike the frog story, can't violate the known facts. I bet that the whole topic of bad marriages would yield some possibilities.


* Oh, yes, the substance of the column. I didn't see this latest debate, as I haven't seen the rest of them, so I couldn't judge Ms. Collins's depiction of Hillary Clinton's performance as being equivocal and weasel-like. But here is one passage she found particular fault with. Sen. Clinton was asked whether she'd "raise the cap" on Social Security taxation, applying taxes above the current limit of $97,500 of income (as Medicare does). She said:

Well, I take everything off the table until we move toward fiscal responsibility and before we have a bipartisan process. I don’t think I should be negotiating about what I would do as president. You know, I want to see what other people come to the table with.

About which the column says: "This is an excellent example of how to string together the maximum number of weasel words in one sentence."

Actually, this seems to me an excellent example of how any candidate has to talk about Social Security before an election. All candidates know from history, polling, and an appreciation of human frailty that such adjustments in Social Security can happen only when both parties agree to hold hands and jump off the high board together.

There are many issues where a politician's main job is "changing public understanding." There are others where the main job is "getting the actual deal done." Social Security financing is in the second category. No one can talk in detail about that during an election; it's a plain fact, as plain as the fact that frogs don't like to be boiled.

(Thanks to Bruce Williams of BruceAir for noting this latest frog-abuse.)