Stray Metaphor

February 02, 2010

Last week, South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Bauer made headlines when he compared poor people to stray animals. Arguing against programs like food stamps and free school lunches, Bauer employed an inappropriate metaphor. He stated:

My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. ... You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. ... They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better.
Metaphors are more than just rhetorical garnish; they offer insights into one's worldview. Thus, when Bauer used this troubling metaphor, it points to a troubling mindset about poor people. I talked about the problem of using bad metaphors in a column (Animals to Kill) and my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!: Lessons for Christians on How to Speak Effectively and When to Remain Silent). Just after Bauer's remarks went public, I was teaching on political metaphors and so had a current one to talk about. Bauer later tried to correct the problem by arguing that he is "not against animals." I do not think that was the concern! Comparing people to unwanted animals that people round up, lock up, and kill, is inappropriate. Such usage suggests an inappropriate attitude to those being so described. Stephen Colbert pointed out why this metaphor is especially problematic when it comes from a Christian:


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