Budget Deficit

The Monsters Are Due on Capitol Hill


New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd describes the horror movie imagery associated (in her mind, at least) with the recent debt ceiling negotiations:

Tea Party budget-slashers didn't sport the black capes with blood-red lining beloved by the campy Vincent Price or wield the tinglers deployed by William Castle. But in their feral attack on Washington, in their talent for raising goose bumps from Wall Street to Westminster, this strange, compelling and uncompromising new force epitomized "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and evoked comparisons to our most mythic creatures of the night.

They were like cannibals, eating their own party and leaders alive. They were like vampires, draining the country's reputation, credit rating and compassion. They were like zombies, relentlessly and mindlessly coming back again and again to assault their unnerved victims, Boehner and President Obama. They were like the metallic beasts in "Alien" flashing mouths of teeth inside other mouths of teeth, bursting out of Boehner's stomach every time he came to a bouquet of microphones. (Conjuring that last image on Monday, Vladimir Putin described America as "a parasite.")

Although there has been no shortage of rhetorical excess in the last few weeks (as our own Peter Suderman noted yesterday), Dowd cites very little evidence to back up her claim that budget cutters are routinely portrayed as monsters from a horror story. It is hard to understand why Putin's description of America as "a parasite," presumably referring to the U.S. government's dependence on foreign lenders to maintain its wildly out-of-control deficit spending, would conjure up an image of Tea Party actitivists, who want to curb that spending, "bursting out of Boehner's stomach," unless you were already inclined to view them that way. In any case, why would people who favor eliminating government subsidies be depicted as parasites?

Dowd does mention Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who described the debt deal as "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich." (Speaking of which, why would you sugar-coat a sandwich? Isn't the premise of this metaphor that the bread hides the evil lurking within? Cleaver seems to be guilty of sugar-coating a gilded lily.) But it's a big leap from Cleaver's comment to Dowd's extended riff on the horrific connotations of the debt debate, which includes references to "Gothic melodrama," H.P. Lovecraft, Brian De Palma, The Excorcist, Halloween, Jaws, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Mummy. Dowd's case seems thin even if you throw in the "online commenter" she mentions who referred to "Rosemary's Tea Party."

Yet it is important for Dowd to pretend she is describing the reactions of "some alarmed Democrats," as she calls them, rather than the contents of her own fevered imagination. She is not really calling advocates of fiscal restraint monsters; she's just saying that other people (correctly) see them that way.