What Forrest Gump Teaches Us About Politics

Stupid is as stupid does.


My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.—Forrest Gump

Gump never ran for public office — a smart move on his part. If he had, the opposing party would have put up a campaign ad insulting both his intelligence and yours. It probably would have gone something like this:

"Forrest Gump says the people of his district are nothing but lumps of congealed caramel and chocolate wrapped in cellophane. Who does Forrest Gump think he is? Call Gump now and tell him you're more than just a brainless confection in a cardboard box."

Gump was using a simile — something countless people do every day to illustrate a point. People used to understand how similes, analogies and other figures of speech work. Increasingly, however, they don't — or, sometimes, pretend they don't in order to whip up outrage.

This happened recently in Virginia, when liberals blasted Ken Cuccinelli for equating immigration policy with exterminating vermin — or even for equating immigrants with rats. Cuccinelli is an immigration hawk and a rhetorical rock-thrower, but did he actually say something that outrageous?

No. The Washington Post — a newspaper nobody would accuse of going soft on Republicans, let alone Cuccinelli — explained why not. A while back the GOP gubernatorial nominee awkwardly poked fun at a District of Columbia policy under which, he said, "pest control people . . . aren't allowed to kill . . . rats. They have to relocate the rats and not only that . . . they cannot break up the families of the rats. . . . It is worse than our immigration policy — you can't break up rat families. . . . It's unbelievable."

Cuccinelli is wrong on immigration policy (and wrong about the details of the D.C. rule, by the way), but his point should be clear: Government shows even more solicitude to rats than it does to undocumented immigrants, which is silly. Why is it silly? Because everyone knows rats are far inferior to humans. The comparison rests on that difference. To suggest Cuccinelli was drawing an equivalency, therefore, not only misses his point but gets it exactly backward.

Another example occurred at Virginia Commonwealth University last year, while the nation was debating Obamacare's contraception mandate. VCU held a panel discussion, during which one of the mandate's opponents said forcing Catholic institutions to provide birth control was like forcing a Jewish deli to serve ham sandwiches: It violated religious freedom unnecessarily, since the product in question is easily obtainable elsewhere.

You can argue the point, but another panelist (a professor, no less) chose not to. Instead, she accused the previous speaker of saying women were nothing but meat sandwiches. This not only misses the point entirely. It gets the analogy wrong not once, but twice: Nothing was being called a sandwich at all — and even if something had been, that something was contraception, not women.

The first speaker feebly objected that he had not called women sandwiches. "Yes you did!" bellowed a number of students in the audience. So much for higher education.

Analogies admittedly need some unpacking. Yet to those seeking an excuse for outrage, even simple comparisons are often too complex. Several days ago the conservative blogosphere erupted in fury because "Liberal Rep. Alan Grayson Compares Republicans to Dog Poop." Well, yes and no: In a floor speech, the Florida Democrat ran down a list of things that, according to a recent poll, were more popular than Congress — including witches, hemorrhoids and doggy doo-doo. Funny stuff — and nonpartisan to boot. Yet inside the right-wing echo chamber Grayson was calling everyone in the GOP a piece of dung.

On Fox News Insider, we are told that "Joe Biden Compares Republicans to 'Squealing Pigs.'" The vice president didn't say Republicans were pigs, though that was Fox's obvious implication; he said that's what their complaints about Wall Street regulation sounded like.

The conservative site The Blaze highlighted a clip in which "Former Bush Chief Strategist Compares Conservatives to the Flintstones." This, apparently, was supposed to elicit knee-jerk indignation. Others were furious that MSNBC's Rachel "Maddow Compares Republicans to Weasels on Angel Dust." She used that splendid image to depict how viciously party leaders were tearing one another apart.

Even light-hearted commentary becomes grist for the synthetic-outrage mill. When Rep. Jan Schakowsy fired up the Democratic troops by playing theme music from "Star Wars," this became: "Schakowsky Compares Republicans to Genocidal Stormtroopers!"

Democrats play the game, too. Last December, Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said Democrats "need more revenues. You know, Democrats are like bank robbers. You don't have the money in the 2 percent — the money is in the 100 percent. They want to raise taxes on everyone."

Labrador was alluding to the well-known story about bank robber Willie Sutton: When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton is supposed to have replied, "Because that's where the money is." Labrador was suggesting Democrats will not be content to tax the richest 2 percent of Americans, because they do not have enough money to fund everything Democrats want — so Democrats will go where the money is, and tax everybody. Within a picosecond, this became "Labrador Compares Democrats to Bank Robbers!" which really meant: "Watch This Republican Jerk says Democrats Like You Are Criminals. Grrr!"

Politics, wrote Orwell in "Politics and the English Language," is "a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia," and the decline of language "must ultimately have political . . . causes." It would be too much to say politics today is killing off the analogy. But the analogy lies bleeding on the ground, and politics is giving it another hard stomp.

Some day soon, an English professor will read an essay explaining that the Roman general Coriolanus must have been a farmer, because he is described as going forth to battle "like to a harvest-man that's task'd to mow." When the good professor flings himself out the window, as he almost surely will when that moment comes, he will know whom and what he has to thank.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: Government Shutdown Propelling GOP 2014 Primaries

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  1. I heard that there is a 3rd guy in the VA gov race, who is not as awful as the other 2 candidates. But no one knows his name and he's not allowed to debate the others on the teevee.

    1. Obviously a nut job, or those who are always decrying the two party monopoly that foists extreme candidates on the people would be clamoring to hear more voices in a debate.

    2. He's not a Serious Candidate. See, to be a Serious Candidate you have to be taken Seriously by other Serious people who think about the issues in a Serious and Responsible way.

      1. I'm super serial. Srsly.

    3. Not enough people know about him, see, so there's no reason to put him in a situation where more people could learn about him.

    4. You can't have more than 2 people in a debate! Unless it's a major party primary, then 9 or 10 or 11 is okay.

      1. Unless one is named Gary Johnson or something. Then 11 is the limit.

    5. People don't want an alternative that might be better than the status quo candidates. They want the lesser of 2 evils.

      Ok, he may be really bad, really, really, really bad and rotten to the core. But at least he's on our team!

      1. "They want the lesser of 2 evils." ? Well maybe? But maybe they just want politicians who appeal to THEIR sense of moral superiority. Republicrats want turds? Ooops, I mean politicians? Who blame the illegal humans and the women who are foolish enough to think that they own their own bodies, not the State that needs future-taxpayer-or-welfare-recipient incubators. Meaning, either way, new slaves for the State. BEAR us more slaves for the State, you worthless wenches!!! ? Then the Demoblicans, they love to snort derisively down their noses at anyone who DARES to want to make their own charity choices, with their own money that they have earned! Government Almighty will decide who deserves, and who does not, you silly wretches! The Grand Central Compromise? "You give up your self-righteousness, I will give up mine". Selling that is like selling snake oil, sad to say? Good Luck with THAT!!!

    6. The Richmond Times-Dispatch acknowledged the Libertarian candidate has a strong resume and has run the cleanest and most principled campaign of the three but because he lacks any political office experience they will not endorse ANY candidate in this election.

      1. How will people know who to vote for if the newspaper doesn't endorse anyone?

        1. My mom used to work as an editor for a small town newspaper in AZ. The paper's policy was not to endorse candidates, so naturally every election cycle they'd get a slew of phone calls from stupid people asking "Who are you endorsing in this years elections," and after explaining that they didn't endorse anyone, "Then how will I know who to vote for?"

          It was when she told me about that that I first realized how truly fucked this country really is.

  2. "Weasels on Angel Dust" is going to be the name of my new rock 'n roll band. Anybody here halfway good with the drums?

    1. This guy sure is:

    2. "Weasels on Angel Dust"

      You shouldn't be allowed to name your band that. You're going to cause the children to get hooked on the pot. Why do you hate the children?

      1. If Obama owned your band, he would "think about changing" the name, and Bob Costas is real butt-hurt about it, too.

  3. Libertarians, always using simplistic thinking, like calling stealing bad, and suggesting there is something left to cut, just because spending doubled in 7 years.

    1. just because spending doubled in 7 years

      If you don't support a 17 trillion dollar deficit and unbridled spending to add to it, it's only because you want women and children to drop dead in the streets, and you're a racist.

    2. and because we want to cut spending we don't care about people and by wanting less govt, we want to turn the US into Somalia.

  4. So much for higher education.

    It's not as though subjects like pomo/decon gibberish and navel-gazing identity studies placed a high priority on critical thought.

    1. Unfortunately, this has been the biggest negative impact of post-modernism and deconstruction on the universities, and Derrida and Foucault are rolling in their graves.

      Your average member of a university's teaching staff doesn't bother to understand deconstruction. They just decide that what it means is that logic doesn't matter and that you have a right to ascribe intentions to someone who uses an image you don't like even if (or especially if) that person declares that their intention was entirely different.

      Debate actually becomes impossible, because no amount of logic can be applied once the amateur deconstructionist has decided that you're coming from the wrong political perspective.

      Of course, as Derrida and Foucault both repeatedly pointed out to people, to the detriment of both their careers, these people are failing to deconstruct their own views and, thus, are missing the point 100%.

  5. accused the previous speaker of saying women were nothing but meat sandwiches

    "NO! You stupid fucking cunt! I said wimminz are here to MAKE ME a sammich! Now - make me a sammich, byotch!"

    I hope that was clearer.

    1. It's not nice to tell the wiminz folk to make you a sammich. It's moar nicer if you tell them to go bake you a nice turkey pot pie. That implies that they may have skills superior to making a sammich.

      /why there are no female libertarians.

  6. Democrats (and Republicans) *are* like bank robbers - thieving, violent and stupid

    1. At least bank robbers are honest about it.

  7. It is not that these nitwits don't understand analogy. It is that being offended has long since become the most effective way to silence an ideological opponent. The people in these examples were just grasping at straws trying to be offended so they could silence their opponents and not have to engage in a reasoned argument they knew they would lose.

    In each case "offense" was found where the other side made a pretty much irrefutable point. That the District of Columbia relocates rather than kills rats is unquestionably ridiculous. And forcing Catholics to pay for birth control is an infringement on religious freedom and freedom of consciousness. You can't argue that. So the people pretended to be offended as a way to change the subject and silence the person making the irrefutable point that they didn't like.

    1. This is probably true of the principals, but I'm not sure it's true about the rabble who join in on the chorus, like the students in the example in the story.

      1. The rabble can be pretty dim. I am often mis-understood if I make some analogy or historical reference. YOu'd be surprised how many educated people have no idea what the Willie Sutton reference is.

    2. Dingdingdingdingding! We have a winner (IMO). Claiming offense is a way to score a tactical victory in this society, because it's about forcing your opponent to either apologize (and look weak) or stand firm (and look guilty of the offense). This makes "tactical stupidity" a useful ploy: people who take offense at ridiculous things just to try and gain the whip hand. What society needs is more people who will look the offendee in the eye and say, "Are you fucking thick? It would be apparent to a child that's not what I meant", but most people in positions of authority are too political to be so plainspoken.

      And yeah, there is the rabble as well - those who honestly are that stupid - but I don't think they're the main issue. They wouldn't have much power were offense not considered some kind of trump card.

      1. most people in positions of authority are too political to be so plainspoken.

        I see this in many political candidates, some of which go on to actually become those "people in positions of authority" since the only other alternative is someone equally dense or just wimpy.

  8. What Forrest Gump Teaches Us About Politics

    Never go full retard?

  9. Forest Gump lived the life of a conservative: he joined the military, started a successful business, lived in the South, and loved the same woman his whole life.

    The only way that the Hollywood elites could make that believable to themselves was to make him retarded.

    1. Add this part in: "he was a decent guy".

    2. Actually, I'd suggest making him retarded is more subversive of progressive cosmopolitan presumptions than not. For people who base their claims to authority on their supposed superior intelligence, a movie that suggests that other virtues might be more important to leading the good life than intelligence isn't really that supportive.

      1. You're overthinking it. Gump was a decent guy for all the reasons cavalier said. Leading a life of simple virtue. Unsophisticated. You know, a moron.

        1. And because of that, he wound up having a genuinely admirable life. Doesn't seem to be very supportive of intelligence as paramount to me.

          1. I see your point. I guess I also see it the other way 'round. Progressives like to imagine how sophisticated they are. Smart, nuanced and better able to guide the little people. They think people who stand for simple values (loyalty, hard work, honor) are simpletons. And Gump, who embodied those values, was prtrayed as actually retarded.

            1. "And Gump, who embodied those values, was portrayed as actually retarded."

              Yes, but not negatively. He is the hero of the movie and everything turns out good for him, whereas everything turns out as disastrous as could be for his liberal childhood friend.

              It's the Republican version of the favorite Democrat ploy: "look, even my child understands right from wrong and would never allow . . ."

              1. Honestly, I don't think it's as overtly political as that. Keep in mind, Forrest Gump came out just after The Bell Curve was published. And to some extent, you can see it as the reply to Charles Murray's intellectual determinism. Gump basically embodies the Boy Scout virtues (brave, loyal, honest, etc.) and succeeds in large part because of this, even when all the cleverer people are abandoning those virtues. The message is that qualities beyond intelligence are important for the good life.

      2. I agree - I think Forrest Gump was maybe the most overtly and undilutedly anti-progressive movie of recent decades. It essentially portrays the entire "New Left" history as bogus rationalization for lazy hedonism that leads to neurosis and inevitable death from horrible disease.

        "See, that's what happens when you accept social libertinism, kids - you're all gonna get the AIDS!"

        1. Part of me thinks that he wasn't retarded at all; that he spoke normal, clear English, but that the Progressives who met him mentally translated his plain-spoken words into "retardese" because of their own prejudices.

          1. Well now you've got me re-thinking. Maybe Gump seemed retarded to others because he had such a good heart that he couldn't conceive of ill-will in others.

        2. agree - I think Forrest Gump was maybe the most overtly and undilutedly anti-progressive movie of recent decades

          Is that why the lefties on the internet hate it so much?

          1. A bit yes. The other thing Forrest Gump was was an indictment of cleverness over common sense. Gump completely lacks cleverness but has lots of common sense. The other people in the movie, most notably Robin Wright, are much more intelligent and clver than Gump but totally lack values and common sense. And they thus live very unhappy and unsuccessful lives in contrast to Gump who floats along unscathed by the events around him.

            Since the internet is populated largely by clever but valueless and often senseless people, it makes sense the internet would hate that movie.

            1. "The other people in the movie, most notably Robin Wright, are much more intelligent and clver than Gump but totally lack values and common sense. And they thus live very unhappy and unsuccessful lives in contrast to Gump..."

              If I recall correctly, Wright's character only finds genuine happiness when she settles down with Gump.

              1. Yes. And the same is true of Lt Dan.

  10. People used to understand how similes, analogies and other figures of speech work.

    And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn't just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!

    1. That movie looks more and more prophetic with every passing day.

      1. what movie it that ?

        1. Idiocracy...

  11. You do realize that a simile is, in fact, a form of comparison, right? (Don't take my word for it. Look it up. When I google "definition of simile," the top 6 results use the word "compare" or "comparison" in just the first two lines quoted on the results page.) So if I say "Bob is like a pile of dog poop in that I'd rather not find him in my yard," it's inaccurate of Bob to say that I called him dog poop, but completely accurate to say that I compared him to dog poop.

    Your article starts off strong-- pointing out people failing to pay attention to the details of the actual similes they're griping about-- but by the end you're complaining about people mistaking similes for comparisons... which they are.

    Perhaps it goes to show that illiteracy in talk about politics is always more widespread even than you think?

    Leaving aside that the objects of simile are often quite deliberately chosen to associate vivid images with the subjects. I agree with you that Weasels on Angel Dust is a splendid image! And if Maddow's audience goes on to think of that image whenever they think of Republican leaders... that probably wasn't accidental. It seems to me disingenuous (at best) to scoff at someone calling her out for it. Just as it would be reasonable for Bob to take exception to my associating him with dog poop, and disingenuous of me to reply that I was just making a simile.

    1. "And if Maddow's audience goes on to think "

      Both of them ?

  12. My father taught me many important lessons.

    One of his favorite sayings was "Shit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one fills up first".

    I just wish he had taught me what an analogy was first.

  13. "I never said all actors are cattle; what I said was all actors should be treated like cattle."
    - Alfred Hitchcock

    1. "I didn't say you were stupid, I said what you did was stupid. Though while we're on the subject of your intelligence..." - my dad to an employee. (Needless to say, that one got him sent to sensitivity training)

  14. "Forrest Gump observed, "My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get,""

    Hey Forrest, you would know how to tell by looking at the drizzled chocolate on top* if you weren't such a fucking moron.

    * or the inside cover in some cases.

  15. When analogies don't work, a good Preston Brooks style caning will get your point across.

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  17. "It would be too much to say politics today is killing off the analogy. But the analogy lies bleeding on the ground, and politics is giving it another hard stomp."

    A. Barton Hinkle says politicians are violent thugs!!!111

    1. Once again, the racist sexist homophobe-fundamentalist-child killing-thug Dell-bro, who wants to push his grandparents off a cliff, is resorting to childish name-calling!

  18. I can see that VCA professor now, imagining a ham sandwich that walks into the Jewish deli demanding to be served. That's comparing a woman to a ham sandwich.

    But should a Jewish deli be forced to serve a ham sandwich, or perhaps a Nazi or KKK person in a hood or hoodie? That's what Democrats call anit-discrimination. Up next, are anti-discrimination laws against discriminating against criminals for that procurement job, discrimination against pedophiles working with children, and discrimination against blind taxi drivers. The blind don't have to fear, Google will make their taxi driving jobs obsolete anyway.

  19. OK, Bart. Didn't you, yourself, participate in the political pollution of the English language by advocating for gay marriage? Just recast the word into whatever you believe it should mean....

  20. I appreciated the reference to Orwell. The quote is absolutely true!

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