Primary Night Metaphor-o-rama!

MSNBC’s minstrels love analogies as much as they love politics

Six hours is a lot of airtime to fill. Especially when, as was the case for the majority of last night’s prime-time cable coverage of the Pennsylvania primary, and as was lamented again and again by those leading that coverage: “We don’t know anything yet.” (“Well, okay, we know Clinton won…but we don’t know by how much! And since it’s all about the margins…we don’t know anything yet!”)

But the good men of MSNBC (yep, the good men—with the exception of Token Lady Rachel Maddow and the occasional chime-in from Andrea Mitchell, the network’s punditry was Cub Scout Meeting-esque) filled the air with lightning bolts of wit. And rain showers of sagacity. And, at times, zephyrs of Pure Poetry. (Witness Chris Matthews, Bard of the Ballot Brawl, criticizing Obama for being too complacent about attacks on him: he’s “too debonair, too Fred Astaire, too Kumbaya.”) Which is not, necessarily, to criticize: the MSNBC Mens’ Metaphor-titude added some whimsy to last night’s otherwise-somewhat-soporific coverage. So impressed were we, in fact, that we began writing down the metaphors so that you, too, might be similarly transported by the imagery. Buckle your seatbelts, and hold onto your hat—or, as Joe Scarborough might call it, your “Indian Bonnet”—last night put the “meta” in “metaphor”!


• Obama’s need to win, before Pennsylvania primary = match point [Tim Russert]

• Obama’s need to win, after Pennsylvania primary = deuce point [ibid]

• Ongoing primary process = “mulligan after mulligan after mulligan” [Chris Matthews]

• Terry McAuliffe = the “biggest cheerleader there is” [Keith Olbermann]

• Ed Rendell’s high bar for Clinton victory = “his slider” [Brian Williams]

• Clinton = “a real scrapper” [Pat Buchanan]

• Politics = “a game of comparison” [Howard Fineman]

• Politics =/= beanbag (“It ain’t beanbag,” quoting Finley Peter Dunne) [Tom Brokaw]

• Punches thrown between Clinton and Obama, which could have been worse = “softballs thrown underhand” [ibid]


• Campaign dynamics = “the table” (as in, “Clinton has to reset the table.”) [Matthews, Russert]

• Pennsylvania primary outcome = a wet noodle [Matthews]

• Pennsylvania primary outcome = mush [ibid]

• A 5-9 percent margin in that outcome = “the mushy area” [Chuck Todd]


• Clinton’s changing argument to superdelegates = moving goalpost, moveable feast (“It really is not just a moving goalpost, but the proverbial moveable feast of goalposts!”) [Keith Olbermann]


• John Mellencamp = “the musical bard of Indiana” [Williams]

• Clinton campaign = the Titanic—from the film Titanic (seemed indestructible, now could sink) [Matthews]

• Obama = the iceberg [ibid]

• Obama’s margin in Pennsylvania = The Philadelphia Story [Olbermann]

• Keith Olberman, per his own Philadelphia Story analogy = Cary Grant [ibid]

• Ed Rendell’s cheerleading for Clinton = “his Kumbaya” [ibid]

• Obama = “faculty lounge” (too academic for his own good) [Joe Scarborough]

• Obama’s approach to the GOP oppo machine = “too debonair, too Fred Astaire, too Kumbaya”


• Obama’s fundraising efforts = a “carpet-bombing scheme” for small donors [Williams]

• May 6 primaries = “another D-Day” [Olbermann]

• Nominating contest now = “a battle of perceptions” [Eugene Robinson]

• Clinton = “a battlin’ lady” [Buchanan]


• The Clintons = “the number-one political brand for fifteen years” [Olbermann]

• Barack Obama’s elusive nomination victory = “closing the deal”


• Aura around Obama = a question mark (addressing the doubts the Clinton campaign is trying to plant about Obama) [Russert]

• Obama’s Pennsylvania loss = warning sign [ibid]


• Democratic party = “the party of Jefferson” (used twice) [Matthews]

• John McCain = Alan Keyes (“I just wonder whether what beat Alan Keyes can beat John McCain.”) [ibid]

• Air America host Rachel Maddow’s arguments = “a Marxist dialectic” [Buchanan]

• Hillary Clinton = Marcy Kaptur [Matthews]

• Potential threat to the Democratic party = Bull Moose Party (development of modern-day version) [Olbermann]

• Brokered convention = a smoke-filled room (“It’s the history book cliché, you go back to smoke-filled rooms…but it ain’t the same.”) [Williams]


• Future Clinton upset = volcano (she needs one to cause “an eruption in the pattern of this campaign”) [Matthews]

• Current location of Clinton’s unfavorable ratings = stratosphere [Brokaw]

• Ongoing primary fights = tornadoes (“It’s like many tornadoes, various low-pressure systems.”) [Williams]


• Superdelegates = cosmic “judge and jury” (channeling Clinton: “Superdelegates, you are put on earth for one purpose, and that is to be judge and jury, and to anoint the strongest candidate, and we have her in Hillary Rodham Clinton.”) [Russert]

• What’s required to make all Democrats unite behind their party’s final nominee in November = “fairy dust” [Matthews]

• Obama’s momentum = mojo [Olbermann]

• Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw = “the office Wise Men” of NBC [ibid]

• Clinton family together = “a return to destiny” [Olbermann and, later, Matthews]

• Life = a campaign [Scarborough]


• What’s required to make all Democrats unite behind their party’s final nominee in November = “sprinkled dust from the clouds” (It’s “a malathion thing, if you’ve ever been to southern California.”) [Olbermann]

• Clinton’s campaign = a plane [Russert]

• Nominating contest = a car/a roller coaster (“Strap yourself in, America. This race has been one to watch!”) [ibid]

• Continuation of the Democratic nominating contest = mute button (as in, it’s pushed the) [Matthews]

• Continuation of the Democratic nominating contest = pause button (as in, it’s pushed the) [ibid]


• Clinton’s grace toward Obama in her victory speech = ointment (“Where is that reserve bit of ointment in the speech?”) [Olbermann]


• Obama = Rocky Balboa [David Gregory]

• Obama = Apollo Creed [ibid]

• Clinton = Rocky Balboa [Buchanan]

• Clinton = Apollo Creed [ibid]


• Yesterday’s New York Times piece exploring the “Dream Ticket” of Clinton/Obama = “a good, long, thumb-sucker look” at the nearly-impossible scenario [Williams]

• Clinton in Pennsylvania = “the hometown gal” [Matthews]

• Clinton victory rally = “Bedlam” [Terry McAuliffe]

• Philadelphia politics = neighborhood (“A lot of this is neighborhood.”)

• Authenticity = “an Indian bonnet” (“You wear that Indian bonnet, but
don’t say you’re an Indian chief”) [Scarborough]

• Buchanan, Maddow, Matthews, Robinson = an “American group” (“What an American group this is!”) [Matthews]

• Pennsylvania, last night = “Spinsylvania” [Olbermann]

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.