Women Are Caterpillars: The Media Life Cycle Of A Dumb Political Analogy

Caterpillar War: The Media Life Cycle Of A Dumb Political Analogy

Here's the problem that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has: Mitt Romney, all but confirmed as the GOP's nominee for president, is standing on the wrong side of a yawning gender gap. Consequently, he'd love for the media to be having any discussion on any topic other than the myriad ways his party has recently sought to denigrate women. So today, in an interview with Bloomberg Television, he took his best shot:

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. "It’s a fiction."

Okay, so it's pretty clear that Priebus would prefer that people believe that all those "personhood" laws, and the vaginal ultrasound laws, and the slut-shaming of women who want affordable access to the combination oral contraceptive for a myriad of reasons -- from family planning to the relief of painful ovarian cysts -- were just things that the media invented. That's a pretty untenable position to take, but since Priebus obviously cannot close the gender gap by promising to give women reproductive autonomy or increased access to vital health care, it's the only move he really has at the moment.

Of course, for Democrats, there's any number of ways to respond to this substantively. One way to not respond to it substantively is to say, "Reince Priebus compared women to caterpillars, OMG." But that's basically what Democratic Party Communications Director Brad Woodhouse went ahead and did:

No, no, Democratic Party Communications Director Brad Woodhouse! That's not at all what Reince Priebus did! What if he had said, "If the Democrats said we had a war on unicorns and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on unicorns, then we’d have problems with unicorns" instead? This still conveys the message Priebus hopes to convey, that the war on women is fictional. But you would not respond by saying, "WOW REINCE PRIEBUS JUST COMPARED WOMEN TO UNICORNS, OMG!" because unicorns, like women, are awesome.

You had it right with the whole "dismiss the concerns of women as fictional," and that's where you should have left it, because I do not think you actually want to get into a nuclear war over analogies. Why? Because I'm presuming that at some point during this election year, you're going to want to use some shorthand analogies yourself, and not have them all adjudicated based upon poetic license. The only person who is actually enforcing the comparison between women and caterpillars is you, Democratic Party Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. You should stop doing that, and instead point out that the mistreatment of women by your political opponents is very real. (You will, without too much trouble, find actual examples of your political opponents literally likening women to animals.)

As it stands here, a "win" for the Democrats in this particular section of the news cycle would be to get Reince Priebus to "walk back" his statement and "clarify" things -- which I'm guessing will involve him just restating his main point, without the metaphor. And then the Democrats are back at square one, needing to emphasize the non-fictional aspect of the "war on women" (which, by the way, is one of those shorthand analogies I mentioned). So really, Democratic Party Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, you are actually dragging your feet here. Here's how David Axelrod handled this, by comparison:

See, that's called keeping things on point. At any rate, we're probably just a few hours away from someone at Slate writing a piece titled, "Actually, You Should Take Caterpillar Infestations Seriously," so we have that to look forward to.

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