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Obama And Romney, Metaphorically Speaking

Whatever you think about the candidates, we can all agree both have been punching bags for their opponents.
Chris O'Meara
Whatever you think about the candidates, we can all agree both have been punching bags for their opponents.

Sometimes it feels like everything that should be said about President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney has already been said.

But maybe there is a way to talk about politicians in a fresher, cleaner way — without talking about politics. Like — or as — poets do it. Speaking metaphorically.

Sometimes you can say more about someone by not really talking about the person, but talking about something else. My love is like a red red rose, Robert Burns wrote. He is a feather in the wind, Led Zeppelin sang.

Politicians occasionally mix in similes with smiles. Onetime presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty said Obama "is like a manure spreader in a windstorm." And Romney has been called a pinata, a metronome and the Trojan Horse.

Media people do it, too. Remember when Barbara Walters asked actress Katharine Hepburn: "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?" That was back in 1981. At the time it seemed like a postmodern interview question.

Now, decades later, we are post-postmodern, and the fresher, cleaner question is: What type of tree do you think Obama and Romney would be? Or building? Or pastry, wine, comic-strip character?

To get answers, we consulted an arborist, an architect, a pastry chef, an oenophile and a comic-strip writer. Here's what they said:

Branches Of Government

If Mitt Romney were a tree, says certified arborist Peter Jenkins, he would be a honey locust — ferocious and spiky. The honey locust is considered by many ranchers and farmers to be an invasive tree, "because it takes over grasses where horses and cattle graze."

Obama, on the other hand, would be a tulip poplar — "the tallest hardwood species on the east side of the Mississippi River; it has a long life span and its trunk is strong."

Jenkins, who runs a tree-care service in Atlanta, says he has a 125-foot-tall tulip poplar in his yard. He calls it "Obama the Tree" because it was once covered in English ivy, "which made me think of the mess that Obama was facing when he first took office. The ivy had to be carefully removed or you'd kill the tree," Jenkins says. "True story."

Red Velvet Obama and a Romney Croissant? One pastry expert says that's how she'd describe the candidates, if they were desserts.
/ iStockphoto.com
Red Velvet Obama and a Romney Croissant? One pastry expert says that's how she'd describe the candidates, if they were desserts.

Presidential Sweets

Mitt Romney is a croissant, says pastry chef Jenni Field of Garner, N.C. "When you make it, you fold it, roll it and turn it repeatedly, keeping all the edges nice and square, like paper. That could fit in a binder."

Obama, says Field, who blogs about desserts at Pastry Chef Online, is a red velvet cake. "While people have very set opinions about what makes an 'authentic' red velvet cake," she says, "even folks that don't like it can't deny that it's a quintessentially American cake with a very loyal following."

Edifice Rex

If the president were a building, according to architect Bill Hutchins of Takoma Park, Md., Obama would most likely be the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Like the unusual structure of stone, glass and titanium, Hutchins says, the president "is full of promise. But does his interior life have the fortitude to allow him to live up to his potential?"

And Romney? "Fort Knox," says Hutchins, principal architect in the collaborative Helicon Works. "He stands for money."

Grape Americans

Romney "is, without question, an oaky, special-reserve-bottled California cabernet sauvignon," says wine lover Peter Ward, creator of the Boston-based blog Corkshrewd. "He has a high pedigree and is backed by bold promises. He works well with a nice steak but might overpower a more common dinner."

The president "is an Argentine Malbec," Ward says. Four years ago, the Malbec was very popular and "a mainstay" with its fans. But today the Malbec is often skipped over in favor of other choices on the wine list.

Political Cartoonery

When it comes to comparing the candidates to comic-strip characters, Romney is the Bad Boss in Dilbert. "That captures the cluelessness," says Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post humor columnist, Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer and a creator of the daily comic strip Barney & Clyde. "But you have to add in some Sherman the shark of Sherman's Lagoon. Utterly entitled: Wants to eat everyone; too out of it to understand that others find this cold and heartless."

And Obama, Weingarten says, is Jughead Jones from Archie comics — "cool, unflappable; existentially disconnected from the passions of ordinary men."

Now. We invite you to play along as well; add your own candidate metaphors in the comments section below.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.