The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn has noted the newest media meme in the debate over taxes and the debt ceiling: President Obama as “the adult in the room.” McGurn writes:
This has become the received metaphor, operating as a sort of Gresham’s law of political dialogue: Once introduced, it drives out most any other possible language.
McGurn provides some amusing examples of “adult in the room” groupthink from Washington’s supposedly maverick journalistic luminaries:
“Leading off: The adult in the room? That’s how President Obama is trying to portray himself, the calm daddy trying to discipline the group of unruly children on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.” (Chuck Todd, “Hardball”). “[I]f you are playing the responsible adult in the room and the other guy is willing to blow up the room if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants, that puts you in a bad negotiating position” (Paul Krugman, “This Week with Christiane Amanpour”). “At his press conference on June 29, [President Obama] threatened to cancel lawmakers’ recess until an agreement was reached. As before, Obama cast himself as the adult in the room” (Politico).
There’s more. “Heading into Monday’s meeting, Obama tried yet again to elevate himself above the Congressional fray, projecting an image of the ‘adult in the room’ and saying it’s time to ‘eat our peas’ and come to a compromise to avoid a default” (Roll Call). “The American people who are up for grabs on Election Day are mostly independents. Obama’s allies hope they see the president as the adult in the room in the debt ceiling confrontation” (Associated Press).
The “adult” theme helps push Washington’s conventional wisdom about taxes and negotiations, which McGurn sums up this way:
At its core, it runs like this. First, “keep taxes low” may work as a campaign slogan with the unlettered masses, but it is incompatible with the responsibilities of running a government. Second, when government spends more than it takes in, the answer must consequently be to raise taxes. Conclusion: The politician who prefers to cut spending rather than raise taxes is either irresponsible or a tool of the rich-or some combination of both.
To put it in real terms, ask yourself this: Where does this metaphor leave Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor?
McGurn asks the 64 trillion dollar question: Why does the adult in the room never demand that the government grow up and live within its means?