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The Daily Fray

Kick the Can: The Tea Party's Least Favorite Game

July 28, 2011

The cliché: "Kicking the can down the road — a great Washington tradition when the two major political parties reach a budget impasse — is not an option this time if the U.S. is to maintain its privileged financial standing in the world," writes Patrice Hill at The Washington TimesIsrael Ortega at Latino Fox News says, "Kicking the can down the road will no longer do.For far too long, our government has been racking up debt by spending unabashedly in government programs and services." Matt Kibbe at The Daily Caller writes, "Democrats... insist on a debt ceiling increase that will last through the 2012 election, in the hopes that voters will forget about their spending binge until after they’re re-elected. All that accomplishes is kicking the can down the road while debt continues to pile up on our children and grandchildren."

Where it's from: Kibbe titles his column "Tea Partiers are the adults in the debt ceiling debate." Maybe so, but all this talk of can kicking actually refers to the kid's game "Kick the Can." As a refresher for those born in the last 50 years, kick the can is a variation on hide and seek. Players kick a tin can as far as they can down the street. One person retrieves it and returns it to its starting place while the other players hide. The searcher must then find any one player before someone else has a chance to run out from hiding and kick the can,  prolonging the game. It has been played in some variation since at least the start of the 20th century, and has since become a favorite metaphor for any action that extends or delays a process. At this point, as William Safire noted in 2004, "The metaphor is in play more than the game."

Why it's catching on: Its near constant presence in recent months on editorial pages and opinion sites show it to be a favorite metaphor of the Tea Party and its supporters, like Michele Bachmann, who fear the state of America's budget deficit and argue that raising the debt ceiling and "kicking the can down the road" on America's debt problem will lead to more disaster than would default on foreign loans. They have focused themselves around the metaphor to emphasize their position that a vote to raise the debt ceiling is a vote to procrastinate on dealing with long-term borrowing problems.

 

Why else? Jacob Weisberg points out in Slate that "Tea Partiers are constantly talking about "restoring honor," getting back to America's roots, and 'taking back' their country." Weisberg isn't sure just which era the nostalgic partiers seek out, whether it is the Revolution which spawned the Boston Tea Party and the new group's name, or just the years before Barack Obama's election. Either way, the rhetoric often evokes a Leave it to Beaver-esque era when 5-year-olds ran through the streets entertaining themselves by kicking an old paint can down Main St.

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