Lame titular puns never augur well, and this post is no exception, as it concerns something Sarah Palin said in Searchlight, Nevada yesterday. Before a crowd of millions, Palin attacked the “lame-stream media” for being a mixed metaphor, then said precisely the opposite of what I hope she intended to, insisting that “telling people that their arms are their votes is not inciting violence.”
In this case, the verb “to be” is a linking verb that establishes the equivalence of the nouns to its left and right. For example, in the previous sentence, I established that “the verb ‘to be’” and “linking verbs” are nominal equivalents. Think of it as an equal sign: you can write “Obama is the President” or “The President is Obama” without changing the content of the sentence because
Obama = The President
So when Palin said “their arms are their votes,” she may not have been trying to incite violence, but she was saying
arms = votes
That equivalence is best understood in the language of action film clichés, e.g. “Our arms are our votes, and we’re gonna have us an election.” Palin’s supporters will contend that she’s merely explaining a metaphor, and one unfortunate consequence of doing so is using verbs of equivalence to explain what something represents, e.g.
But that doesn’t change the fact that, from the universe of potential metaphors, Palin’s people went with the view through a telescopic weapon sight. The crosshairs may be metaphorical, certainly, and what they imply—that people outside a district should contribute money to “take out” the Democrat elected by the people of a district—may be antithetical to the concept of a representative democracy, but the real issue here is the initial decision to employ a sniper’s scope as political imagery.