“I Shook The Hand Of The American Dream”: Rick Santorum And The Weirdness Of The Tortured And Overextended Metaphor

by Bob Schwartz


This is about Rick Santorum speaking at the Republican National Convention. But it is not about politics.

It is about rhetoric, as in writing and speechifying.

Rick Santorum is a fearless stylist. Some of us love sweater vests, and were happy to see someone so openly and proudly wearing them.

But as a speaker, his RNC speech, while obviously heartfelt and clearly partisan, contained an over-the-top device that all writers and all speakers and just about any communicator needs to avoid: the tortured and overextended metaphor.

To begin with, metaphors are tricky for anybody, even the most seasoned writer. When a metaphor is off by more than a little, the term we use to describe it is “torturned.”

Beyond the tortured metaphor is the extended one. Even an apt metaphor gets its strength from its ability to surprise and hook our imagination. Like all great moments, it is here and should soon be gone. The extended metaphor milks that moment dry.

And so without further ado, this excerpt from Rick Santorum’s speech:

America is still the greatest country in the world – and with God’s help and good leadership we can restore the American Dream.

Why?

I held its hand. I shook the hand of the American Dream. And it has a strong grip.

I shook hands of farmers and ranchers who made America the bread basket of the world. Hands weathered and worn. And proud of it.

I grasped dirty hands with scars that come from years of labor in the oil and gas fields, mines and mills. Hands that power and build America and are stewards of the abundant resources that God has given us.

I gripped hands that work in restaurants and hotels, in hospitals, banks, and grocery stores. Hands that serve and care for all of us.

I clasped hands of men and women in uniform and their families. Hands that sacrifice and risk all to protect and keep us free. And hands that pray for their safe return home.

I held hands that are in want. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job, hands growing weary of not finding one but refusing to give up hope.

And finally, I cradled the little, broken hands of the disabled. Hands that struggle and bring pain, hands that ennoble us and bring great joy.

“I shook the hand of the American dream…. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job…And finally, I cradled the little, broken hands of the disabled.”

While Rick Santorum may be wrong on the issues, he has proved himself a man of conscience and conviction (maybe one of the reasons he failed to get his party’s nomination). But as a speaker, the image of those hands with eyes wide open, looking for a good job, may be one that sticks with us.

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