With Republicans threatening to shut down the government unless President Obama agrees to undo his health care reform law, Democrats are naturally searching for some rhetorical comparison that illustrates just how crazy that proposition sounds.
The logic goes like this: What if Democrats did the very same thing? What if we had a Republican president and a liberal Congress? What crazy, pie-in-the-sky idea would the country be inflicted with then?
Rep. Brad Sherman of California's 30th District is just one of those who I heard struggle to find a progressive issue so outrageous that it could equate to the GOP's loathing of Obamacare.
"It is manifestly unreasonable to say you are going to shut down the government to achieve a legislative objective," he said on the floor of the House this weekend, setting the stage for the inevitable comparison. "What if Democrats said we're going to shut down the government if we don't get immigration reform, gay rights, or gun control?"
Ah yes, imagine that! Gay rights? That's nuts.
Sherman didn't mean any harm. He explained that "gay rights" made his list of imaginary, unreasonable demands merely because "we are as passionately dedicated to those issues as our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are to their ceaseless desire to repeal Obamacare."
What's unfortunate is that when I first saw Democrats start straining for the right words, picking through agenda items in their mind, I feared that same-sex marriage could become a convenient bogeyman. After all, we've long watched Republicans use LGBT Americans to scare the bejesus out of their base. We cause floods, fires, and hurricanes. We will lead to the downfall of society, etc. Pat Robertson even said we carry secret rings to cut you with and spread AIDS. The stereotypical Republican is scared to death of gays.
Democrats don't think "gay rights" are scary, though. I certainly don't think gay rights are scary. And so I'd never use that phrase as a substitute for "total anarchy."
If it's really necessary to find some fill-in-the-blank for this line of argument against Sen. Ted Cruz and his ilk, I'd really prefer that Democrats invent silly ideas -- "What if Democrats said we're going to shut down the government if we don't get summers off, or if we don't put Obama's face on Mount Rushmore?"
Even President Obama seemed to see the rhetorical pothole he was heading toward during a press conference last week. He made the same attack instead by picking an absurd idea and then a more realistic one, just to show a range of the horrible things Democrats tend to like.
"Imagine if you had a Republican president and a Democratic speaker, and the Democratic speaker said, well, we're not going to pass the debt ceiling unless we raise corporate taxes by 40% or unless we pass background checks on guns or whatever other list of agenda items Democrats were interested in," he said. "Does anybody actually think that we would be hearing from Republicans that that was acceptable behavior? That's not how our constitutional system is designed. We are not going to do it."
As Democrats look for ways to explain to the American public that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous, they have a menu of options. Maybe start with the risk the GOP is imposing on the millions of uninsured Americans who the House proposes wait one year longer to have their sicknesses treated.
But, please, let's not complicate a fight over the federal budget by creating a political football out of my right not to be fired over my sexual orientation or my right to get married or my right to adopt children. I take all of those pretty seriously.
In fact, if anyone in Congress wants to threaten to shut down the entire government until every person in this country can marry the man or woman they love, I might consider you my new hero.
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two foster children.Contact him on Twitter @lucasgrindley.