The XX Factor

Barbara Boxer as Attila the Hun

I’m delighted to announce the presence of a new military analogy to describe modern politics: the Huns. Attila and his men have marched across the vast landscape of time to honor us with their presence in California’s U.S. Senate race, of all places. On Monday the president of a state manufacturing group endorsed Republican Carly Fiorina, charging that Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer “treats business much like the Huns treated the cities of Europe, as targets of plunder and pillage.” The reference was obscure enough that the A.P. felt the need to explain who the Huns were, which dampened a little of the oh-snap effect.

This got me interested in how often the Huns are invoked in American political rhetoric, and I discovered they appear to be experiencing a resurgence (or, perhaps, just a “surgence,” as I’m not sure they’ve been a cool analogy for, like, 1,500 years). A recent opinion piece on AOL News suggests that California progressives view “the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city: as something to be sacked and plundered.” The Heritage Foundation’s Foundry blog picks up on this idea and suggests that it’s President Obama who “views the private sector the same way the Huns viewed a city.”

Where will we see the Huns next? They deserve to be included in the national conversation. The metaphor of politics as a battlefield is a reliable one, and we’re running out of fresh historical examples. Why should that old Waterloo analogy get to have all the fun? Another big one: Custer’s Last Stand. When the political conversation veers toward military policy, the Vietnam War is of course the metaphor to beat, and Douglas MacArthur was invoked a bunch when Stanley McChrystal replaced David Patraeus earlier this summer. Stalin and Mussolini are old standbys, and for the unoriginal, bombastic, and tone-deaf, there’s always Hitler, a favorite of online commenters everywhere.

Somewhere, surely, an obscure Hun-studies professor is polishing his helmet in anticipation.

Photograph of Sen. Barbara Boxer by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.