On NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty grasped for a baseball metaphor in this exchange with David Gregory (see the end of this video clip), and came up with the proposal that the Republicans "need to be not just the party of saying, 'We hope President Obama continues to kick it in the dugout'." Here's the context:
MR. GREGORY: You've actually been critical of the Republican Party, and you gave an interview this week to Esquire magazine. Here's a portion of it, I'll put it on the screen. "The Republicans had their shot not long ago to address the real needs and concerns of everyday Americans, and they blew it. … Over the time that they were there and had the leadership opportunity, they blew it. We got fired for a reason." So what makes you think that the Republican Party has turned itself around?
GOV. PAWLENTY: As I travel the country, I talk to Republicans, I talk to conservatives. Everybody acknowledges we've learned our lesson. And if we are given the privilege and the opportunity to govern again and to lead again, I think everyone's committed to learning from those lessons and doing it right. You know, the last eight years when Republicans were in charge, the spending was not where it should have been. We had a number of opportunities to change that and they–it didn't happen. And also, when you look at the real problems of this country, these are serious times with serious challenges. There is a Republican or conservative approach to fixing the healthcare system. It's needed. There is a conservative and Republican message on growing the economy, and it's needed. And down the list. So we need to be not just the party of saying, "We hope President Obama continues to kick it in the dugout." That's not a strategy, that's not a plan, that's not a vision for the future. We also have to offer our own ideas and alternatives to solve and address these needs. (NBC transcript)
The dugout is, of course, one of two areas along the baselines of a baseball diamond where the team benches are located. When I first heard Pawlenty's metaphor, I got an image of Obama as the frustrated slugger who strikes out and, on his return to the dugout, kicks the water-cooler or some other equipment. But on further thought, it seems more likely that Pawlenty is saying that Obama is playing the role of an inept infielder trying to scoop up a ground ball but instead booting it into the dugout.
I was stymied by (what I'm assuming is) Pawlenty's intended image because of two ambiguities: the anaphoric ambiguity of the pronoun it (does it refer to a baseball or some or other object?), and the lexicosemantic ambiguity of the preposition in (does it mean 'into' or 'inside'?). If Pawlenty had been less opaque and had said "We hope President Obama continues to kick the ball into the dugout," (or better yet, "boot the ball into the dugout"), at least we'd have a better handle on what he was going for.
Even when we flesh out the metaphor, it's more than a little peculiar. In my baseball-watching experience, I can't recall any noteworthy examples of a player accidentally kicking the ball into one of the dugouts, and a search online doesn't immediately turn up any occurrences of the phenomenon. Perhaps other fans can help me out here.
Then again, Pawlenty seems to enjoy unusual sports-related metaphorical turns. Later on "Meet the Press," Gregory confronted the governor on his odd invocation of Tiger and Elin Woods in his speech at the CPAC conference last week:
Now, I think we can learn a lot from that situation. Not from Tiger, but from his wife. So she said, "I've had enough." She said, "No more." I think we should take a page out of her playbook and take a nine iron and smash the window out of the–big government in this country. … We've had enough.
Pawlenty defended this by saying, "Well, I think people still enjoy a little sense of humor, and if we've gotten to the point where you can't make a joke, you know, I think we're in trouble." Inappropriate joking aside, I think he'd be well-advised to start looking for some less problematic sports metaphors.
[Update #1: This isn't the first time that Pawlenty has used the dugout metaphor. Here he is on Fox News last October, being interviewed by Neil Cavuto about how he was supporting the conservative candidate Doug Hoffman in an upstate New York congressional race over the Republican party nominee, Dede Scozzafava:
I think you have here a very just poor decision by the small group of party leaders who made this decision. It wasn't a grassroots decision. They endorsed a candidate who has voted to raise income taxes in New York, who's in favor of card check, who's voted in favor or supported the stimulus bill, has voted in favor of bank bailouts, has voted in favor of all sorts of other issues that just are inconsistent with being a Republican.
There's latitude in the party. We're not going to all agree on all issues. So we got to have some room for that, and I agree with that perspective. But in this case they so kicked it in the dugout it doesn't even pass a minimum standard.
A few commenters below suggest "kick it" could mean 'to relax, hang out,' but in this case Pawlenty clearly intends "kick it in the dugout" to mean 'to flub or mishandle something.']
[Update #2: One more! On CNN last September, Pawlenty said, "I mean, our strategy can't be, we hope the other side kicks it in the dugout."]