The last presidential debate was the least watched in history. the Republican and Democratic Conventions were the least watched in history. The TV networks have provided less coverage of this campaign than of any other. Voter surveys suggest that the turnout on Nov. 5 could dip under 50%. Who's to blame for this implosion of apathy? The candidates? The media? The public? The zeitgeist? No, such explanations are wide of the mark: It's the metaphors, stupid.

After decades of overuse, the images that politicians and journalists alike have employed to connect politics to the populace are now utterly exhausted. After every...

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