The other day in one of our meetings, a member of the MPR News staff suggested that the next person who used the phrase “kick the can” should suffer corporal punishment. Or maybe it was capital punishment. Either way, the talk got me to thinking.
I’m pretty sure that the dime-store political analysis – “All we did was kick the can down the road” – has nothing to do with the actual game of Kick the Can. The phrase conjures the image of a boy walking down a road, kicking a can ahead of him as he goes. It is a metaphor for pointless action that postpones a problem instead of solving it, unless somewhere down that road there’s a recycling station.
But maybe we should think of the budget negotiations as a game of Kick the Can, instead. I looked up the rules, and it turns out there are a few similarities:
1. Like the state budget negotiations, Kick the Can is a game of one against many. One player is “It,” and everybody else hides. By now, I’m guessing that Mark Dayton has an intimate understanding of how it feels to be “It.”
2. There is a deadline. “It” has to count to 30, or 50, or some other agreed number, while the hiders seek cover behind trees and parked cars. If, by the deadline, the hiders have not finished their work of finding a place to hide, nothing much happens.
3. The game is addictive. Players have been known to disappear for long periods of time while the rest of the state is holding dinner for them.
Now we’re at the part of the game when the players have yelled, “Come on, Mom! We’re almost done! Just let us finish this one game and then we’ll be in, we promise.” And Mom, trusting soul, has ladled out the soup and started making plans to open the state parks.
The soup is starting to cool, Mom is wondering whether she’s been had, and pretty soon the voters are going to be in a mood to ground somebody.