In today’s Washington Post’s “Today’s Quote,” picked up from the comment of Former Reagan Budget director David Stockman in an interview with The Daily Beast (hat tip to Political Wire), I came across the phrase “Obama will fold faster than a lawn chair.”

As I could not get the idea of “fold faster a lawn chair,” or even “fold a lawn chair,” I consulted Merriam Webster, Cambridge Dictionary Online and The online Slang Dictionary in vain to find none of them carry the definition of the above phrases.

Is David Stockman predicting that President Obama will withdraw his agenda easily like folding a lawn chair, (or give up lawn chair i.e. his stand) and succumb to Republicans to accept their budget reduction plan? What is the exact meaning of “fold faster a lawn chair”? Is this a well-established cliché, though I couldn’t find it in any of dictionaries available?

The sentence containing this phrase is as follows:

Bring it on. I think the Republicans need to stand rigidly firm and shut the government down for a few days. The Obama White House is weak. If the Republicans hold the line, Obama will fold faster than a lawn chair. And the Republicans will get their $60 billion in reductions.

  • I have a friend who uses a variation on that phrase: "He'll fold faster than Superman on laundry day." Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 22:29
  • There's also the classic "fold like a house of cards."
    – ghoppe
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 5:35
  • And from Yes Minister "It used to be said that there were two types of chair to go with two types of Minister. One folds up instantly; the other goes round-and-round in circles" (youtube.com/watch?v=f6kZtWoOBSI)
    – jsj
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 12:55
  • Also found on Google: "fold faster than a house of cards", "fold faster than a greased accordion", "fold faster than a pleated skirt", "fold faster than a card table", "fold faster than a cheap tent", "fold faster than an umbrella on a windy day". But they're all uncommon idioms. Commented May 19, 2012 at 15:14

4 Answers 4


A lawn chair is a lightweight piece of folding furniture, made out of aluminum or fiberglass. It is designed to be easy to fold up and put away, or to unfold and take out, when one has guests for a party on the lawn or patio.

enter image description here

In this case it means Obama will give in to pressure and abandon his position, if he has one, as he has often done in the past in the face of Republican pressure.

  • @Robusto-san. So this is just a simille, and not well-worn cliche? Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 10:52
  • +1 for the pic of the lawn chair dangerously close to collapse :-) Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 10:53
  • @Yoichi Oishi: Oishi-san, it's certainly a simile, but I'm sure I've heard it used on more than one occasion.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 10:57
  • @Yoichi Oishi: "abandon his position" is Robusto's good way to put it: DS says he'll run at the first dim, far-off sound of an enemy drum. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 11:21
  • +1. Note that this particular design of lawn chair (and this is the steriotypical design), is notorious for falling over and folding itself up if subjected to a stiff breeze, or if you get up from it too fast.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 13:26

Fold, meaning "give in to your opponents" probably comes from the game of poker, where you can literally fold your hand and put it down to signify giving up. A lawn chair is something that folds quickly, although in a different sense. So this is an idiom like

He lies like a rug.

which plays on the two different meanings of a word.

  • +1 because this is the correct answer. To "fold" is to give up a hand of cards, and the lawn-chair metaphor is a pun on that.
    – The Raven
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 13:25
  • It also appears that the questioner was confused by the fact that "lawn chair" is not a common term in England, something I just learned from looking at the answers to this question. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 19:05
  • Indeed, checking on Google Ngrams, "lawn chair" is currently 10 times more common in American English than British English, although it looks like the British are slowly adopting the term. Commented May 19, 2012 at 15:08

What he refers to here is actually what we call in the UK a deck chair...

enter image description here

The deck chair folds away for ease of storage and is often used as a comical prop because it can be quite unsterdy and can collapse.

So what the quote means is that President Obama will fold (collapse under pressure) as easily as an unstable chair (in this instance a lawn chair) will collapse under physical pressure.

  • +1 for the chair picture; if it were a video showing how to fold the chair, the points would have been two.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 18:48
  • As requested, although I'm not sure if this is much help, but just goes to show how comical it can be ... youtube.com/watch?v=WOGmafrGDaM&feature=related
    – sturner
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 8:59
  • 0 This answer is entertaining but doesn't solve the problem. I disagree with @kiamlaluno, unless he was being sarcastic.
    – D W
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 4:12
  • I think this answer really does solve the problem, as what the original questioner seems to be confused about is exactly what "lawn chair" means in the U.S. (lawn chairs don't all fold, but many of them do). Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 14:46
  • @kiamlaluno - Actually, the picture in Robusto's accepted answer is the chair design that was being referred to. Everybody in the US grew up with those things, and they are notorious for folding up when you don't want them to.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 13:33

To fold faster than a lawn chair has a more passive, acted-upon connotation than merely to "withdraw" his agenda. Stockman means that he'll surrender at the least opposition. Stockman has been wrong many times: wrong as a fart in church; so wrong he can't even do wrong right.

  • Thank you. I guessed so. So I inserted Obama will have to'succumb to Republicans to accept their budget reduction plan.' Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 10:48
  • 1
    @Yoichi Oishi -- yes, but 'succumb' doesn't carry the notion of the speed, ease, and completeness of of surrender. A lawn chair goes from a three-dimensional, solid thing to a two-dimensional non-thing at the slightest touch. A lawn chair in this figure of speech is like a balloon: it collapses at the merest prick of a pin. Further, the phrase (if it were not cliched and worn out) is imaginative and humorous, which is a large part of its appeal as a simile. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 11:01

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