But check out this:
Is model in this sense really modish? Regular readers of this blog know that I'm no word guy, but isn't this a virtually inevitable figurative extension of what OED has as the core meaning? To wit:
THE MODEL MUDDLE
Time was (excuse me — “Back in the day”) the noun model meant “a three-dimensional representation of the design of a large structure; a small form of a planned artistic work.” As the 20th century dawned, it gained a symbolic meaning as mathematicians used model as a representation of a concept or system. Then another sense emerged: “an exemplar, a person to be imitated.” That led to “a pattern to be followed, an approach to be emulated,” as in this use in a front-page headline in The Times this month: “Health Co-op Offers Model for Overhaul.”
In The Washington Post, the political columnist Michael Kinsley reviewed several solutions to “the burgeoning field of fretting about the future of newspapers.” He then posed a question: “But which of these ‘models’ (to use the modish term) is best?” (That was a subtle touch by the writer, parenthetically using modish, meaning “fashionable,” to describe today’s lemminglike fascination with the word model in economics and politics.)
1600SHAKESPEARE Much Ado about Nothing I. iii. 42 Wil it serue for any model to build mischiefe on?
Interestingly, OED lists this figurative sense as 'obsolete'.
1611C. TOURNEUR Atheists Trag. II. sig. D4, My plot still rises, According to the modell of mine owne desires.
Maybe the bigger question here is why people like Safire obsess over relatively minor (in the grand scheme of things, at least) extensions in meaning. With all the richness of language and language change, this gets a page of the NYT Sunday Magazine?