By Tom Cushing
What's in a Pronoun?Uploaded: Jul 23, 2012
There may be no more loaded word in the English language than "you."
It can be a fond term of endearment, as in, let's see, the phrase "I'm So-o in love with You" crooned by the Prez at a New York fund-raiser, with co-lyricist the Rev. Al Green in attendance. Conversely, "you" can create separation and put others on the defensive. Anyone who's been to couples counseling (yeah, I tried) will recall the "blame-game" injunction against "you" messages, in preference to "I" or "we" statements. It's no accident that the framers began the US Constitution with the phrase: "We, the people."
With the Presidential campaigns as scripted and choreographed as they've become, and in the absence of reliable deception detection, we are left with few hints as to what the candidates Really Think. This is especially true when the positions of at least one of the participants have been so remarkably fluid. Unguarded moments and careless words may be our best windows into the souls of those who would lead us. This week had two such telling moments, both involving "you."
The first came during Mr. Romney's address to the NAACP, which has so far been deemed newsworthy because of the politely negative reactions of his audience. To me, though, the most significant word in the speech was the last, in the phrase 'and may God bless every one of YOU." To Mitt, it was a magnanimous gesture, especially despite his chilly reception. It would simply never occur to him to have ended with an inclusive "every one of US." I found that "blessing" to be condescending and remarkably clumsy; I doubt I was alone, and I daresay it cost him more potential African-American votes than anything he said about health care or job creation.
That phrasing says to me that he has little appreciation of American experience outside his gated environs and that he has no intention of being president of You. During this time of extraordinary economic polarization, it is imperative that our leaders understand the America that is and have the multitude who are suffering directly in-mind. I am deeply concerned that, to Mr. Romney, the yous are a charitable after-thought, the under-appreciative beneficiaries of whatever crumbs trickle-off the banquet table.
The other incident was Ann Romney's unscripted "you people" comment to Robyn Roberts on day-time TV. It came in response to a query about the campaigns stubborn refusal to produce tax information from the years before Mr. Romney decided to run, again, including his latter-days at Bain Capital -- when he was not running the company as its CEO and sole shareholder.
Although Ms. Roberts appears to be black by heritage, the "you people" term in this context was probably meant to include the pack of news hounds nipping at the Romneys heels, and anyone else who deigned to probe into their lofty finances (the proper place for hounds, after all, is on the roof of a station wagon). Again, it betrays an expected deference, born of the privilege of wealth. It's not pretty, and it's certainly neither the humility nor perspective I want in our leadership.
Those tax returns are of public significance because they are actions that reveal what the candidate actually Did, as opposed to what he may say he believes. They are also a routine part of the game for those who seek our votes. "Trust me" statements like "something about my finances" or "Mitt's a very good person" don't cut it, and the addition of looking down one's nose at the request is doubly-damning. I wasn't all that interested before these strenuous denials, but the more strident they become, the worse the campaign looks as a result. One has to wonder: what's in there? Is it Even worse than the beating they are already absorbing? I don't often find myself in virtual bed with George Will, but he, too, recognizes that the returns should be produced.
Now, to be fair and balanced, the Incumbent also made a gaffe this week, which might provide a similar peek into the inner recesses of his heart. He suggested that business owners didn't build their own businesses, someone else did. In some quarters, this has been taken to demonstrate something roughly in-between ignorance of how business gets done in these United States, and the supposition that his private nickname for Michelle is "Comrade." I'm guessing that it was not much more than an uncharacteristically clumsy attempt to paraphrase Elizabeth Warren's insightful assertion about community: that we're all in this together, we Americans, and nobody succeeds alone. See this excerpt, starting at about 50 seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htX2usfqMEs. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
So, the Romneys won the weekly gaffestakes, 2-1. Returning to our theme, the Founding Fathers had it right. WE are still The People, and a candidate who forgets that, or doesn't know it, should not command the majority of our votes.