Political strategists are always hoping to crack the perfect soundbite for their client – the perfect distillation of everything the candidate stands for, and everything the voters want.
The hunt for the perfect soundbite can often go up its own backside. Here is Mitt Romney; first with a short retort to claims that he does not have the lofty speaking skills of Obama; then ruined with the greatest piece of political nothingness I’ve heard this year.
“You’re not here because I’m some spectacular speaker, you all know better than that,” “You know, instead that this is America and America is the answer to all good things and we are caring about our country we want to get it on track again, to care for ourselves and for the people of the world that love liberty!”
This demonstrates the core problem with crafting the perfect political message; how to say something simultaneously unique, meaningful, yet all encompassing.
In this quote Romney has gone with all-encompassing, and lost the power of meaning and uniqueness.
Actually, he’s gone one step further than that – he even made ‘all-encompassing’ an embarrassment. Okay, so I’m writing from New Zealand. Perhaps that sort of pap is going to work with some voters in the States. Maybe. But we’re all human, and we could all do with being treated to more aspiring, smarter and considered appeals to our common humanity than that.
Romney’s comment highlights a strange phenomenon; you can say the most important thing in the world: to care for each other, and make it sound like cringing crap.
How did he do it?
Firstly, the statement is in its entirety an uncommon series of disconnected generalisations. It’s peculiarly phrased, rather than unique.
Secondly, it’s ‘inhuman’. It’s high level – without a sense of the individual level realisation of the idea of caring. The empty management phrase “on track” creates dissonance.
Thirdly, the grammar is jarring. “and we are caring about our country”. Grammar doesn’t have to be perfect, but it ought to be reflective of ordinary speech.
Fourth, it’s readily-apparent rubbish. You might agree with those sentiments about America being right, about caring about each other, and liberty. But when they’re phrased like that, you know them to be crap. You know the speaker threw them out there because it’s kind of a safe set of things to say. But it’s not safe. Because even those who want to like him, and want to like those sentiments, want it all to be presented at least a smidgen smarter than that.
So the real test. How else could he have said much the same thing? Here goes (excuse me America).
“You’re not here because I’m some spectacular speaker, you all know better than that,”
“You know you’re here because I’m onto what is good about this country – what will see us out of the current troubles. I’m onto the real America, where people struggle but still hope, where people take risks and build businesses, and where people care for each other and for freedom. These are the powers I want to use for our future; these are the powers of America.