The policies Mitt Romney advocates might be quite new after four years of this administration, but his language is a golden oldie. By now, the retro phrases that punctuate his vocabulary have acquired a name of their own: Mittisms.
Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker, a couple of New York Times reporters, compiled an impressive list of them. To run through them is to take a trip into the past:
When he fell in love with his wife, Romney wasn't just in love, he was “smitten.” He doesn't just get off an airplane but “disembarks.” In his world, crooks don't go to jail but to “the big house.” People don't laugh but “guffaw,” and they never hurl insults but “brickbats.”
It's a vocabulary from a vanished America where people wrote letters, not sent emails, and kids hung out at soda fountains. After interviewing him, reporters might not be surprised to walk out into streets full of AMC Ramblers, bobby-soxers and even good manners. How dated.
Quaint would be an understatement for this presidential candidate's habits of phrase. The Times describes his language as “a rhetorical time capsule.” This isn't to say the man can't be forceful. When riled, he's been known to mutter, “H-E-double hockey sticks.” To quote the astounded Speaker of the House in Massachusetts when Romney was governor: “He actually said that. Who talks like that?”
Answer: Mitt Romney does. He uses “darn” as an expletive, as when he responded to a questioner in Kalamazoo, Mich.: “Darned good question!” Shocking.
The man is incorrigible. Not that he's joined the language police, but he will demur politely from today's casual obscenities. As when a Democratic state senator engaged in a little street talk in his presence, and Gov. Romney responded: “Well, I wouldn't choose that diction.” You'd think politics was bean-bag.
This could take some getting used to if Romney makes it to the White House. It'd be quite a change from Joe Biden, who has been known to confuse vulgarity with eloquence.
When the opposition warns that Mitt Romney is out of step with the times, they may have a point, but for those of us of a certain age and disposition, his Ivory Soap vocabulary — 99.44 percent pure! — would be a step not just back but up. That advertising slogan itself must date to Radio Days circa 1944.
No doubt Americans were just as profane back then, but not our leaders, certainly not in public. It wasn't done. But there seem to be fewer and fewer things that are just not done in our oh-so-advanced era.
What does it matter how a presidential candidate talks? It's his policies that count! But are the two, words and actions, so easily separable? For it may not be clothes but language that maketh the man.
The spiffiest of rising young lobbyists, in their thousand-dollar suits and Armani ties, come across as cheap louts when they open their mouths and start spewing out profanities. At least they do to ladies and gentlemen, if there are any left of that vanishing breed.
David Axelrod, the president's spokesperson, once dismissed Mitt Romney's dated vocabulary and his politics in general by saying he “must watch ‘Mad Men,'” the television series set in New York's advertising world of the 1960s, “and think it's the evening news.”
But the 1960s might be a decade too advanced for Romney's language. To my ear, he sounds more like the 1950s — “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Father Knows Best,” rather than “Mad Men.” If he were on “Mad Men,” he'd surely be one of those difficult clients who wouldn't condone racy language. At least in public, and among people whose respect one sought.
In some respects, like language, why not return to the past? It would be progress.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES