Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Comfort, If Not Joy

This is really not a political commentary.

Really.

At least, I don’t think it is.

 

A couple of days ago, some SECRET VIDEO!!! was released to the Internet world. You can watch it here, but the upshot of it is, “Mitt Romney speaks to an audience of high-dollar campaign donors at a private fundraising event, has some (at first blush) rather contemptuous things to say about nearly half the American population – and it’s all recorded by a hidden video camera.”

After I got through watching the video for the first time, I sat, slightly stunned, musing that the result of this released video might be anywhere from “a minor media stir that will shortly die down” to “the crashing end of a Presidential candidate’s candidate.” Given the media culture of the early 21st century, I honestly don’t know which is more likely.

The content of his talk, I suspect, is enough to drive (for example) the Occupy movement faithful into flailing, foaming fits of indignant “–see? See?! Detestable! Wealth has blinded him! Awful person! Contempt for his fellow Americans! Vote progressive! Hope and Change!”, and etc.

Although I do see that my offensive linemen have opened up a hole as big as a 747 for me to run through and spike my editorial football in the end zone of Political Commentary … please, I invite you, feel free to pause a moment, stand back and admire that metaphor … nonetheless, the video made me focus, as I watched it a second time, not so much on what Mr. Romney was saying, but how. And it made me think of how we all, all of us, speak to different audiences in different ways.

When I stand in front of middle-school general music students, I speak in a certain way.

When I stand in front of middle-school general music students who are members of the school band, I speak in a certain slightly different way. (I can use different terminology, or at least I don’t have to explain things like “what’s a crescendo?”)

When I talk to my mother on the phone, I speak in a certain way.

When I talk to a telemarketer on the phone, I speak in a certain other way.

When I talk to someone I’m just meeting for the first time, I speak in a certain way.

When I talk to someone I’ve known since I was in junior high, I speak in a certain other way.

When I talk to the TV, after having heard or seen something ridiculous upon it, I speak in a certain way.

When I talk to the police officer who’s just pulled me over (which, for the record, hasn’t happened in years), I speak in a certain other way.

When we’re in our comfort zone – wherever that is, and whoever else is in it with us – we naturally say certain things in certain ways (and with certain body language). We almost can’t help it – or if we can, it takes work.

 

As the Presidential campaign has gone on, through primary season and into this last push before the general election, plenty of people have hurled invective at Mitt Romney. When one runs for President, one gets this treatment. Hopefully the invective has much more to do with one’s policies than with one’s person, but invective does get hurled. Gov. Romney has heard a lot from his critics about both his policies and his person. When his person is the target, the critique tends to be about his stiff demeanor, his seeming inability to “connect” with an audience. One of my favorite political radio commentators has nicknamed him “the RomneyBot 2000”.

During 2011, the New York Times described Gov. Romney’s persona as facts-driven, cautious, formal, socially stiff, and “spare with his emotions.” Whether he’s making stump speeches or meeting individual people on the campaign trail, the media have commented on his body language and speech patterns – he’s sometimes halting, sometimes awkward, sometimes slightly detached; sometimes his chuckle seems more the product of nervousness or uncertainty than the product of being amused; and sometimes his off-script remarks seem borne of a genuine lack of experience with anything but the environment created and fostered by his rather formidable wealth. This leads to the predictable but understandable accusations: he’s out of touch with the middle class … he’s insulated from everyone except rich people … he’s in the “one percent” of the American population who get to play by one set of financial and societal rules, while the rest of the population has to play by a different, less advantageous set of rules.

But, if we can agree that Mitt Romney is in fact a human being, then we can agree that he must be subject to at least one characteristic, the same as any other human: again, we all speak to different audiences in different ways. Up to this point, we perhaps had not seen incontrovertible proof of this, although I remember thinking once, “you don’t get to be a multi-gazillionaire corporate CEO type if your persona is that of a seventh-grader presenting an oral report in front of his Social Studies class.” He must be able to talk in a relaxed, comfortable manner to someone outside his own family… mustn’t he?

Apparently he is. This SECRET VIDEO!!! certainly seems to offer the impression that there are indeed people outside the Romney family that the Governor is entirely comfortable speaking with.

Successful politicians usually either are naturally able to speak, or are trained and practiced in the art of speaking, to just about any audience – s/he needs to convince that audience that s/he understands them and their concerns. (Whether or not that’s true. As Billy Crystal’s “Fernando” character used to say, “It’s not how you feel; it’s how you look!”)

Businessmen and -women need to be just as good at that as politicians do – they have to convince people to come around to their views or buy their products or agree to deals with them, and they have to do it (hopefully) in a way that makes their audiences think, “s/he’s one of us, or understands where we are, and it almost feels like it makes sense to agree with them because we now feel like we understand them and where they are.” Remarkably often, in political speech situations, Gov. Romney hardly looks like a seasoned politician.

In the recently-released video, Gov. Romney is relaxed. Confident. There’s the sound of a smile in his voice, and it’s not a feigned one. He very rarely stumbles over a single word, even though he’s not reading from any script. There are no nervous chuckles, no verbal “gaffes”. Every word is targeted and clear, and in fact Romney is practically speaking in complete paragraphs. And who is his audience? With whom is he entirely comfortable?

 

Up to now, it’s been practically cliché – a meme! – to characterize Gov. Romney as a member of the upper class who doesn’t experience, understand or relate to people of lesser means, or their way of life. And commentators have done this, very often, without really offering concrete evidence to support this assertion.

But this video is a lengthy one, not a quick-hit sound bite that can be thought to have been taken out of context. It’s conceivable that now, with the release of this video, there is at least a little of that concrete evidence to hold up.

And all because in fact, Mitt Romney really IS a human being; and he has to play by that human-being rule, just like everyone else:

We human beings are comfortable (and express themselves most comfortably and honestly) around two groups of people: people we like … and people like us.

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September 18, 2012 - Posted by | Famous Persons, Internet, journalism, language, media, news, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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