All politicians are language-abusers, but some politicians are more abusive than others.
In this year's Republican primary campaign, Newt Gingrich made an impressive play for American (English) abuser-in-chief via his relentless deployment of such adverbs as "fundamentally," "profoundly," "dramatically" and "bizarrely." During one eight-minute tour de force in January, according to Arden Farhi of CBS News, Newt managed to work in, "deeply, substantially, clearly, deliberately, genuinely, actually, candidly, highly, likely, increasingly, totally, collectively, directly, seriously (twice) and very (nine times!)."
Newt never had a shot at the nomination, so his language mangling was more hilarious than threatening. Mitt Romney, though, has a real chance to become the world's most powerful person, and so it's worth analyzing his particular toxic brand of hyperbole. (An ex-boss pronounced it "hyper-bowl," which brings to mind a football playoff for speed freaks.)
During the primaries, Mitt, a self-styled "severely conservative" ex-governor, labeled Newtie "an extraordinarily unreliable conservative" and "an extraordinarily unreliable leader." Gingrich, for his part, said Romney was "grotesquely hypocritical," "fundamentally abusive" and "fundamentally dishonest."
Mitt may lack passion when it comes to empathizing with humans, but his love of the words "extraordinary" and "extraordinarily" knows no bounds. It's not enough to insult President Obama as weak, or timid, or even weak and timid. No! In Romney-speak, our president must be "extraordinarily weak and timid," "extraordinarily naïve" and prone to "extraordinary miscalculation." When Romney accuses Mr. Obama of being "extraordinarily unknowledgeable," he enters the realm of absurdity.
Speaking of absurdity, Mitt loves to dismiss what doesn't fit his narrative as "absurd," often adding an adverb to twist the knife. For him, the president's campaign slogan is "simply absurd" and the notion that a Romney budget would cut back on teachers is "completely absurd."
We may have to wait for Mitt's memoirs to find out whether he took his "very" inspiration from Gingrich or from Graham Nash's "very, very, very fine house." But does it really matter? The important thing is that it took Mitt five "very's" to explain that he thinks the president's stance towards Russia is "very, very troubling, very alarming. I am very, very concerned..." (Russia, in Romney's hyperbolic chamber, is "without question our number one geopolitical foe.")
Romney's diction -- which also features "fundamentally," "violently" and "vehemently" -- is nasty enough on the page. His delivery -- whether he's insulting Rick Perry or talking down to his supposed friends at Fox News for daring to be less than obsequious -- makes you pray that some reporter, some day, will ask one tough follow-up question. For instance, "When you said, 'Day one. Job one. Repeal Obamacare,' you did understand that the Constitution doesn't empower the president to repeal a law, right?"
All's fair in verbal condescension, though, according to the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, who praises Mitt for his "exquisitely condescending" attitude toward the president. Taranto argues that artful meanness will win the hearts and minds of the American electorate -- though the evidence suggests voters almost always award the presidency to the more likable candidate.
Romney could express his disrespect for the president without disrespecting the language, but he can't leave well enough alone with only "well" and "enough." He doesn't really believe that Mr. Obama's policies amount to a "war on women." He knows full well what he calls the federal regulatory burden hasn't "increased four-fold since President Obama was elected." And his claim that he's, "the only guy who spent his life in the real world" could point to a modern-day Zen Koan: What's the sound of Mitt making sense?
What does Mitt himself have to say about the language of this great country of ours? Not much, unless it's to dodge questions about Rush Limbaugh's choice of the words "slut" and "prostitute" to describe Sandra Fluke. Romney would only say, "It's not the language I would have used."
GOP pollster Frank Luntz has made a fortune by teaching GOPers how to abuse American English to trick the electorate into voting against their own interests -- by substituting "energy exploration" for oil drilling, "death tax" for inheritance tax and "job creators" for super-rich tax evaders. These, along with Luntz's most diabolical achievement -- replacing "healthcare reform" with "government takeover," which won him the coveted PolitiFact Lie of the Year award in 2010 -- will test voters' tolerance for language abuse between now and November.