The Corner

Romney, Me, and the Trees

I’m in my home state, Michigan, where “the trees are the right height.” That’s what Mitt Romney said in 2012. He was roundly mocked for it. He still is. I saw that phrase cited and mocked just the other day.

“The trees are the right height.” A wonderful and unusual phrase, and observation. Wonderful is occasionally allowed in our politics; unusual, never. Convention — the usual — is the name of the game.

Here is Romney’s statement in full — Michigan, February 2012:

A little history: I was born and raised here. I love this state. It seems right here. The trees are the right height. I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. Just something very special here. The Great Lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan.

I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars. It used to be, in the ’50s and ’60s, if you showed me one square foot of almost any part of a car, I could tell you what brand it was, the model and so forth. Now, with all the Japanese cars, I’m not quite so good at it, but I still know the American cars pretty well. And drive a Mustang.

I love cars. I love American cars, and long may they rule the world, let me tell you.

That’s Romney. A little goofy, a little unusual, and totally himself. This is endearing or off-putting, depending on who you are.

Addressing a conservative audience the same month, Romney said, “I fought against long odds in a deep blue state [Massachusetts], but I was a severely conservative Republican governor.” The snorters nearly fell out of their chairs at the word “severely” — which they said was exactly the wrong word, a word no one would use.

But Romney did. And I knew exactly what he meant. I thought it was a mot juste. But it was unconventional. And anyone who departs a millimeter from the conventional will be punished.

That is probably as true on the right as it is on the left. Conservatives are supposed to honor the individualistic, personal, and quirky. The Left is supposed to enforce conformity. But it ain’t necessarily so. Both sides can be ruthless when it comes to a Party Line. If you don’t say and write exactly what everyone else is saying and writing — in the identical language — look out.

I’ve seen this in my own career, over the last 20 or so years. Depart a millimeter from the conventional, and you’ll hear about it. “But no one else is saying that!” people will respond. And mind you, saying what no one else is saying is supposed to be bad.

Have a peek at the world of writing. I’m lucky enough to write for good publications, and good editors, most of the time. These are publications and editors who allow for the occasional, or frequent, departure from the conventional. National Review has lived for 60 years. May it live for another 60, and 60 after that.

But for other publications, and other editors, I make sure to write in more conventional fashion. I sometimes try to “editor-proof” my copy. What you do is adhere to the conventional in phrasing, diction, punctuation, etc. Because the dullards – the cramped minds — just can’t handle the unconventional.

Take the word “diction.” I have to be careful before whom I say it, and write it. Because people think that “diction” means speaking clearly, possibly while walking with a book on one’s head. It also means word-choice.

Even good editors and proofreaders will point out what is conventional, versus what I’ve written. I know, actually. I know what is conventional — and have simply opted against it, for something else. You see? (Many don’t.)

Back to Romney. He has earned the hatred and mockery of the Left (of course) and of a certain Right. This ought to satisfy him, but I understand that it’s a pain.

Someone said, something like, “The worst sin in America is the failure to keep up.” I wish I could find the phrase, and the author. It’s a biting insight. And we are supposed to be the Land of Be Yourself. I suppose we are, still, in comparison with others …

God bless America (and may there be loads of space for the quirky)!

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