Sometimes there are little "tells" that candidates have that reveal something they might want to keep hidden. For example, when Mitt Romney — spontaneously one imagines — decided to bet Rick Perry in the last debate, he came up with the $10,000 figure, which many took as a sign of his elitism. Now, he has done it again, with his attack on Newt Gingrich, calling him “zany.” Zany is not a word many Americans use in their daily life. Rather, they use words like “crazy,” “unstable,” “whacky,” or “weird” the word an Obama aide used to describe Romney. To me, zany is a word that reveals something interesting about Romney: he is a polite, wealthy, well-educated. He comes from a world where language is often used judiciously to imply meaning rather than to state it explicitly. Calling Gingrich “crazy” would not only be inflammatory, it would be rude.
In this, Romney reminds me of George H.W. Bush who also had a privileged background and an aristocratic use of language. In 1988, Bush lost Iowa, and needed a win in New Hampshire for a comeback. One change mandated by his campaign was that he get out of the bubble more and try to mingle with real people — at least as much as possible for a sitting vice-president in the middle of a heated campaign. Roger Ailes had him visit diners, and in one such setting where Ailes camera crew was busy getting footage for last minute ads, Bush was sitting at the counter. The shot was tight — just him, flanked by real patrons on the stools next to him, and the proprietor, a colorful Yankee. The proprietor said casually, as the little group was talking and Ailes was gathering material that showed Bush could indeed relate to commoners, "Mr. Vice-President: a re-fill on your coffee, sir?" Mr. Bush, without missing a beat, said, “Just a splash.”
Of course, that 1988 presidential primary was also famous for another kind of language, which may re-enforce Romney's genetic pre-disposition to being polite and a little aloof. When Bob Dole was asked if he had anything to say to Vice-President Bush, he snarled, “Stop lying about my record.” This was taken as a sign that Dole was mean and becoming unhinged. If only, he had said, “Stop being so zany,” he might have been president.