My husband and I often share a favorite quip with one another: “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” It’s our way of poking fun at each other when our words don’t line up with what we’re trying to communicate. The nice thing about the whole practice is that we really know what the other means no matter the jumbled up mess coming out of the mouth. How ludicrous it would be to take seriously those little things we call words – only symbols of meaning, really – and base our entire relationship upon them. Our over twenty-five-year marriage would have ended in disaster years ago had that been our practice.
So, maybe we should consider this all too human communication trait before basing our political wars on groups of words like “I love to fire people,” or “She’s never worked a day in her life.” Is there a person alive who did not understand that Mitt Romney was speaking with the same sentiment most of us use when we express dissatisfaction with our insurance coverage. This past week, didn’t we all understand that Hilary Rosen was speaking about her belief that Romney could not get a complete picture of women’s concerns from his wife alone, a mother whose children’s lives have never depended on her ability to draw a paycheck? Isn’t that far more likely than proposing that she believes raising children is not real work?
The problem isn’t that we don’t know what is meant when politicians fail to say what they mean and mean what they say; the problem is that we have become a nation willing to sacrifice just about anything for political expediency, including our collective sense in favor of empty sensibility. A marriage can’t survive such silliness. What makes us think a nation can?