Don't Say Anything At All
Obama v Romney
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Does this bit of folk wisdom account for notoriously gabby conservatives resorting to euphemisms as a matter of course? Not being able to keep their opinions to themselves, do they feel compelled to make the nasty sound nice? If so, then can we conclude that this apparently innocent habit just sort of morphs into a pattern of communication in which nothing is as it seems — i.e. the web of lies in which much of the nation is enmeshed just developed by happenstance?

Perhaps this accounts for why Willard, the Vicar of Lucreville, calls the truthful assertion that he continued as chief executive officer at Bain Capital well into 2001 a “personal attack,” demeaning to the presidency of the U.S. If his whole life long Willard has heard only positive and laudatory comments about his achievements and accumulations of money, then the claim that his business practices have deprived workers of jobs and their families of necessary medical care may well come as a shock. The truth is not nice. But, Willard has been in the public arena long enough (almost a quarter century) to know that politicians are not likely to be silent when there’s something nasty to be dug up. Besides, the recent Republican primary campaign was no love fest.

In recent days, President Obama’s campaign has been accused of being full of hate and anger. But, it’s been the newly designated Vice Presidential candidate who proposes to destroy Medicare by turning it into a “voucher” program to re-subsidize insurance companies, depriving the elderly of peace of mind. And it’s been the loyal spouse, Ann Romney who got visibly angry, during a televised interview, in responding to questions about their secret income tax returns.

While I’m not sure how Mrs. Romney would describe her ire, “anger” and “hate” are actually euphemistic characterizations when conservatives use them. In Obama’s case, what they’d really like to say instead of “angry person,” is “nigger.” But that wouldn’t be nice. Which is why Touré Nebblet characterizing the use of those words as a “niggerization” of Obama raised such a stink and why Vice President Biden doubling down by referring to conservative economic policies as designed to “put y’all back in chains” got an even more excited response. Leaders showing themselves to be in sympathy with the despised is even worse than using accurate adjectives. The curtain of dissimulation being rent is painful and speaking in code to be “nice” is actually a lot of work. To then discover that it’s worthless makes it doubly hard.

I’ve been tempted to put together a catalogue of conservative euphemisms. But it seems like a monumental and probably thankless task. And then, if the enumeration of euphemisms were complete, dysphemisms would have to be considered, too. And how do they come about? Why bother to make something good sound bad? Why, for example, rename “rights” as entitlements? So they can be more easily denied as undeserved? But why would anyone want to deprive others of their rights, since it’s no skin off their own nose, so to speak?

I suspect the answer is envy and pride, emotions with which people who have been demeaned console themselves. A fictitious self-importance serves as compensation for having been dissed. But that doesn’t answer why some people bother to demean others in the first place. (The “Obama is demeaning the presidency” meme, which has been around for at least two years and which Romney is repeating because that’s what creatures of habit do instinctively, isn’t relevant). The answer, I suspect, lies in the fact that the demeaned actually try harder to prove the assessment wrong and, as a result, their productivity increases to a point where they’ll hardly notice what’s being stolen from them. It’s sort of like lies prompting the truth from people who care about accuracy. Trickery survives in the genome because it works to sustain people who can’t do for themselves.

It’s this inability to perform useful work what has to be carefully hidden and denied. The dreaded insecurity conservatives feel compelled to invoke has a basis in fact. How would Willard, the Vicar of Lucreville, survive, for example, if he didn’t have money to acquire the necessities of life? Michelle Obama planting a garden on the White House grounds is an affront and a challenge. Willard can’t even mow his own lawn.

Which reminds me, “illegals” is another euphemism for the catalogue I’m not bothering with.

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Illustration of President Obama and candidate Romney by DonkeyHotey from his flickr photostream and used with our gratitude under creative commons license.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."