As easy as it is to express ourselves in this modern age of instant communication, it’s just as easy to get burned. As we have seen in the past, there are constant reminders that if you’re not extremely careful with how you communicate, not only are you likely to fail in getting your point across to your audience—you put yourself in danger of getting into a lot of trouble. Mitt Romney is now under fire for his now infamous quote about being “not concerned about the very poor.” Adding fuel to the fire, the DNC is now using this in an attack ad against the GOP front-runner.
To be fair, the quote Romney gave to CNN in Florida has a different connotation when put in context:
“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
In other words, he’s more concerned about the middle class because they don’t have the resources of the very rich or the “safety net” of the very poor. Nice thought, but an inflammatory out of context soundbite is so much more sexy than the truth. Thus, Romney is learning a hard lesson—in this age of instant communication, not only does your meaning need to avoid being improper, even the separate component parts that make up your message need to avoid the very appearance of impropriety. We live in an age where everything you say can and will be used against you. Many celebrities already know this—I have previous written about how country singer Blake Shelton from The Voice had gotten into trouble for things that he had written on Twitter.
However, Romney should know better. When you’re the front-runner of a major party running for President of the United States, everything you say tends to attract a lot of attention. It’s kind of a no-brainer. He should look to the history of his own party. There are conservatives who have already put a lot of work into the study of how to communicate effectively, like the books “Words That Work” by Dr. Frank Luntz and “Don’t Think Of An Elephant” by George Lakoff. These books show that by choosing your words extremely carefully, you can control the message and influence your audience very pointedly. Gaffes like this ‘poor quote’ are like fumbling the ball in the playoffs, one just can’t afford it if you want to win. Seriously, who’s in charge of the Romney campaign? His handler is worse than that guy with the puppy dog eyes who was supposed to watch over Sydney Bristow on Alias.
We can all learn a lesson from this. George Clooney said something recently when speaking out about the Demi Moore 911 call that went public, and I think it resonates here:
“I think it’s stupid for anyone, whether they’re celebrated or not, I don’t believe their 911 call should be broadcast around the world, but that’s my opinion. What’s happening and what people have to remember is that people are getting famous from Facebook and Twitter, so it’s not just about people here, it’s about everybody. There won’t be any version of privacy. So it’s going to be a tricky thing.”
We all need to remember that anything you say and write could go viral at any time. There is no privacy anymore. And I’ll say it again, anything you say can and will be used against you. That’s just the age we live in. So it’s worth the effort to be extremely diligent in working to control the message, so to speak. Because if your meaning isn’t clear, as we have seen, someone will just make up their own meaning for you.