William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor is media criticism disguised as campaign memoir. I think it survives as his best book. It is in any event my favorite, and it is certainly still timely these many years later. From reading it I recall Democratic mayoral candidate Abe Beame’s salute to running mate Frank O’Connor during the 1965 campaign that is the subject of the book: “He grows on you just like cancer.”
The use by politicians of the royal we as in Mitt Romney’s instruction to Bret Baier this week on Fox News ( “We’re going to have to be better informed about my views on issues”) is growing on us like cancer. Let us be the first to acknowledge that it is not a problem unique to Romney. Indeed, it is a bipartisan problem, but a problem of a kind that pundits and deep thinkers don’t worry much about. We humbly seek to fill the void.
The funny thing about the promiscuous use of the royal we is that it is the small-d democratic politicians’ attempt to avoid appearing royally egotistical. Why talk about me when we can talk about us? Well, because we sound foolish. We really do.
Although the problem is not unique to Romney, he ventured into relatively uncharted territory in his use of the royal we creeping into the lowly you in the interview with Baier. How comes the first person plural to mean the second person singular? We don’t know, but let’s see if we can keep it going:
“We need to do our homework.”
“We must do better research.”
“When we get to know me, we’re really going to like me.”
“We’re going to support me when we understand what I’m saying.”
“Sometimes we seem to be confused about what I’m saying. Are we getting our questions from Democratic talking points?”
“We clearly have a lot to learn, and we need to get cracking.”
“We want us to understand. All we have to do is read my book.”
“Are we trying to be funny? We need to get serious.”
We have barely scratched the surface of the possibilities here — we have already forgotten one that made us laugh while thinking about this post — but as Portnoy’s analyst says at the end of Portnoy’s Complaint: “So. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”