Editorial: Sloppy words misrepresent the issues

Editorial Board

Precise speech is important. Saying what you mean is important. It is more important than bringing attention to unpopular but good ideas in the most blunt-instrument kind of way. That is the problem with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum: No matter how brilliant their ideas may be, they’re plagued by the problem of clarification.

There should be no need for anyone, especially people who are in the race to become president of the United States of America, to clarify what he or she means. Words have power. And the words of the president have the power to represent the United States, sway millions of people and affect legislation. A potential president should considered his or her words carefully.

Recently Romney has received notoriety from the press, who labeled his statements as gaffes or slips of the tongue, for saying that he loves firing people and that he is not interested in poor Americans because they are already protected by our social safety net. There is no doubt Romney weighed his words poorly, but he’s not the only one to blame.

Santorum’s recent fame has come just as much from his extremely provocative statements as it has from his debate performances and primary season wins. He has had to clarify several statements in the past few weeks, having seemingly compared President Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler, speculated about Obama’s theological leanings, and said that birth control hurts women and that women should not be involved in combat because of emotional concerns.

The 24-hour news cycle, with its need for short sound bites of talking points, is as much to blame as politicians. Statements taken out of context are often the reason public figures get tripped up. But acceptance of that system at best perpetuates it, and at worst, continues it. In the past two weeks it has continued Romney’s misspeak while perpetuating Santorum’s.

The American people deserve better than sloppy politicians who are not willing to take an extra two seconds to formulate a coherent thought instead of shooting from the hip. Romney and Santorum may lose, but the things they say appear in news outlets here as well as abroad.

Our media and our toleration for sloppy words misrepresent us as Americans and our politics. Lack of discipline in our speech allows foreigners — and us — to form a distorted picture of what it is we actually value.

The situation that Romney’s and Santorum’s mistakes confront us — and themselves — with shows us that our attempts to be cavalier or casual with politics are going to backfire. In the end, it may come down to a simple kindergarten lesson: Look both ways before crossing the road.