In much the way that "a picture really worth a thousand words," so, too, can a single word spoken at the right time, in the right context, make a point that a thousand words, less well-chosen, could not.
For me, not one, not two, but three such moments came during last week's Republican Convention: a single word, spoken in passing, neither noted or remarked upon -- and yet, to this listener, that word made for the clearest statement to date of the real issue in this election.
The first person to use the word was Marco Rubio, and so strong was its impact that I actually had to review the text versions of the speech to verify that Rubio had really said it. But to my surprise, the word does not appear in any of the several text versions and transcripts that I examined, on multiple websites. Perhaps I hadn't actually heard it? But I was certain that I had, so I listened to the audio, and indeed, the word was there not just once, but twice.
Here, from the NPR website, is their transcript of Rubio's speech. In the text, Rubio says:
We are blessed that soon, he [Mitt Romney] will be the president of the United States.
And in November, his son, Mitt Romney, will be elected President of the United States.
That is how every text version of Rubio's speech I examined reads. But it is not what Rubio said. Here, from the audio, are the same lines, as actually delivered by Rubio:
We are blessed that soon, he [Mitt Romney] will be the president of these United States.
And in November, his son, Mitt Romney, will be elected President of these United States.
Did you notice the difference? The text says the United States. But in the speech, as delivered, Rubio says these United States.
If I am elected President of these United States...
Now, to many, the difference between "the" and "these" might seem inconsequential. But in fact, the difference could not be more profound. Indeed, it harkens back to the very roots of this country's founding and encapsulates, in a single word, the concept of American exceptionalism, as expressed in the nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence (emphases mine):
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America ... these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
And by the way, "Declaration of Independence" is wrong. The document that 56 patriots signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, was "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America." And no, that is not a misprint: the "united" in "united States of America" is not capitalized.
Of course, the Declaration of Independence was primarily a declaration of independence from England. But what seems to have been lost on many of us is that, at the same time, the Declaration's signatories were also declaring their respective states' independence from each other. To them, "Free and Independent" meant free and independent. There is nothing in either the Declaration or the Constitution to suggest that our forefathers fought to free themselves from the bonds of one central government merely to surrender their newly won sovereignty to another.
The late historian Shelby Foote noted that before the Civil War, Americans used to say, "The United States are...," and after the War, the phrase transmogrified to "The United States is..." In the past, I thought of that as a good thing, but today, I have to wonder -- for in the years since, and especially since the rise of liberalism that began in the early twentieth century, the transition in phrasing, from "are" to "is" and from "these" to "the," has come increasingly to transform, in Americans' minds, a transforming of the nation, from a federation of fifty independent states, into a collective -- and, increasingly, collectivist -- single state, with the formerly independent states reduced to the status of mere satraps.
And that, I would submit, and with all due respect to Paul Ryan, is the real debate the nation needs to have, and the one that conservatives need to win. Whether America is to return to its roots and experience a rebirth as an individualistic nation or succumb to slow decline as a European-style collectivist welfare state is infinitely more important to our future than how we deal with this or that government program.
Liberals have a vision that they want to impose on the entire country. And, in fairness, to our friends on the left, so, too, do we conservatives -- but with an important difference. The vision conservatives want to impose on every state -- or should want to impose if we truly are conservatives -- is the vision that each state is "and of Right ought to be" free to chart its own course -- on education, on abortion, on welfare, on health care, on every matter promulgated by man, as opposed to having been bestowed upon us, as a natural right, by God.
The road from serfdom will be hard, but at least the "hope and change" we offer will be worthwhile and, unlike Barack Obama's and the Democrats' vision, will be in keeping with our founding principles, not the European Union's.
But as the saying goes, every journey begins with a single step. In my view, restoring the original intended phraseology or the Founding Fathers -- saying "these United States" instead of the United States" -- is as good a place to start as any.
Or am I exaggerating the power of a single word? Anyway, it was refreshing to hear our presidential candidate and one of the Republican Party's brightest rising stars use it. I hope that they will continue to do so.