Poor People and Subordination

Mitt Romney has come under some fire for his comments on a CNN morning show this weekend. Critics claim that his comments indicate an insensitivity to the situation in which poor people finds themselves. Rather than engaging in politics, let’s just have a look at how he structures his statement:

The initial reaction might be to consider his statement as two simple sentences followed by a complex sentence that opens with a subordinate clause.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

Or, one might give Romney the benefit of a doubt and coordinate the two simple sentences into a single compound sentence with a semi-colon.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

Of course, Romney is going to to take heat in some circles for the “I’m not concerned about the very poor statement” no matter what. Someone will lift the statement out of context. That said, he is taking shots from both sides of the political spectrum not so much for that statement but because  he failed to explicitly answer why he is not concerned. He could have done so with some simple subordination—”I’m not concerned about the very poor because we have a safety net.”

Soledad O’Brien than asks for clarification about his statement, and Romney responds that she should “finish the sentence.” He then attempts to clarify:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.”

Ouch! His clarification seems to dig his hole deeper. He kinda, sorta gives his reason why here but, rather than using a subordinate clause, he embeds his reason in an adjectival—”that have a safety net.” Even worse, he practically dehumanizes poor people by introducing the nominal with the relative pronoun “that” rather than the proper “who” when the pronoun refers to humans.

The “safety net” metaphor is another problem we might note when we discuss metaphors later this semester. Suffice to say that safety nets are used to stop people who are falling before they hit ground; thus, the metaphor implies that poor people are “falling” into poverty. The truth is that most very poor people in this country have been caught in a cycle of poverty for years. They are not “falling” into poverty; they have been living in poverty generations.

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