Lookin' Into Gov. Rauner's Missing G's
Gov. Bruce Rauner's prescription for Illinois’ finances will finally be made known on Wednesday, when he gives his budget address. Legislators, state employees and social service agencies will no doubt pay close attention to what Rauner has to say. But after another big speech earlier this month made many go "gee," observers will also be listening for how he says it.
No matter your political persuasion -- love the new governor or hate him -- if you were listenin’ to his first State of the State address, you were sure to notice somethin’ about his delivery.
"Much of the reform agenda we're outlinin' today has been implemented in other states. The reforms are workin' so well in those states that they are causing us to become even less competitive. We must avoid slippin' even further behind other states," he said.
Just in case you missed it, here’s another chunk: “That means puttin' more resources directly into classrooms, reformin' the education bureaucracy."
No, you’re not imaginin’ it - Rauner, a Republican, kept skippin' the "g" at the end of "-ing" words (by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn's count, Rauner did it 51 percent of the time, dropping the "terminal g" 55 out of 107 times. Zorn wrote, "you'd think he was auditioning for the part of Sheriff Taylor in a Broadway revival of 'The Andy Griffith Show.' It was distracting ... ").
Observers used social media to joke about the 'overnor's apparent disdain for the letter g (and days later, Senators joked about it in a budget hearing, calling Rauner's budget director Tim Nuding "Tim Nudin' ").
There was a lot of speculatin’ in the Capitol: was Bruce Rauner – a near-billionaire with an Ivy League education – talkin’ like this … on purpose?
The g’s were in the prepared version of the speech, which he read from a teleprompter.
Not content to let sleeping g’s rest, I decided to go back and listen to how Rauner sounded before he was a candidate.
You can find a few clips on YouTube of when in 2011, he went back to his alma mater, Dartmouth, to talk about the economy.
You have to listen carefully for phrases that deserve to be rated-G:
-"First a word of thanks, when I came to Dartmouth I was gonna major in biochemistry, and I was going to discover a cure for cancer -- you know, make no small plans ..."
-"...and then I took a class in money and banking…”
-" ... a lot of hiring."
-"spending a whole lot of time agonizing about that stuff and doin' 3-D models..."
-“we had a long time where unemployment was down to four percent, no inflation, and a pretty robust – a lot of hiring of unskilled workers, and a pretty thriving economy…”
-“… and I mostly decided everythin’ I was doin’ was baloney.”
As a panelist at that Dartmouth event, Rauner left the “g” off of some words, but not others.
Then, two years ago, Rauner was a guest on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.” He wasn’t yet running for governor, but he was thinkin’ about it.
WTTW Anchor Phil Ponce asked “is there … are there any particular changes that are troubling you right now, as you continue this – for want of a better word – sounds like a listening campaign?”
"Yes, it’s what I’m doing. I’m traveling and listening and learning,” Rauner responded.
“With every single -ing word that he said, he spoke it in the formal, appropriate standard way," Allan Metcalf observed. "He (Rauner) said, let’s see: exciting, thinking, consulting, occurring, coming together, exciting – he had exciting several times, traveling, listening, leaving, nothing, doing … every single opportunity the g was there. No dropping of g’s whatsoever.”
I had asked Metcalf to listen back to Rauner’s 2013 interview, and to compare it to this year's state of the state address.
Metcalf is qualified to do this sort of analysis: he's a professor at McMurray College in Jacksonville Illinois, an officer of the American Dialect Society, which studies American English, and he's written books on American English, including one called “Presidential Voices,” that traces the way presidents spoke. The book even has a chapter about what someone needs to sound like if they want to make a credible run for the nation’s highest office (somethin’ several pundits think Rauner’s got in his sights).
Metcalf says presidents must be dignified in their speech, but also down to earth.
That may be what Rauner was aimin’ for in his state of the state address.
“He certainly uses mostly the ... g-drop," Metcalf said. "So he talks about solvin’ problems together, listenin’, kickin’, neighborin’ state … all that. He also had a very strange phrase … he talked about ‘bickering or personal in-fightin’. In that short phrase, he had two versions of the g. I have no idea what he was doing, but it’s rather interesting.”
I asked Metcalf --- in his expert opinion – is Rauner fakin’ the folksy sound, “which is the real Bruce Rauner?”
“Seems to me," Metcalf answered, "going back to the 2013 interview, the real Bruce Rauner is one who pronounces his g's.”
Rauner is far from the first politician to be subjected to linguistic scrutiny. Think of questions about President George W. Bush’s Texas drawl. Critics who say Hillary Clinton tried too hard to fit in at a black church. Even former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson — Chicago born and raised — was said to affect a rural accent the farther south he went.
A broadcaster on WSSR -- the precursor to WUIS -- said this of Thompson:
"Thompson, on the other hand, had the edge when it came to style. And he worked at it -- some say to the point of phoniness. He bought a gangly Irish-setter named Gov. He got married. He dressed casual, talked casual and worked on his speech delivery. So much that he took on the idioms, even the accent of whatever section of the state he was in."
That was a lead-in to a report on Thompson in 1976 at a gospel event in Metropolis.
"I’m tired of politicians who promise up here, perform down here, and leave a great big hole in between … that everybody can see," Thompson told the audience then in a preacher-esque voice and very un-Chicago accent. "They pretend it doesn’t exist because they made it. But the rest of us can see it! And we don’t need that kind of politician in Illinois. We’ve had too much of that: promise us a road, promise us a lake, promise us a bridge, promise us a damn … promise us what you think we wanna hear!”
It seems to have worked for Thompson – he won four elections and remains Illinois’ longest-serving governor. But is it workin’ for Rauner?
Adam Rosen, who works for a labor union — and was therefore listenin’ intently to the state of the state — says he doesn’t buy it.
"It’s so weird that he says words – eliminating the –ing, that I wouldn’t even say like that in a bar in conversation, but goes ahead and says it in front of the whole state in the most important address that he’s probably ever said in his life," Rosen said. “I know he’s trying to attract the casual Joe, downstate guy to be on his side. ‘I’m just like you, I wear my Carhartt jacket, and I’m listenin’ to your issues and …” None of these downstate people making $30,000 a year have $20 million to throw in a political fund and run for governor though. Speak as you’re supposed to when you’re up there!”
Well, golly "g." It seems only fair to give Rauner the final word.
A reporter flat-out asked him: have you always talked that way?
“I have," Rauner said, laughin'. "You know. My grandparents were dairy farmers. They lived in a double-wide trailer. And I … I’m tryin' … People want to talk about how I’m talkin’. I say: huntin’ and fishin’. I say talkin’. I say workin’. I can also say bidding and working. It takes a little longer. It’s not my normal way. But … if that’s what people want to be most worried about, then we’ve solved every other problem in the state.”
Solving the state's problems will take more than couple of G’s.
Illinois is starin' down a deficit in the billions, and so far, Rauner has been as sparin' with his budget ideas as he’s been with a certain letter of the alphabet.
Thanks to WGLT's Willis Kern, for asking Gov. Rauner if he's "always talked like that?" (and to WILL's Hannah Meisel and WCBU's Alex Rusciano for tryin' to!).