When attendees at last week's Values Voter Summit made Indiana Congressman Mike Pence the winner of their presidential straw poll, he wanted everyone to hear one message: I, Mike Pence, am a man of great humility. Not only that, his wife is humble too. "Karen and I are humbled by the results of today's straw poll," he said in a statement. "However, my focus remains on winning a conservative majority in the U.S. House in November." Since when did we decide that when you want to say "flattered," what you should say is "humbled"? Shouldn't that be a compliment someone else pays you, instead of a compliment you pay yourself? Why did him winning that straw poll make his wife feel more lowly? And wouldn't it have made more sense to say he was "humbled" if he came in last place?
It was a familiar note for Pence. "I'm very humbled anytime we're mentioned in that regard," he told CBN's David Brody in July when the issue of a presidential run was raised, perhaps not realizing that the royal "we" is not all that humble. "We were encouraged to run for the United States Senate earlier this year," Pence added, "and we were humbled by the outpouring of support for that." When Right Wing News brought up the Senate question in an interview in May, Pence said, "I was very humbled by the encouragement that we received."
It's great if Pence really is a humble man, but it's hard to believe that people telling him how great he is actually makes him think less of himself. And of course, he's hardly the only politician who does this; we hear it all the time. I suppose the calculation is that if you say "I'm flattered," people might think you'd take the praise to heart, whereas saying "I'm humbled" is a way of saying, "I'll still be the same reg'lar fella I've always been, even as I fantasize about being president." And no one needs to demonstrate their humility more than politicians, members of a profession where proclaiming your own fabulousness is part of the job. But couldn't we use it a little more accurately? Saying "I was humbled to meet the Dalai Lama" makes sense, if meeting him made you conscious of your own inadequacy as a human being. But saying "I was humbled to hear that crowd chanting my name and begging me to become leader of the free world" is just absurd.
-- Paul Waldman