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Many newspapers reported that Mitt Romney praised his home state, Michigan in front of 1,200 supporters on Friday afternoon, by saying:

"What a thrill it is to come back to Michigan, particularly in the winter, where the skies are cloudy all day, trees are just at the right height, almost all the cars you see are American-made -- the way they ought to be,"

According to www.huffington post.com, Romney used his favorite phrase, “trees are just at the right height” more than once in his speeches, e.g.

“I love being in Michigan. Everything seems right here; the trees are the right height. The grass is the right color for this time of year, kind of a brownish-greenish sort of thing. It just feels right.” in the speech in a social club in November 2011.

"What a thrill it is to come back to Michigan, particularly in the winter, where the skies are cloudy all day, trees are just at the right height, almost all the cars you see are American-made - the way they ought to be," at Lawrence Technological University in Detroit rally in January 2008 in the Presidential race.

Is “trees are just at the right height” a proverbial expression? It sounds odd to me, because every tree has its own height unless they are artificially, evenly trimmed by men.

What does “trees are just at the right height” mean? Is this a routine phrase, or just his creation attempted to resonate the heart of countrymen?

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The phrase "trees are just at the right height" does not imply that there there is one height that is right for every tree. It means (metaphorically) that each tree is at the correct height for that particular tree. –  David Schwartz Feb 26 '12 at 3:46
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That's Romney simply displaying his Chauvinism for his home state, where everything is "perfect". –  Hot Licks Aug 7 at 17:06

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The trees are the right height is not an established phrase, but it describes Romney's opinion that Michigan is the ideal place. Take for example the last example you cited (emphasis added):

What a thrill it is to come back to Michigan, particularly in the winter, where the skies are cloudy all day, trees are just at the right height, almost all the cars you see are American-made - the way they ought to be

That is, the trees are the right height because Michigan is perfect. Even though trees naturally grow at different rates, he is saying that--in a idealistic way--they're wonderful that way. For example, you could borrow the same rhetoric about another place, and says something like:

New York City is such a wonderful place. The buildings are the right height, and even the amount of smog is perfect.

Of course, this doesn't have quite the same effect but it's written with the same meaning: a place that is so great that everything is perfect. Note that this is not proverbial, but I believe that a native speaker would usually understand you if you chose to use the same sentiment in a different context.

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"Smog" or "smug"? :) –  Alex Feb 26 '12 at 4:27

This doesn't exactly answer the question, as other folks from the US have already established that it isn't an idiom here. However, I'd like to give a bit of personal experience that may help explain what he meant.

Back in the early 1990's I moved from San Diego to the Seattle area. It wasn't a move I really wanted to make but the crash in my industry made jobs hard to find in southern California, so off to Washington I went.

The difference in the areas is great, San Diego, where I'd been since grade school, and where my parents retired to, is a high desert city. High heat and low humidity in the summers with brown vegetation, moderate temperatures in the winters and green, and you could see for miles in all directions no matter where you were (few tall trees, more like desert scrub). The climate was very comfortable to live in, but was dependent on external water to support the large population. The water was awful, it was pumped over the mountains from the Colorado River in Arizona and held in mountain reservoirs. It was considered "too thin to plow and too thick to drink". Almost no rainfall.

In contrast, Washington state is green almost all the time, there are conifers everywhere (I have a couple dozen in my yard alone), so unless you're at some vantage point, you can never see more than a few hundred yards in any direction (this is of course, a generalization). In some areas the tall green flora was so overwhelming for me that it felt sepulchral, like being closed into some creepy, ancient, green church. However, the drinking water here is fabulous right from the spigot and I still laugh at people who water their lawns or buy bottled water here. In Seattle, which has a reputation for lots of rain, it doesn't really rain so much as it mists heavily on a fairly frequent basis. One thing I really like is that you almost always get snow in the winters, something that never happens in San Diego unless you go up into the mountains, but I digress.

It took years for me to acclimate to the short views and constant green and think of Washington State as "home". To this day when I'm in a desert environment, it "feels like home" even though I've lived away from a desert environment now longer than I lived in one. So I guess you could say that for me, a desert environment is where "the trees are the right height".

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No, this is not a common turn of phrase.

It appears Mitt was trying to get across the point that things are more familiar to him there than elsewhere. However, the comment was nearly as mystifying to us Americans as you found it.

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@BrianHitchcock - His CAP statement was not a "blooper". He didn't mean to say anything else, or misspeak his thoughts any way. There are other words for accurately expressing honest opinions you should probably keep to yourself. –  T.E.D. Feb 7 at 16:18
    
I deleted my speculative comment about the "CAP" remark, since nobody asked us whether that one made sense in AmE. –  Brian Hitchcock Feb 8 at 9:16

"Trees are all the right height" is not an idiom used in the English language. The phrase is occasionally used by owners of Christmas tree farms or nursery workers when determining when to market their product. That said, with Romney's use of it and the ensuing controversy it might now become an established phrase. It will first be used by those who want to poke fun at Romney. Let's see what happens.

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This answer doesn't add anything useful or not already stated in other answers. –  Zairja Nov 2 '12 at 19:28

Unless it was intended in a sense like:

A tree shorter than you will cast its shadow below, not above you. A tree too tall would cast too small a shadow -- it won't cover you enough. For it to provide proper shade, it should be just about the right height.

'Suitable-and-comfortable' could be the meaning of the metaphor.

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I like what simchona wrote; I'd like to add that "the trees are at the right height" could also be interpreted as "the trees are at the height that I'm accustomed to seeing" (or, "that we're accustomed to seeing").

Romney's phraseology is designed to evoke a homey spirit; it's simply a poetic way to say, "It feels good to be back home." (From a political standpoint, it's also a way for Romney to remind Michigan voters that, although he served as governor of Massachusetts, he does have Michigan roots).

Describing both nature and industry in such a idyllic way is designed to resonate with the "home crowd." I don't think Californians would ascribe to the sentiment that "the trees are the right height in Michigan." But a native Californian might say to others living there, "It's good to be back in California, where the trees are the right height."

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When a native Californian says "the trees are the right height", do they mean the redwoods or the manzanitas? –  Peter Shor Feb 26 '12 at 12:59
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I thought about redwoods when I wrote my answer - but the answer to your question is "yes" :^) –  J.R. Feb 26 '12 at 13:07
    
I was ignorant that “the trees” here means to a particular species such as redwood. I was first puzzled about why this phrase is so attractive as Romney intones to his home-state supporters repeatedly, because it is a matter of course that all trees are right height on its own way just like all people, buildings, hills, and mountains are right height to the residents in every country. It’s not exclusive to the state of Michigan. But if Romney is referring to a particular indigenous plant (redwoods, firs, pine trees, whatever) that associates with locality, I think I can understand the feeling. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 27 '12 at 1:05
    
@YoichiOishi: Indeed, "the trees" has nothing to do with any particular species. Peter and I were merely adding a little humor; sorry if we confused you. Romney is simply speaking poetically; he may have well as said, "I've really missed being in Michigan..." and left it at that. I find is very interesting, though, that this can throw someone from another culture as much as it apparently does (idioms and poetic language can do that). –  J.R. Feb 27 '12 at 9:23

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