Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The American People

Okay. Enough.

Listen up, journalists, commentators, pundits and other TV blatherers … and while we’re at it, listen up, politicians. And frankly, listen up, anybody who loves to take names in vain … this evening is absolutely the last time I am interested in hearing anyone – cable or broadcast talking head, statesman (-woman) or politician – anybody!! – use the term “The American People” in the context of “this is what I declare the will and thought process of the entire population of the United States of America to be.”

As a great American philosopher once said, I’s had all I can take, and I can’t takes no more.

(Well, all right, I’ll hear it again, I’m sure, but I will be tempted to chuck a Nerf ball at the TV.)

Every single television broadcast day, and every single political -slash- legislative day, somebody steps to a podium or an anchor desk, steps in front of a microphone on the Senate floor or in a secluded radio production studio, and says something like, “That is what the American people want.”

For a while, I was thinking, could we adjust the terminology a bit? For some reason, the phrase “the American people” has long bothered me, and I haven’t been able to put into proper words just why, but it has. For a while, I wondered if maybe the phrase “the American public” might serve better. It just sounds about a millimeter less presumptuous, maybe. When I was a kid, I would listen to the radio news at noon, and then shortly thereafter, Paul Harvey would come on the air and open his five-minute period of news and comment by calling out, “Hello Americans!” and I can handle that. That’s who he thought he was talking to, and aside from a stray Canadian picking up a stray radio signal, he was probably 99.9 percent correct. So okay! Hello Americans.

But for some time now, “The American People” has been used with increasing arrogance. “The American people will not stand for this,” says a random politician that at least half the country has never heard of; and if it’s something we can all (or most of us) agree on, like it’s a terrible thing to rob a bank (although perhaps bank robbers would beg to differ), then all right. But you’re more likely to hear that “the American people will not stand for this” when it’s something a particular politician or TV pundit would like the American people to not stand for, and more often than not it’s an issue about which actual American persons (rather than the mythical characters the politicians and pundits’ magical-thinking techniques conjure up in their own heads) are not of a single mind about.

Polls show that the American people…” Just a damn second! I have never been polled by a national polling organization about an Important Issue Of Our Day. Not one single time in more than four decades. Not outside a supermarket in person, not by phone, not by mail, not via the Internet, not via carrier pigeon or frickin’ smoke signal. Not about abortion, or taxes, or the designated-hitter rule, or whether Ken Burns should ever make another documentary. (He should.) And according to my unscientific conversations with friends and colleagues, neither have a whole lot of them either, even though they have well-informed opinions about lots of issues and might be able to shed a little more light on those issues, on the off chance that polling organizations came into contact with them.

Even the best of the polling organizations, those who are not financed by the left, the right, the center, upstairs, downstairs, or the bottom of the barrel, report poll results according to a sampling of the population that is hardly representative of the 300-million-plus people in the American population from a strictly mathematical sense. Logistically, it would be very difficult anyway. Usually, the polls’ margin of error ought to completely eclipse the polls’ sample size and render them meaningless anyhow.

Also, consider what sorts of people are Americans: farmers and yuppies … students and senior citizens … “This American Life” fans and NASCAR fans … jazz enthusiasts and classical-music hounds … people who watch the Food Network religiously and people who watch the local religious cable channel hungrily … rappers and knitters … white people and black people and Asian people (and there are many different sorts of those) and Latino people … people with different prefixes in front of “-sexual” … Methodists and Muslims … moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats … people struggling with weight problems and people struggling with anorexia … rich and poor … Red Sox fans and Yankee fans (sorry; had to say it!) … people who drive hybrids and people who drive SUVs that practically rate their own zip codes … people who wave flags madly at Fourth-of-July parades, and people who, while clapping for the fire trucks and marching bands in Fourth-of-July parades, think about some of our country’s less grand adventures as well …

In short, we are not a nation of homogenous people. About the only darn thing we can say with certainty that we all are, is human beings.

Not all of whom have a flair for the English language. Consider these:

I think that this liberal progressive agenda is not the thing that the American people want and it’s antithesis to who we are as a constitutional republic.” -Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

I think it’s clear that this liberal progressive agenda is not the thing that Rep. West wants. On the other hand, plenty of American persons that I know, and that’s just in my little corner of the world, would be thrilled to see us follow that ol’ liberal progressive agenda. Who we are as a constitutional republic, is a group of people who (hopefully) elect their governing representatives by use of simple majorities (except sometimes in the case of that pesky, imperfect Electoral College), and as mentioned above, a simple majority elected Barack Obama based on the things he said he wanted to achieve, so can we necessarily see this “agenda” as the antithesis of our constitutional republic? I don’t think so, but do correct me if I’m wrong.

I don’t care whether you’re driving a hybrid or an SUV. If you’re headed for a cliff, you have to change direction. That’s what the American people called for in November, and that’s what we intend to deliver.” -President Barack Obama

I voted for the man and I would do it again. Compared with many of his predecessors, the man can indeed string an artful sentence or two together. But although the political press described our current President’s election victory over Sen. John McCain in 2008 as a landslide, or at least a mandate, or at least a win by a significant figure … the actual final popular vote has been listed by reliable sources as 69,456,897 (Obama) to 59,934,814 (McCain). Mr. Obama won by the combined populations of New York City and San Antonio, Texas. In a nation of about 300 million, that’s not exactly a crushing majority. Even when only half the population votes (a shameful statistic but a topic for another day), that’s a difference of only one-fifteenth of the total votes cast. There were nearly 60 million American people who didn’t vote for Mr. Obama. He could say that a majority of the American people called for change, and he’d be accurate, and I would fold my tent.

The American people are screaming at the top of their lungs to Washington, ‘Stop! Stop the spending, stop the job-killing policies.’ And yet, Democrats in Washington refuse to listen to the American people.” -Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the US House of Representatives

A lot of us are screaming, okay; but we’re not screaming that.

The American people… want change. They want big ideas, big reform.” -Rahm Emanuel, former Obama Administration chief of staff

See the above thoughts about the election of Mr. Obama. And, clearly, there are a number of loud people in America who would just as soon not see any change at all in the way things are going. Those people conceivably could include the brothers Koch, and anybody with a vested interest in the continued success of big corporations that somehow pay very little in the way of taxes, just as two examples.

And the American people are the greatest people in the world. What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people: hardworking, innovative, risk-taking, God-loving, family-oriented American people.” -Mitt Romney, candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination

By way of a mere flourish of public speaking, whether via speech-writing or stump-speech-improvisation (a risky environment for reasoned expression of thought), Mr. Romney has eliminated from consideration for membership in the club of “the American people”: atheists and confirmed bachelors, to name just a couple demographics. (Also people who would rather not spend much time with their families, presumably.)

We’ve had Town Hall meetings, we’ve witnessed election after election, in which the American people have taken a position on the President’s health care bill. And the bottom line is the people don’t like this bill. They don’t want it.” -Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Eric Cantor has never spoken to me. I have never spoken to Eric Cantor. If all goes according to how I would like it, this condition will continue for some time.

I felt like all of the American people did not believe me because of the things that were said about me, and said that people would say that it was just for the money, and it wasn’t about the money. It was about what he did to me. And I knew I was telling the truth.” -Paula Jones, speaking about the deeds and/or misdeeds of then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton

Ms. Jones was operating under the unfortunate misapprehension of many celebrities (a long list of them throughout recent American history) that most of the American people gave a wet slap about her, or even knew who the hell she was. Most Americans have more important things to do, like figure out how they’re going to make their next mortgage payment.

But, ahh: leave it to Norman Lear, creator of such remarkable American televised entertainment as the sitcom “All In The Family”, to cut to the chase:

That’s the heart of it: My shows were not that controversial with the American people. They were controversial with the people who think for the American people.”

 

 

 

So let’s do two things: first, let’s not let our leaders – media or government leaders – get too comfortable in the notion that what they want, think, condone or believe is what we want, think, condone, or believe. And next, let’s get out there and do what needs to be done, so that we can elect people (to think for us?) who really can claim to represent us … the people of America.

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October 10, 2011 - Posted by | government, journalism, media, news, politics, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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