Don’t call me The American People. Not unless you mean it. And not unless I hear a compliment when I hear you say it instead of a subtle reference to “typical voters who share my narrow, profit-mongering, and religiously backward view of America.”
Mitch McConnell. the turtlefaced Senate minority leader with a heart of mould, says The American People will not be fooled “this time around” by tax and spend Democrats. Eric Cantor says The American People want a balanced budget–just like they expect to have every month when they make decisions about eating out at restaurants or paying the mortgage (Odd equivalence that: eating at Denny’s once a month and health care for the poor).
Michele Bachmann, the intelligent Christian’s Sarah Palin surrogate, says the American people deserve to keep what they earn and that the Income Tax Amendment (that’s XVI if you’re counting) is unconstitutional. In fact, in an extraordinary moment last week, she said that The American People had decisively spoken in her favor at the Iowa caucus where she received 28% of 17,000 votes, a number comparable to a high school election for student council president. Sarah Palin, when she was interesting, said she was in touch with The American People and knew what they wanted–in language only a little reminiscent of what an employee of Shady Lady Ranch in Nye, Nevada, might say.
The Democrats aren’t blameless, of course. They use this fustian all the time. Just like having to wear flag pins in their lapel and sing “God Bless America” on cue, they have to counter references to the American People with references to the American People. But I have to say that when they do, there seems to be at least a glimmer of good intent to it–an evocation of “real people” who do their own laundry and have to check their bank balance before getting the car fixed, rather than people, like the Tea Party crowd, who actually enjoy wearing jackets and ties and going to church. Alas, many people who do their own laundry and wear wife beaters on Sunday while they enjoy a football game on their 72 inch HDTV (fully paid up in 18 months) actually think the well-pressed set on the links are the best ones to look out for their welfare. The American People is a many-splintered thing,
I think it boils down to this: when the Democrats use the phrase, they are actually referring to other people. When the Repblicans use it, they mean themselves and the like-minded individuals they play golf with. The American People need to wake up and smell the difference.
And why do they use it–or rather, why do the Republicans use the phrase to the point of making me want to burn a flag using campaign posters of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell as kindling?
Because they can’t say “God.” Oh sure, certified evangelical nutters like Rick Perry can get away with talking about Christian America and what God has done for the country and how The American People are basically decent and good (implication: because they are Christian and know who to thank for that).
But a politician who spoke about God all the time would probably lose people’s attention after a while, even in this preternaturally religious country. “I ask my colleagues to pass this Deregulation of Oil Companies bill without delay because it’s what God demands and what Jesus would do” sounds a little tetched after all. Better to say, “What the American People want and the American People deserve.” Say it often enough and the association will become natural: two wills happily joined in political wedlock, incarnate in We the People. It all sounds pretty good until you look at the priesthood that presides over this “secular” sanctuary. We the People are no more recognizable from their invocations than God is in the prayers of pedophile priests.
Can we do anything about this, or will we just have to put up with the cynical use of our collective name (and will) being taken in vain? After all, we put them there, and we permit the sacrilege to go on.
Maybe the fatal flaw in the argument for the wisdom of The American People is the tsunami called the 2010 Mid-term election. Unlike God in the official theology, We the People are sometimes impatient, dumb, and prone to make mistakes that injure us. It was fine when We the People were Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton speaking for acquiescent farmers and merchants. Not so good when We are Perry, Romney, Boehner, and Bachmann framing ideas for suits, corporate thieves, the merely uninformed and NASCAR reactionaries.
But unlike the real God (or unreal god) who gets invoked all the time, I think the (real) American People, hapless and reckless beasts that we are, deserve better. Stop treating us like ancient deities who just need a little incense on the fire, a sheaf of burning wheat, a few prayers, and an occasional virgin-sacrifice to keep us happy. Stop thinking you know what We want–or worse, being so priestly in the discharge of your duties that you think that what you want and what we want is the same thing. Clearly it isn’t, and just as clearly the polls say that The American People would like to round you up and drive you out of town. But because it’s expensive for us to keep the buildings open and pay the heating bill, we have to vote for more of you in 2012, just to keep the People’s House occupied. Taxes my axes.
I suggest a national The American People Won’t be Appeased, Bought, Cajoled or Lied To campaign before this election cycle renders the phrase meaningless.
I‘ll be happy to serve as president of this coalition. I think the American People deserve that. You can thank me later for my service.