Opinion Columns & Blogs

You people are tough to nail down

Here’s a phrase I hope to not hear in 2011: “The American People.”

Yeah, I know — I might just as well ask for peace on earth, good will toward men. The phrase never will go away, as long as there are demagogues to exploit it.

Still, a guy can wish, can’t he?

“The American People” is simply used too much. Besides, it confuses me.

Those with a political bent will have noticed a steep rise in the use of “The American People” after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in November. The man who uttered it most frequently is the man who is about to become Speaker of the House — John Boehner

“The American People have rejected President Obama,” Boehner thundered often.

The sheep in the media, of course, took up the chant. Soon it became conventional wisdom among the chattering classes.

And this is where my confusion comes in. I followed the elections as well, and it seems to me that what The American People mostly did in November was sit on their hands — 40, 50, 60 percent not voting, depending on the locale.

It would be more accurate to declaim that “The American People told their government to go take a flying leap.”

You could also argue that Republicans won because pouting Democrats, disgusted that Obama had veered too far to the right, stayed home and that, had they voted, it would have been a big year for Democrats.

But that would mean “The American People” want the country to go to the left, not to the right.

Ow! My brain hurts!

Here’s another vexing problem: What if Boehner is right, and “The American People” are jonesing for a rightward lurch?

That must mean that residents of California, who voted Democrat, are not “American People.” What about the people who voted for Obama in 2008? Apparently they are not “American People” either.

Who, then, are “The American People”?

An Associated Press article in last Sunday’s Tribune sought to answer the question by saying that “The American People” want gays to serve openly in the military, an arms treaty with Russia, and a road to citizenship for some immigrants, but don’t want tax breaks for people whose income exceeds $250,000. The AP cited polls for its assertions.

But wait a minute — isn’t the GOP saying “The American People” have beliefs that are exactly the opposite of what the AP and its polls are asserting?

Well, it’s all too much for me.

Still, despite the perplexity the phrase “The American People” engenders, I am drifting to some conclusions of my own. I think they will hold up.

The first is that “The American People” — 308 million of us, according to U.S. Census Bureau findings released last week — are not monolithic in their thinking.

The second is that the punditocracy doesn’t know what it’s talking about, and giving its various beaks space to squawk is a waste of electrons.

And, finally, we all should beware of politicians who claim to know what “The American People” believe. They have an ulterior motive.

Just sign me, An American Person.