Thursday, June 17, 2010

"The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans"

I covered national politics daily for 11 years (in person and not just from behind a desk), which means I listened to thousands of political speeches. If there was one group of people to whom all politicians catered – from Huey Long before my time to Sarah Palin today – it is “the little people.”

Why then the uproar by leftists and Louisianans (a mutually exclusive grouping) about the BP chairman’s broken-English sympathy for “the little people” harmed by his oil spill?

It is one thing for loony lefties to pounce on minutiae (pardon the term), but network and cable television also jumped on the Swedish message and thus exposed their own hypocrisy. For what are television audiences but a lot of “little people.”

Until he spoke, Louisianans, aware of their statewide poverty of income, education and political power would have proudly considered themselves “little people.”

Just like one of the first politicians I covered, quixotic presidential candidate Fred Harris of Oklahoma, who upon his drubbing in the New Hampshire primary said, "I guess the little people weren't tall enough to reach the voting levers. Maybe next time we should provide stools."


  1. There is a value in Political Correctness, when certain phrases pollute the public discourse.

    Much as I abhor the excesses of the French Revolution, there was a value in the conceit of everyone being known as "Citizen" -- the idea that no one was better than anyone else. There may be and are differences in wealth, ability, power among people, but, ultimately, no one is "better" or "lesser" than others because of wealth, ability, or power.

    I have always cringed when politicians and others at the top of the socio-economic heap refer to the Little People, or Ordinary People, whether to use the phrase to express their solidarity with the Average Joe against the "elites," or to express disdain for those not at the top of the heap. A cousin to this demagoguery is the phrase Real Americans, as opposed inferentially Phony Americans who one group of politicians seeks to paint as insufficiently jingoistic at a given moment in time.

    FDR did have it right when he spoke of The Forgotten Man in the 1930s. That was an apt description at the time. And the phrase Everyday People seems tolerable, when juxtaposed to the movers and shakers. The term Real People is awful -- we are all real; if you prick Tony Heyward, does he not bleed?

    It is time for those in the public sphere to stop demagoging or condescending. This applies to the Chair of BP as much as to the Tea Party pols. (Liberal Democrats, Fred Harris notwithstanding, generally seem embarrassed when they use such phrases, but have rarely been able to make other phrases work -- like with Al Gore's People versus the Powerful schtick in 2000.)

  2. >if you prick Tony Heyward, does he not bleed?<


    Chris Matthews is the worst offender when he repeatedly talks about "Real Americans," whom I deduce are white male Catholics from the East except for Manhattan and Boston.

  3. You mean "real Amuricans," right? That Chris Matthews?

  4. You mean "real Amuricans," right? That Chris Matthews?