The American People: Sez Who?
By Eileen Douglas
Years ago, when he was a newly elected young Congressman and my husband a local radio/television personality, Mitch McConnell would now and then join a Sunday racket ball game some guys from the station would get together for each week.
As a reporter in Louisville, I would occasionally cover the Congressman. As the wife, on Sunday, my role was restricted to watching their coats and left behind gear bags in the booth overlooking the court as the men swatted the ball around on the court below. In either case, I was around.
I mention this for a reason.
Today, when I watch now Senator McConnell, and a powerful leader, on the television in my New York City apartment, so far from where he began, he is not just a spectral image on the screen to me. I see him and I go, “Oh, there’s Mitch.” A real person I used to once really watch pack up his gym bag and grab his coat at the end of a game, or put a mike in front of at a Kentucky press conference.
And it’s for that reason my ears perk up more than they might for someone I never laid actual eyes on when, through these last few years, I have heard him—and his cohorts, Boehner and others—begin so many of their sound clips with “The American people.” As in “The American people demand…” “The American people want…”
I would sit there in front of the television set sputtering in disbelief, believing myself to be one of the American people…knowing that whatever I was hearing good old Mitch say on this or that matter of the day…I did not agree with. I did not want. I did not demand. He certainly hadn’t checked with me, or any of the people I know and talk to.
Yet he was speaking in my name.
Did dear old Mitch think I was not one of the American people? Did he and his colleagues believe they had a special pipeline to ALL the American people. Every single one of them had whispered in their ears…and agreed with him? And not with the point of view I knew to be the opposite for many.
“How can he say that?” I used to think. How dare he presume he speaks for me? Isn’t he leaving a good chunk of us out? How does he have the nerve to think that he speaks not just for himself, or for his side, I would ask myself, but for all? All the American People? The American people, my eye.
And now we know. Now that we have digested the election, and seen the commentaries and analysis on the electorate and the demographics and the changing face of “the American people,” we know that “the American people” have spoken. And the message they delivered is not the one McConnell and Boehner and Cantor, et al claimed “the people” would be demanding. More than half of the American voters, 62 million people, said “Not so fast, Mr. McConnell.”
Fine to have your point of view and defend it, promote it, passionately. Just don’t claim your point of view is the one and only one. That you and you alone speak for every single American. That you speak for me, when you don’t.
Since the election, I have not heard any sound clips from the GOP that start with, “The American people demand.”
I hope I never do again.
It’s early yet. I have my fingers crossed. Perhaps it will sneak in again. But I hope McConnell and crew have heard the message. The one “the American people” have sent. Not necessarily the one they thought they would hear.
The one I want to send is this. I can speak for myself.
And so, it seems, can “the American people.”
Editor’s Note: Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist and author turned documentary filmmaker. She has covered the news for WINS Radio, Channel 5 and ABC in New-York, and as a partner in Douglas/Steinman Productions is the co-Producer of “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml: My Heart Remembers”. She has been a columnist for The Digital Journalist and The Digital Filmmaker and is the author of “Rachel and The Upside Down Heart”. Photographs two and three by Gage Skidmore.