I keep hearing the phrase “the American people” sounded off by conservatives like John Boehner and others who claim that “the people” want to sack Planned Parenthood, outlaw abortion and eliminate public assistance programs that help millions of low-income women.
Here’s what Boehner recently said in support of a bill that would eliminate all federal funding for abortions:
“A ban on taxpayer funding of abortions is the will of the people, and it ought to be the will of the land. The current law, particularly as enforced by this administration, does not reflect the will of the American people. Last year, we listened to the American people through America Speaking Out. They spoke on this issue loudly and clearly. So we have included it in our Pledge, and today we’re making good on that commitment.” (emphasis mine)
If millions of men and women rely on Planned Parenthood for STI testing, cancer screenings, affordable contraceptives and other necessary medical services, then who are these “people” that Boehner is talking about? I’ll give you a clue: They’re probably look a lot like Boehner.
Nobel Prize-winning British Playwright Harold Pinter argued that phrases like “the American people” function to relieve citizens of the need to think critically about their own government. In 1995 he said:
“Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people’ … The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think.”
Any social scientist knows that the word “people” never refers to all people. Likewise, when Republicans like Boehner and say that “the American people” want to get rid of Planned Parenthood, they are speaking to a select group of privileged individuals (who may or may not believe that health, class, gender and racial disparities do exist).
So, if Boehner doesn’t speak for you, let him know. Sign Planned Parenthood’s Open Letter to Congress and fight to protect the millions of American people who rely on Planned Parenthood.
Other egregious misuses of the phrase “the American people”:
- John McCain on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: “Those who would repeal don’t-ask-don’t-tell “are acting in direct repudiation of the message of the American people.” (Not true, McCain.)
- Andrew Bauer: “When we waste tax dollars on those who are just lazy or taking advantage of the generosity of the American people, we have fewer dollars available for the truly needy or the hard working families who find themselves in hard times.”
- Newt Gingrich: “I think if the American people feel as you and I do, they are going to go out, they are going to mobilize and we are going to take back our country.” (Take back the country from whom?)