During a recent interview, President Obama said: “I think ordinary folks understand I spend all my time thinking about this stuff (jobs, the economy), because I’m talking to these folks every single day.”
Every time a politician talks about “folks,” listeners or readers should cringe. Journalists should sit up and pay attention. The term often conveys condescension, whether used alone or with “ordinary” attached to it.
Our president’s use of it twice in one sentence ought not to douse our suspicion: does anyone really believe he “talks to these folks every single day?” Sure, cut him some slack and allow him a touch of hyperbole. But has anyone in the press corps checked just how frequently he talks to the “ordinary,” say to a nurse in Baltimore, to a truck driver in Denver or to a machinist in Cleveland?
When he and other politicians say “folks,” they actually mean “the
great unwashed” out there, the people who are not rich, not powerful and not celebrities. And, especially, those who are not major contributors to their political party or campaign. But they may be voters.
President Obama is scheduled to dine soon with bankers and hedge fund managers, people he once called “fat cats,” in New York to mend fences and raise cash for the 2012 presidential race. Bet he doesn’t refer to his dinner companions to be as “folks.”
When the master of ceremonies at a bingo game at a Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Indiana calls the players “folks,” that’s fine. His life is much like theirs and he’s not talking down at them. But when the word comes out of the mouths of powerful politicians or fat cat financiers in their administration, it’s just patronizing. They should stop using the word and address us as “fellow citizens” or “fellow Americans.”