This week I am sharing a letter I recently sent to selected members of the legislative and executive branches of our federal government.
Stop it! Stop your incessant use of the phrase, “for the American people.” Eliminate it from your tweets and your comments at the nearest available microphone. Omit it from your town hall meetings and your pronouncements before fellow legislators or foreign heads of state. Exclude it from your appearances on news broadcasts and from your prepared statements during televised committee hearings.
I am not alone in my ability to predict with perplexing accuracy almost the exact moment when “for the American people” will pass your lips. There you are on the floor of the Senate, in the halls of Congress, at a campaign rally in one of our fifty states. You may be outlining another health care amendment that will not only fail to solve any current or potential problem but will continue to delay serious discussion of real solutions. Or you endorse yet again some tax reform sure to alleviate the burden from the already-unburdened while crushing those weighted down by life circumstances. Perhaps you are re-parroting the party line in hopes of assuring victory in the next scheduled election.
At the conclusion of whatever remarks you have tweeted or uttered in front of some random audience, you tack on “for the American people” – just for good measure. Regardless of your governmental assignment, executive or legislative, you count on “for the American people” to elicit cheers, applause, and maybe even a sound bite on the evening news. Flags may unfurl, balloons may drop – all because you have, for the umpteenth time, invoked the collective term for the people you were elected to serve.
When I hear “for the American people,” I immediately assume you are referring to the constitutional description: All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States or our nation’s independence decree: All men are created equal…with unalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, I am less than convinced that many of you there in Washington – or in governor’s mansions and statehouses across the country, for that matter – regularly address your remarks to or make your decisions for the people described in those two bedrock definitions. And it means not a whit to which party you pledge political allegiance. Borrowing my mother’s favorite expression: It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other when it comes to Democrats and Republicans mouthing “for the American people” with reckless abandon – and too often for dramatic effect.
I request – no, I insist – that you clarify which “American people” you are addressing in any given moment. If you are referring only to your “base,” say so. If your remarks concern just the people who voted for you in the last election, let that be known. If you are specifically courting the people who support you with financial donations, make that clear.
And in this age of increased transparency, you should also make clear which persons born or naturalized in the United States and which men created equal…with rights…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness you are NOT including when you speak or tweet.
If you support a health care plan that excludes a substantial number of citizens from insurance coverage, point that out: It is essential that all American people receive the best health care available – except for the sixteen million who cannot afford it.
If you support increased voting regulation to eliminate fraud that may or may not exist, be perfectly clear: I believe that the American people should be able to freely cast their votes – except for members of those groups for which stricter laws will make participation more difficult.
If you wish to invite young Americans to serve this great nation by joining a branch of the voluntary armed services, speak right up: I encourage the participation of all young people in defending our country against enemies of our freedom – except for those of certain sexual orientations.
I understand that governing this country is full of difficult challenges. A couple of weeks ago Senator McCain clearly described the USA and those challenges: This country – this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country – needs us to help it thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interests or political affiliations.
With more than 200,000,000 adult American citizens, there are more than 200,000,000 different combinations of needs, desires, and political viewpoints. During election campaigns, you strive to win votes by promising to represent those needs, desires, and political viewpoints in Washington.
In victory, however, many of you fail to make the transition to actual governing. Duly-elected legislators and presidents simply do not have the luxury of leading just the “American people” who sent them to Washington. It is the responsibility of you as office-holders to act in the best interests of all the “American people.”
Therefore, I expect you – be you senator or president or representative or governor – to immediately expand your definitions of the “American people” to include ALL persons born or naturalized in the United States, as well as ALL men…created equal…with inalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the least you can do – “for the American people.”
An American Person
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.