A quick read of President Obama's 4,000 word jobs speech to Congress on September 8 reveals that he has apparently decided there are no folks in America. Similarly, at a debate the night before among the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, all but one of the participants spoke as if folks had simply fled the country.
To be more specific, neither the president nor the Republicans, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, used the words folk or folks, adopting in their stead "people, "Americans," "citizens," "small businesses/small business owners," "individuals," "workers," and "my grandfather." The single outlier, Gingrich, in responding to a question about illegal immigration, referred to illegal immigrants as folks, thereby suggesting that although they are present in this country they are still not "people."
In the parlance of the tabloid media, the fact that these signal events were folks-free was a shocker! Until Wednesday night there was no politician in the land, Republican or Democrat, who had not at every opportunity embraced folks as a synonym for citizens, individuals, bad guys, good guys, the other guys and pardoned white collar criminals. That trend had been sharply escalating.
For example, Mr. Obama had defended the Affordable Care Act, derisively dubbed "Obamacare" by Republicans, saying, "I have no problem with folks saying Obama cares. If the other side wants to be the folks that don't care, that's fine with me." He also suggested to an audience that they, "Send a message to folks in Washington." And he has noted the unfairness to the middle class that, "We've cut taxes a lot for folks like me who make a lot more than $250,000."
In short, if folks stones are to be cast, President Obama is in no position to cast the last. And that's not simply because he has a bad arm.
On the Republican side there's Governor Rick Perry of Texas, the current frontrunner for the nomination. When he announced his candidacy in South Carolina and New Hampshire on August 13, he immediately made clear that his cold dead hands would have to be pried off folks before he would cede dominion over the potentially pivotal noun to Barack Obama.
In South Carolina he told the crowd, "It's sure good to be back in the Palmetto State, in South Carolina. I enjoy coming to places where people elect folks like [Governor] Nikki Haley, true conservatives." Moving on to New Hampshire, he displayed the ability to parry as well as thrust in the folks arena. When challenged to defend his plan to cut back Social Security he replied, "Social Security's going to be there for those [elderly] folks." The next day in Waterloo, Iowa he returned to offense and upped the ante: "We'll spend a lot of time in Iowa. These people are a lot like the folks I grew up with. They're small-town folks."
Given what appeared to be an oncoming election season marked by candidates lobbing folk cluster bombs into crowds across the country, and putting aside the fact that the speech and debate took place in Washington and California, respectively, where folks make up around .0001 of the populations, what accounts for the last week's turnabout?
As to the debate, my guess would be that some Republicans with a deep understanding of how a dissonant word can lead to unintended consequences -- former Virgina Senator George Allen, for example -- called up the Grand Wizard Republican and suggested that any candidate using folks to refer to the key Republican constituency, i.e., oil tycoons, bankers, Big Pharmas and Pharmos, investment bankers and Rupert Murdoch, would be sliced and diced by both the elite and pedestrian media.
As to President Obama, I believe that someone put the cold hard facts in front of him: that he has exhausted his folks ration, frittering it away on riffs like, "These are the folks who ran up the deficit. These are the folks that allowed Wall Street to run wild. These are the folks that nearly destroyed our economy."
The bottom line is that contrary to early indications, contenders in the coming election are unlikely to be talking about what folks are suffering, or how to alleviate folks' pain, or that we've saddled folks with an unfair tax burden. What the politicians have realized is that basing a campaign on the proposition that a president's job should be mostly about serving folks is no longer a winning strategy, and perhaps more importantly, that folks are no longer listening.