Everyday Americans. The latest iteration of “the American people,” as deployed by Hillary Rodham Clinton in announcing her presidential candidacy. Some of her potential GOP rivals are using it, too.
Every politician, even the ones in complete disagreement, claims to speak for the nation’s citizenry. It’s done often enough to achieve the effect of a skipping record. Vanderbilt University communication studies professor Paul Stob says “the American people” has become “the keyword for all populist discourse.” As Mr. Stob notes, the subsets to describe political audiences include “hardworking Americans,” “God-fearing Americans,” “real Americans,” and so on.
Enter Mrs. Clinton’s use of “everyday Americans,” which is designed to head off criticism of her candidacy. The former first lady, senator from New York, and secretary of State lives the kind of rarified lifestyle few Americans can identify with. She’s had Secret Service protection since 1992 and admittedly hasn’t driven a car in nearly 20 years. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have mansions in Chappaqua, N.Y., and one of Washington’s toniest neighborhoods. And she took grief last year for saying the couple was “flat broke” upon leaving the White House in 2001.
But Clinton knows she needs to be identified with “everyday” Americans to win the presidency. Using that particular word comes off as a bit less condescending than the more common “ordinary Americans.” As National Journal’s Ron Fournier observed in a tweet:
In issuing a news release about Clinton's forthcoming campaign trip to the home of the nation’s first caucuses, her campaign talked of holding “conversations with everyday Iowans.” (We earlier discussed the importance of any White House wannabe having “conversations.”)
Her choice of “everyday” drew immediate scorn from the right. Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin tweeted:
And right-wing conservative radio talk show host Guy Benson echoed: “Everyday Americans need a champion who insists on Gulfstream G450 jets (or larger) for her private travel.”
It’s worth emphasizing, however, that Clinton isn’t the only 2016 candidate to invoke the phrase. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida used it in a video touting his bid for the GOP nod. And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul not-too-subtly titled his 2013 book "Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds."
Meanwhile, the Sunlight Foundation’s invaluable CapitolWords.org website, which tracks Congressional Record uses of phrases on the floors of the House and Senate, has found that usage of the phrase has jumped during the past decade, with Democrats employing it more often than Republicans. It’s also a part of President Obama’s rhetoric arsenal.
Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.