The other day I tuned in to one of my favorite shows, The Daily Show (some of the best reporting on TV, which isn't saying much), and I was shocked by what I saw.
Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, was interviewed. After the commercial break, not once, but three times, he said it. He dropped the f-word: folks.
What he said earlier made his use of the word particularly interesting.
In the first segment, before the commercial break, Obama was talking about getting ready for a debate. One of his staffers said, what you have to understand is, "this isn't on the level."
That's why people are so frustrated with politics, he said.
The media-political complex feeds people a ration of lies, cramming them down our throats as though fattening us up for the slaughter.
It wasn't a news flash, but it was nice to hear it acknowledged.
He continued: the insiders, of course, know it isn't true, and most people watching know it isn't true, and meanwhile we have all these problems, which are true.
Then he used the word folks. Nothing wrong with the word itself, you understand, but there's a time and place. And from the lips of a politician is always the wrong time and place.
Obama grew up in Hawaii, went to school in New York, and lives in Chicago. Folks is not part of his vocabulary. And to be perfectly fair, Obama is only taking a page out of the current president's handbook. Folks is also a favorite word of George W. Bush.
Bush, a native of Connecticut, has mastered the word folks. In a Herculean feat of political manipulation, he, largely through the use of the word folks, has managed to convince millions of people that the son of a political dynasty and graduate of both Yale and Harvard is "just folks."
Just when in the interview Obama got so folksy helped reveal the secret power of this magic word.
Obama went the first six minutes of the interview without using the word at all. Then, after the commercial, Stewart brought up the celebs. Hollywood is apparently in Obama's corner, and Stewart asked if that was a point of concern for the candidate.
Stewart referenced Martin Sheen opening for Howard Dean in 2004 with an American Indian proverb in front of a bunch of Iowans.
Obama spotted the mistake there right off. The "folks" in Iowa, he said, don't want to see celebrities, they want to talk to you, "kick the tires," get it straight from the horse's mouth and decide for themselves if you're honest.
Then Stewart asked him if there were any Republicans he could stand. Some of them, such as Mike Huckabee, are decent "folks," he said.
Finally, he referred to the damage U.S. foreign policy has done to our reputation with "folks" around the world.
They don't say folks in Hawaii or in New York or in Connecticut. But they do say it in Iowa (and in Ohio). As soon as Iowa, site of one of the first two primaries, is brought up, out comes folks. By using it, Obama is implicitly saying to the folks out there in the cornfields, "I'm one of you, not one of those silly celebrities."
By making nice with certain Republicans, he's implicitly telling Republicans, I'm "decent folks," too.
And then he says we regular Americans, with a bit of good, old common sense, are against the war and against the lying Washington insiders who started this thing.
Obama, like Bush before him, got folks from a political consultant who tested it in states like Iowa and Ohio. He could have made similiar points with the word people, but it would not have been as effective.
But I don't blame Obama for using the word. The fact is a good leader and I'm not saying Obama is one, I don't know, but a good leader has to find a way to get people to identify with him. If he doesn't , neither he, nor his issues, are going to get very far in professional politics.