I have a pet peeve. It’s the use of the word “folks,” which has been popularized by the current administration. I know it makes the President appear avuncular and, well, folksy. “Folk” is all encompassing, it’s you, it’s me. He used the word four times in last night’s State of the Union address. We are all folk. But with repeated use “folks” takes on a more demeaning character. It’s the little people.
Because I am sensitized to the word, this part of the President’s January 17th speech at the Justice Department jumped out at me:
“After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors. They’re our friends and family.”
See? People who work in the intelligence community, burdened as they are with spying on communications world wide, are just folks.
But a more insidious word usage has crept into the narrative of the surveillance state. It’s “ordinary people.” It was first tried out in a press conference the President held on June 19, 2013 to address collection of phone call records of every American. The Guardian reported:
“This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else. This is not a situation where we simply go into the internet and start searching any way that we want. This is a circumscribed, narrow system, directed at us being able to protect our people and all of it is done with the oversight of the courts.”
In the President’s intelligence reform speech he went on to say:
“In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans.”
And in his State of the Union address the President extended “ordinary” to the rest of the world:
“That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs—because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.”
Really? Is that the issue? The privacy violation of ordinary people? Who self identifies as “ordinary?” Is ordinary the mean? The average? Is there an inflection point where you cross over into extraordinary? Are political pundits ordinary? Are media talking heads ordinary? Are elected officials ordinary? Are journalists ordinary people? Are musicians, artists, authors ordinary? Are you ordinary?
Of course ordinary people have nothing to fear. By definition, an ordinary person is someone who is not a target of surveillance!
If the only people who have nothing to fear from surveillance are ordinary people we have a problem.