Politicians use the following phrase to command authority for their personal opinions or to rebut an opponent’s view: “THE AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE DON’T/DO WANT…” and fill in the blank with their own opinions. This is going unquestioned by journalists and should be pounced on immediately. Any journo worth his or her salt should do what my 9th grade English teacher used to do – interrupt the politician in question with the phrase “Says who or what?” Come ON – there are professional journalists with decades of experience who are letting this fly through to the keeper. To those of you interviewers letting this happen: DO YOUR JOB and ask the politician presuming to speak for the nation to quote a survey from a credible source so we can analyse the sample size and research methodology and determine whether or not this is actually how this group thinks/feels.
The rhetorical strategy for this is obvious. Being on the winning side or the side of popular opinion feels good. It’s why election results are held back until polling stations close – so people won’t switch their votes to the winner.
Of course, journos use this too. Today I saw a headline in the local newspaper saying “Why women love tattoos”. Really? ALL WOMEN? I’m a woman and don’t “love” tattoos. Neither do my mother, sister or dozens of others I know. What sloppy writing that headline was – and it can’t be blamed on the dearth of copy editors.
If this habit has crept into your own rhetoric – stop. Do your homework. Do “people” feel this way or is it just your mob/tribe? I’ve been turning my frustration about this phenomenon toward this positive change in myself. One of my favourite quotes this week sums up this change: “My opinions change with new information.” Of course, I interrogate that information first – and ask “Says WHO?”