The Manufactured Indignation Machine, never short on orders, suddenly churned into top gear.
There are many worse things to be called than “you people.” But if this is the closest thing to gold that Ann Romney gives the Machine to use, then this is what the Machine will spin back into straw and set on fire. It is possible to say “you people” affectionately and without a hint of a sneer, in a tone that makes it clear that you think highly of your interlocutor’s intellect and are speaking with respect and affection. Just say it the way Aaron Sorkin wouldn’t. “Oh, you people!”
But it makes an awful quote.
Yes, Ann Romney said it in that masterfully patient, tired-and-slightly-bemused-that-folks-even-would-ask-that-question-but-still-happy-to-oblige tone that she has been deploying over the course of the campaign. It’s a great tone. She’s called Mitt’s secret weapon for a reason.
People, in general, like Ann Romney. The Democratic National Committee decided, of its own volition, to apologize for an ad in which it featured her dressage horse, no doubt feeling a sudden pang of regret at how few people had even heard of the ad.
But you hear the words “you people,” and you picture someone getting out of a carriage, beckoning to Jeeves and sliding on her gloves with the faintest hint of a sneer. “Yewww people.” It has that unfortunate ring to it. The great unwashed. The hordes. The rabble. Hoi polloi — that’s Greek for “the many.” The plebeians. The peasantry. You people. Never mind the tone in which it was actually uttered.
You can call people all kinds of things. But not “you people.” Someone called the commentariat “you people” once in their childhood, and they never quite got over it.
It’s We the People, not You People! “You” is fine. “People” is fine. But don’t you dare combine them! It’s like “olive” and “garden.” Separate, innocuous. Together, deadly.
To hear the responses, you would think that this was the worst insult in the calendar. Approach people on the street and insult their parents and their children’s looks, and they remain unmoved.
This marks Ann Romney as another victim of my first law of commentary: Give anyone a microphone and sufficient time, and he or she is guaranteed to make a career-ending gaffe. Not career-ending, this time. She doesn’t have that option. And it’s a hard hole to dig out of. “You know what I meant,” she could say.
But there is an entire industry dedicated to Loudly Insisting That We Do Not Know What You Meant.
“Now the facade slips!” everyone crows. “Freudian slip! Cigars are never just cigars! You don’t see us as us people. You see us as you people! Get down off your high horse, Ann, unless of course you are using that horse therapeutically, in which case we are sorry that we brought it up!”
Michelle Obama knows. You can tell people to eat vegetables all you want. But suggest one single time that they eat cake . . . .