One of the dreariest duties of the daily newspaper reporter is the “man on the street” interview. Newspaper editors love to have the resulting quotes in a story, partly because of a belief that it gives a reader some sense of what the average person is thinking about an issue, mostly because they don’t have to harass the random passersby themselves, yet there is little justification for this strange journalistic tradition. The small number of people a reporter can pester before deadline doesn’t amount to a representative sampling of public opinion, the reader is usually an average person himself and is therefore more interested in what better informed sources have to say, and the quotes are almost always banal.
Every now and then, though, a story will contain a quote from some purportedly typical person that actually makes a pertinent point. An excellent example can be found in the twelfth paragraph of a recent Reuters story about how the possibility of the government going over “the fiscal cliff” is affecting Christmas sales. A Linda Hampton, identified only as a New Yorker found shopping at a Best Buy store, is reported to have remarked that “It would be a disaster. Our taxes will go up. But I think our president will step in.”
This is the extent of Hamilton’s contribution to the story, so there is no knowing if the reporters questioned her further about her opinion, but we would have been interested to hear why she has such a touching faith in the president. It seems to us that a plunge over the “fiscal cliff” would result in across-the-board tax hikes that provide the president with more money to dole out to his preferred constituencies, as well as cuts to the defense budget that the president ardently desires yet would otherwise be unlikely to achieve, and so long as people such as Hamilton are so trusting of his intentions he will he gain political advantage from the resulting economic catastrophe. It would have been worth a drive to the Best Buy to hear why she is confident the president will “step in” and save the country from something that redounds so completely to his benefit.
Obama’s boundless empathy for the common man, probably. The president often speaks of it, and the papers have all confirmed it, so perhaps that’s where Hamilton got the idea. There’s no discerning Obama’s concern from the consequences of his policies, which have left the common man poorer, more dependent on government, and less free, but the damning statistics that quantify this decline get less coverage than the good intentions. The common men who are ponying up for the Obama’s multi-million dollar Hawaiian vacation can be assured they will repaid in empathy.
Even the most reliably liberal news media are hinting at Obama’s willingness to go over the cliff, but that’s the kind of complicated and dull story that Hamilton might be too busy to read. Although she’s obviously not one of the many people that the Reuters reporters no doubt spoke with who had never heard of a “fiscal cliff,” we suspect that her news-reading is not so far-ranging that it has brought her into contact with any doubts about the president’s good faith. This does indeed qualify her as a typical American, and as much as it pains us to hear it’s useful to know what’s she thinking. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.
— Bud Norman