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Apart from his halting, staccato, eight-to-ten-word phrase delivery when not reading off a TelePrompTer, President Barack Obama has two noticeable and telling verbal tics. The first is “folks”; the second is “just some guy.” The first is just an annoying and apparently insincere way of trying to show that, despite being President, he’s really, you know, just one of us. But the second is a tell-tale sign that he’s throwing somebody under the bus.
Perhaps “folks” is the way that Harvard-educated lecturers in law at the University of Chicago are taught to talk about their fellow Americans, but I rather doubt it. Having attended an Ivy-league school myself and having studied law at the University of Chicago for three years, I’m pretty sure I never heard the word “folks” once. Even Tennessee Ernie Ford used “people,” as do the U. S. Constitution’s opening three words, “We the People …” .
Obama uses the word “folks” whenever he wants to sound sage and, well, folksy; usually when about to make a patronizing observation about the American people that justifies, in his mind, his administration’s increasingly one-party top-down style of governing.
“That’s just how white folks will do you,“ he wrote in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance , referring to what he perceived as white arrogance and cruelty. “These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me,” he said in an October 20, 2014, interview with Al Sharpton, referring to Democratic candidates who were running away from him in the recent midterm elections. “We need to internalize this idea of excellence,” he said on another occasion. “Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent.” And, in a particularly portentous and lecturing moment, “Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.”
Most infamously, Obama awkwardly claimed during an impromptu Friday, August 1, 2014, White House news conference regarding the War on Terror that “We tortured some folks.” That struck many “folks” as inappropriate, leading one commentator on Twitter to ask incredulously, “Wow. How does the supposedly rhetorically great Obama use ‘torture’ and ‘folks’ in the same sentence?”
But it’s Obama’s use of “just some guy” that signifies when someone has outlived his usefulness to the president, at least for public consumption.
Obama’s political mentor in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood for many years was American terrorist Bill “Guilty as hell, free as a bird” Ayers, a founder of the radical Weathermen group. Ayers is widely suspected of having ghost-written at least large portions of Obama’s two books for him, and Obama and Ayers worked closely together on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a five-year failed philanthropic venture for which Ayers wrote the grants and Obama chaired the board that distributed the money. But when Obama ran for President and Sarah Palin called him out for “palling around with terrorists,” Ayers became “just a guy who lives in my neighborhood” who hasn’t been publicly seen in the President’s company since.
Obama’s most recent use of the phrase is in reference to Jonathan Gruber, the now-infamous MIT professor who was one of Obamacare’ s architects. While working to help get Obamacare passed, Gruber was highly regarded and highly rewarded. The administration cited Gruber frequently in hearings and White House blogs, dedicated a webpage to his analysis, met with him repeatedly at the White House, and paid him $380,000 of taxpayer money in 2009 alone.
Now that videos have surfaced in which Gruber calls his fellow Americans not “folks” but “stupid” and brags that Obamacare was founded and sold on deliberate lies, Gruber has become just “some adviser who never worked on our staff,” which even Politifact rates as “mostly false.”
Even worse for the administration, perhaps, Gruber is also on record having said that the intent of Obamacare’s design was that, to encourage states to set up health care exchanges, if a state did not do so then its residents would not be eligible for income tax subsidies. Now that 36 states have declined to set up exchanges and Obama has directed his IRS to provide subsidies anyway, Gruber’s comments have become just a misquoted typo taken out of context and Gruber himself, in the President’s own words, has become just another guy.