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TAKE THREE: Three views of the Southland | PATT MORRISON

Guess Who Came to Dinner

March 13, 1998|PATT MORRISON

I invited the American People over for dinner the other night.

Now, you know how swamped the American People have been, what with advising President Clinton on how they feel about Monica and Iraq and the Indonesian monetary crisis, and confessing to Steve Forbes how terrorized they are by the tax code.

The American People are everywhere. The day doesn't pass that Congress or the White House or Wall Street doesn't invoke the American People as the ultimate authority, their wisdom and virtue quoted like Scripture. "I'd rather have the American People involved in formulating a plan" on Social Security, said the speaker of the House. "The removal of Saddam Hussein from power is our goal, and we haven't made that case to the American People," said the junior senator from Indiana.

Frankly, I'm surprised the American People don't have their own talk show. Their expectations and desires are cited so often that a space alien might even get the idea that the American People are actually calling the shots in this country.

All I can say is, I wish I had the American People's stamina, and their frequent flier miles.

So I was amazed when the American People accepted my invitation. After all, who am I? The only time I've seen the inside of the White House was on a tour when I was 10. The only contributions I make are to tree huggers and pet rescuers, not politicians.

And I wanted to know for myself what the American People are really like. Are they hard-working and purposeful, as the president says? Or angry and cynical, as the Beltway pundits have it? Or are they just folks, like you and me and the Simpsons?

*

We settled on Saturday night. Naturally, I was a little nervous about meeting the American People, after all I'd heard and read. I shouldn't have worried. The American People are solid. They can be relied on to do the right thing. They know what they believe in, and above all they won't stand for being lied to. So when I said dinner at 7, I had dinner ready at 7.

The American People drove up in a Japanese car made in an auto plant in Kentucky. They caught my quizzical look at the door and, as they shook my hand kindly yet firmly, they assured me that while the American People are not isolationist, free trade can only go so far before you have to look out for your own interests.

As we went upstairs to the living room, my dog bounded up, and the American People patted his head. (Even though they have a growing fondness for cats, the American People obviously still love dogs.) I offered the American People a mixed drink, but they said they'd prefer bottled water, and maybe a glass of wine at dinner. "Good for the ol' ticker, 'specially if you eat all that fast food," they joked. (The American People obviously keep up with the medical literature.)

There was so much I wanted to ask that I hardly knew where to begin: Where did the tobacco industry manage to file 33 million pages of secret documents? What about that injured college basketball player getting an uncontested shot to break a scoring record? Why did Bill Gates name his company after the two qualities men want to be least associated with, micro and soft?

*

I started off easy, so as not to make the American People feel like they were being hammered by Sam and Cokie. What about the Oscars? What'll take Best Picture? The American People enjoyed this question. "You gotta admire a movie that makes as much money as 'Titanic,' " they said, double-dipping their carrot stick into the onion dip. "But you also gotta root for those little pictures about underdogs too. Like 'The Full Monty.' We hear that was great. Unfortunately we didn't see it, but we will when they put in the subtitles."

After I served the entree--skinless breast of chicken, the American People's new favorite, with a zippy salsa, which the American People now prefer to catsup--I ventured a bigger question: How does it feel hearing your name invoked by every pol who wants to be seen as standing on the shoulders of giants instead of just a soapbox?

The American People sighed and bit off a piece of celery stuffed with reduced-fat peanut butter. (The American People, I was learning, have simple, heartland tastes, but are also becoming more cosmopolitan.)

"What can we say? Usually they're all so busy talking about us that they don't pay any attention to us. You think we can get Newt to return a phone call? Dream on. You think Hillary ever invites us to a state dinner? Heck, we can't even get subpoenaed in this town."

The American People had to catch the redeye back to D.C. in time to get quoted on the Sunday morning talk shows. They thanked me at the door. "A wonderful evening," they said. "And we're so glad we didn't go out to a restaurant. Somehow, no matter who invites us or where we go, we always get stuck with the tab."

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