In the long, surreal presidential campaign that just ended, we were introduced — and re-introduced — to several interesting characters. There was Sarah Palin, with her lipsticked pit bull, the reemergence of Soccer and Hockey Moms, and, perhaps most oddly, Joe the Plumber.
Joe is one of those unfortunate American characters who gets swept up in a national moment, only to be tossed aside when that moment passes. Joe probably believed that he was being brought out onto stages during John McCain’s final campaign appearances because people were truly interested in what he had to say. Unfortunately for Joe, he was as much a prop as those Styrofoam columns that stood behind Barack Obama during his convention acceptance speech. Props like that are often discarded.
And when Joe — and, for that matter, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin — spoke, their anger with people like me was quite evident, winks and smiles notwithstanding. They are angry with my level of education, and that I would rather read a book than watch a NASCAR race. They’re mad that I find diversity and affirmative action positive developments for a community, rather than threatening. They don’t understand why I feel a progressive tax is good policy. And they’re certainly upset that I care enough about land stewardship that I would rather not drill, baby, drill, thanks just the same. All told, I — and so many of my hard-working neighbors in Southwest Minneapolis — represent what Sarah and Joe so dislike: the so-called elite. Even Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City — arguably one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world — hee-hawed his way through a keynote speech at the Republican convention, making fun of the educated, the elite, the cosmopolitans (his term) for being out of touch with real America. By intimation, if not definition, I and my like-minded neighbors, do not qualify as Real Americans.
This comes as a shock to me. I grew up in what was, at that time, a very Republican neighborhood of Edina. I have strong memories of being a paperboy during the early ’70s, reading front-page stories, as I went from door to door, of the unraveling of the Nixon administration during the Watergate hearings. Given the fact that this was the party of my parents, I had the naiveté of a 13-year-old that the press was reporting this story incorrectly. Nixon and friends would be exonerated. How could my parents’ party be so wrong?
How, indeed. The events of those years provided a political awakening for me. My older sister — a product of the 60s — had already shed our family’s political roots and become deeply involved in Democratic causes. I questioned my parents about Nixon and the party he represented. Those political discussions would become more heated in the years that followed, reaching a peak during my college years and the Reagan era.
Which brings us up to today. My older brother tended to historically fall into a Libertarian camp. He, however, sent me several pro-Obama and get-out-the-vote e-mails. Surprising, since we rarely discussed politics due to our previous differences in outlook. And my father — another Joe, also involved in the plumbing industry — voted Democratic for the first time in his long life. "I’ve had enough," he told me. A very large declaration. My interest in the Republican party 30 years ago was tenuous, at best. It was merely reflective of the community into which I was born. My father, however, is a different story. When the Republican party loses Dad, they’re in trouble. And, to use the vernacular of their Vice Presidential candidate, that ain’t nuthin’ Joe the Plumber can fix (wink).
Glenn Miller lives in Fulton with his wife Jocey Hale, another Journal columnist.