Another Perspective

The Ordinary American

Joe the Plumber versus the elite consensus that would shut him up.

By 5.7.09

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Joe Wurzelbacher probably didn’t intend to draw the wrath of the elite when he gave an interview to Christianity Today. But the fiery thunderbolts hurled from our cultural Olympus are crashing all around Joe the Plumber now.

“I've had some friends that are actually homosexual,” Wurzelbacher said. “And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn’t have them anywhere near my children.”

In a free country, we are told, everybody has a right to their own opinion. Wurzelbacher is quickly learning that, according to the American elite, what you actually have a right to is their opinion.

There are certain subjects – and homosexuality is certainly one of them – where the elite have reached a consensus about the limits of permissible discourse, and no one who aspires to influence in American society can be allowed to contradict that consensus.

The suggestion that homosexuals might be a harmful influence on children is an opinion so at odds with the elite consensus that Joe the Plumber could not have inspired more furious denunciation if he had quoted Mein Kampf.

Yet it is a fact that the Boy Scouts do not accept gay scoutmasters, and it is a fact that -- despite the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy -- homosexual behavior is still prohibited under the Universal Code of Military Justice.

Four decades after the Stonewall riot in New York that is generally cited as the spark that ignited the gay-rights movement, attitudes like Joe’s remain far more widespread than you might realize if all you knew of American opinion was what you’ve seen in the news media. Despite the elite consensus – which is so influential in New York, Hollywood and Washington, D.C. – the average resident of Lucas County, Ohio, probably agrees with Wurzelbacher.

Joe the Plumber is an Ordinary American, someone whose existence is lived outside the world where elite opinion is ubiquitous and omnipotent.

The Ordinary American is not a journalist, a movie producer, an academic or a politician. News media, entertainment, education and politics are endeavors that shape public attitudes, and for this reason the elite have striven for decades to exclude from those fields anyone who might dispute their consensus.

Everyone jokes about “political correctness,” but humor aside – and the PC commissars can be frighteningly humorless about such things – those who contradict the consensus in elite professions risk career suicide. Just ask Larry Summers, whose mild dissent from feminist dogma made him persona non grata at Harvard University.

Because of his long record of accomplishment and his status as a liberal Democrat in good standing, Summers had other opportunities beyond Harvard. Imagine, however, if Summers had been a mere graduate student, or an untenured faculty member. The elite feminists made an example of Summers, to inspire terror in the hearts of any upstart academic who might have considered questioning their consensus. Torquemada at the height of the Inquisition could not have more effectively intimidated heretics.

Of course, it’s not just gay rights or feminism. It’s also everything from religion to economics to race relations to global warming. On any subject that interests the elite, there is a consensus -- and, make no mistake, it is an identifiably liberal or “progressive” consensus -- against which one argues at peril of destruction.

Why doesn’t the Ordinary American endorse the consensus? Or, perhaps more accurately, why does the Ordinary American (whatever his personal opinion on such issues) not become furiously angry when he encounters dissent from the consensus?

Well, if you’re a plumber -- or an accountant or a truck driver or a small business owner -- your ability to fulfill your hopes and ambitions is not dependent on the approval of the elite. For most people in Toledo, Ohio, getting hired or getting promoted has nothing to do with their willingness to parrot the “correct” opinion on tax cuts or foreign policy.

The nurse or construction worker in Toledo (or Tucson or Tulsa) may have very strong and well-informed opinions on political issues, but nobody really cares about their opinions except maybe at election time.

Therefore, the Toledo plumber unabashedly shares his honest opinion and if you disagree, fine. It never occurs to Joe Wurzelbacher that speaking bluntly about homosexuality might offend anyone. Like he says, he has gay friends and they know where he stands – and it doesn’t really bother them because (brace yourself for a shock) some Ordinary Americans are gay.

Ordinary Americans may be Democrats or Republicans or neither. They may be gay or straight, black or white, Hispanic or Asian. They may be rich or poor, but most are somewhere in the broad middle. They don’t define themselves by the categories of ideology or identity politics that are so important to the elite. In Ohio, it matters more whether you cheer for the Reds or the Indians than whether you’re liberal or conservative.

Why do I relate more easily to guys like Joe Wurzelbacher than to the elites who condemn him? Maybe it’s because I spent most of my life far from Washington, D.C., where nobody cared about my opinions. Maybe it’s because my family and friends -- my truck-driving brothers, my childhood buddy the school cafeteria supervisor, my sister-in-law the dental hygienist – are so much like Joe.

The ironic point is that a guy like Joe the Plumber doesn’t care the least what you or I think of him. He doesn’t care whether we like him or not. He is proudly independent and unafraid to speak his mind. He is that extraordinary individual, the Ordinary American.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.