Steve Hochstadt: Joe the Plumber: A Political Inspiration?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Steve Hochstadt of Jacksonville is a professor of history at Illinois College. His column, which reflects the authors views and not necessarily those of the newspaper, appears every Tuesday in the Journal-Courier.]

I went to hear Joe the Plumber the other day at a Take Back Illinois 9/12 event. I wanted to know what motivated today’s conservatives.

Here is what I found out.

The “9/12" movement is based on principles announced by Glenn Beck. The nine principles and 12 values could be endorsed by any American: Honesty; hard work; family; thrift; faith; “America is good.” One of the fundamental beliefs of today’s conservatives is that only they support these ideals. Liberals hate America. But liberals have also taken over America, which is why it needs to be “taken back” by this movement.

The people at this event were all white and African Americans appeared only in Samuel Wurzelbacher’s comment about a black woman who had murdered her children, and, of course, in nasty remarks about our president. This was an explicitly Christian gathering. As a Jew, I felt excluded. The only mention of non-Christians was Wurzelbacher’s applause line about how shameful it is that some Muslims wish to build a community center near Ground Zero, which drew excited applause. If anyone was homosexual, they might have been offended by Wurzelbacher’s proud use of “queer.”

It struck me that my neighbors saw themselves in a different and simpler world than the one I live in. In that room, they were America as they imagined it — white, Christian and heterosexual. They don’t see why other people might be put off by this exclusive view or offended by their language.

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