Progressive Politics and
the Mainstream Regular Joe
A Texas Civil Rights Weekend Editorial
By Greg Moses
You hear the phrase now and then in political chit chat. We need to appeal to “the mainstream regular Joe.” But what’s in a phrase like this? From a civil rights perspective we’d like to insist that the mainstream regular Joe does not exist.
In chit chat one does not want to to be tiresome, so we keep things casual. In response to someone who mentions the mainstream average Joe we ask: Who would that be?
Well, you know, says our friend T.J. Bubba Bobbs, somebody more or less like ME! Well then okay, we can wink, just askin. And without much political correctness to drag around, we can mosey that conversation along.
Back home in the study, we can ponder a little more at length. Who uses this phrase most often and who the heck are they talkin about?
Isn’t the phrase used most often by Republican-chasing white men who wish Democrats could bag more white men the way Republicans do? And if they’ll just come clean about this, we can take the code for what it signifies and be done with it. A winning coalition will have some of these folks on board.
But if this is true, then the mainstream regular Joe does exist, right? Yes, but he does not exist AS the mainstream regular Joe, because “mainstream regular” indicates something much more pervasive than he can ever be.
The presence of any actual population answering to the identity of mainstream regular Joe negates the alleged universal value of the ideal type, especially when viewed from a civil rights perspective. Or to put it another way, he cannot be the final answer promised by the terms “mainstream regular.”
And the civil rights limitation of the mainstream average Joe is easily tested. Just ask the next person who brings it up whether he thinks the mainstream average Joe gives a darn about civil rights. Well no, the plain answer is that the mainstream average Joe doesn’t think that civil rights have much to do with him.
Is the mainstream average Joe gay? Does he go to Synagogue or to Mosque? Does he belong to the NAACP? Does he eat Sushi? Is he pregnant and in need of pre-natal medical care?
In fact if there is such a thing as a mainstream regular Joe, he exists as a quite specific type that is statistically limited. And while Republicans have crafted a winning model around his middle, Democrats will never win by catering their center toward his existing identity AS the mainstream regular Joe.
The problem with chasing down the mainstream regular Joe as mainstream regular is that it caters to his mis-impression that the world ought to revolve around him. He sees himself as the universal rather than the particular, he demands conformity from others rather than reflection and change from within himself.
By putting forth the mainstream regular Joe as the predominant demographic challenge facing Democrats, the image wipes away the complex demographic playing field upon which progressive politics must be played.
Is the mainstream regular Joe capable of seeing himself as a living participant in a political coalition? NOT so long as he thinks of himself as the mainstream average Joe. For this reason, progressive Democrats should stop egging his image on.
Habits develop lives of their own, and this habit will repeat itself for some time to come. So we recommend the inquisitive reply. Who is this mainstream average Joe? Is he ready to work alongside anybody else? What perceptions does the mainstream average Joe have about people who are not so-called “mainstream average” and what is he willing to do with other folks in his quest for an empowering coalition?
For progressive politics to flourish, we must stop chasing the image of the mainstream regular Joe. Instead we must question that image. And the most important question would paraphrase JFK’s inaugural speech of 1961: ask not what your coalition can win for you, but what you can win for your coalition. Until mainstream regular Joe is ready to answer this question, he can play no part in progressive politics.