"Oh my God! A real Joe Sixpack in our midst!"

I am probably not what most people would consider "Joe Six-pack." Nor, I suspect, are most of the readers of this blog. The term usually denotes the kind of guy who's unlikely to be reading blogs.

According to the effete Wikipedia, "Joe Sixpack" is a sub-category of "John Q. Public," and a lower one at that:

Roughly equivalent, but more pejorative, are the names Joe Six-pack, Joe Blow, and Joe Schmoe, implying a lower-class citizen (from the Yiddish schmo: simpleton, or possibly Hebrew sh'mo: (what's)-his-name).
This is not to suggest I have anything against the Joe Sixpacks of this world; because of my fiercely anti-elitist streak I probably have more Joe Sixpack tendencies than the average person with my education and background. Instead of looking down on what should properly be called "the common man," I'm more likely to look down on the people who look down on him.

To put it more succinctly, I'm not a Joe Sixpack, but I can't stand Joe Sixpack bashers. One of the reasons I opposed John Kerry was that I perceived him as looking down on the common man:

By behaving like an arrogant snot, Kerry shows that he is out of touch with ordinary people, lacks the common touch, and may in fact be a genuinely mean-spirited man. When this is added to his response to the question about his foreign endorsements ("None of your business!"), I think it is fair to ask whether he has the temperament that should be expected of any public servant, especially a president.

My father has been dead for many years, but I'll never forget what he told me about evaluating powerful people. Watch how they treat the little people, he said; like the ordinary workers, servants, waiters, secretaries, etc. The kind of guy who's rude to a waiter or who yells at his secretary is the same sort who'll stab you in the back, welch on a deal, and treat you like shit if he ever has power over you.

The same applies to Barack Obama. I do not refer solely to his condescending remark about bitter people who cling to guns and religion; well before that I had heard that he had been rude and imperious to waiters in a Chicago restaurant -- something the bitter gun clingers remark tended to confirm.

Anyway, "Joe Sixpack" is not an exact term. Neither restaurant waiters nor (in Kerry's case) Secret Service men would be considered to fall into the category, but what they do have in common is that they have a duty to serve people who are above them, and in that sense they occupy a lower niche than those who are our "rulers." This is not to say that all of the people in government are like that; some of them don't think they are or should be "rulers." Americans are not subjects, and are supposed to be a "ruled" people. This may be why there's considerable distrust of elitists (whom I'm defining here as a large group of people who believe they have a right to rule, but who conceal what amounts to a fervent belief in the idea that some people have a right to rule, and that it should be them.) To these elitists, Joe Sixpack is seen as embodiment of why they should rule.

So in what has become a tediously familiar game, the John Kerrys, Joe Bidens, and Barack Obamas of this world do their best to put on a Joe Sixpack act.

While this is considered normal, Sarah Palin may have carried things too far by introducing an additional element: authenticity. This may be why Joe Biden appeared so undone at the debate. It wasn't so much his debating skills that were at risk, so much as it was his carefully contrived "Joe Sixpack" ethos. (Never mind the fact that he smeared a real Joe Sixpack by falsely accusing him of drunken driving; he thinks he has a right to be Joe Sixpack, and who the hell is this Alaskan female upstart?)

While he tried not to take sides on Sixpack authenticity issues, a Forbes writer actually called the Biden-Palin debate "Joe Six-Pack Biden vs. Sarah Six-Pack Palin":

In the first thirty minutes of the debate, Palin and Biden each made efforts to connect with everyday voters. Biden referred to his roots in a small town in Pennsylvania (he grew up in Scranton) and to the connections he has made among neighbors and constituents in Delaware. Palin went a step further, talking about friends and family in Alaska, regularly looking directly into the camera, and at one point talking about "the middle class of America, which is where Todd and I have been all our lives."

Palin spoke with disdain about "East-coast politicians" and was more likely to use every-day language, saying, "I will tell America straight up." In speaking about tax cuts that would help the private sector, Palin talked about the benefits to "our families."

Biden veered more often to discussion of Senate legislative procedures, but redeemed himself in talking about the slowing economy when he named a friend in Delaware he met in line at the gas station. Biden said his friend can't afford to fill his tank anymore so has no idea what a full tank might cost.

What worries the non Six-Packs who pretend who pretend to be Six-Packs is the creepy feeling along the lines of "Oh my God! A real Joe Sixpack in our midst!"

To their mind, a woman like Sarah Palin is supposed to be someone in the audience. Someone to look down to and talk down to. Someone who can be quickly ignored or erased by the spin machine if she raises troublesome questions, but who should never be allowed a place at their table, much less in a debate. For her to have held her own against one of their own must have been intolerable.

In fact, it was so intolerable that one member of Congress has declared war on "Joe Six-Pack" himself, retaliating with the heaviest artillery in politics today -- the shrill battle cry of "RACISM!":

"Some may say their true colors are showing," said Representative Yvette Clarke of New York. "Others may say they're just not being thoughtful. But certainly a lot of the language I've heard I consider to be incendiary. I believe it is meant to generate a certain sentiment within their base that engenders fear and certainly appeals to a group of people within our society who would pursue this along racial lines.

"It's very clear," she said.

Ms. Clarke also found a racial subtext in Ms. Palin's repeated appeals to "Joe Six-Pack" and "hockey moms."

"Who exactly is Joe Six-Pack and who are these hockey moms? That's what I'd like to know," she said. "Is that supposed to be terminology that is of common ground to all Americans? I don't find that. It leaves a lot of people out."

Wow. While I'm utterly stunned by the sheer gall of that statement by a public official (especially what it reveals about the insincerity of the Democratic Party's claim to represent the common man), the identity politics implications are even more fascinating.

The whole idea of Joe Sixpack (or "Six Pack" or "Six-pack," whatever) is that he's the little guy. The forgotten man. By very definition, a member of the excluded class. Yet with one fell rhetorical swoop, the excluded from the elite has become a member of the elite, and an excluder! A racist! Someone whose vote we do not need or want.

So remarkable it's breathtaking.

Except, because of the way identity politics works, it really shouldn't be surprising. The ruling classes who are steeped in the tyranny of identity politics can be expected to see Joe Six-Pack the same way they see any other identifiable group. Not as thinking citizens, but as subjects to be ruled. And if they get out of line, they must be excoriated in identity politics terms. The way this works in practice is that if Joe Six Pack knows his place and agrees with the Democratic Party, he still gets to remain in his niche as the forgotten little guy that they pretend to love.

But God pity him and his guns if he displays the slightest sign of deviation. Then his rulers will let it be known what they really think of the little guy they pretend to love.


I realize that's old and from the "Barack Six-Pack versus Hillary Six-Pack" days, but I thought I'd use it again.

The dirty little secret (more properly, I should say, the "hidden subtext") is that they hate Joe Sixpack.

MORE: In the comments, Larry Sheldon asks:

" they hate Joe Sixpack."

Who is "they"?

I've written at least four posts on the subject in an attempt to define the "they."

In her latest column, I think Camille Paglia touched on the same subject:

Yes, both Todd and Sarah Palin, whom most people in the U.S. and abroad had never even heard of until six weeks ago, have emerged as powerful new symbols of a revived contemporary feminism. That the macho Todd, with his champion athleticism and working-class cred, can so amiably cradle babies and care for children is a huge step forward in American sexual symbolism.

Although nothing will sway my vote for Obama, I continue to enjoy Sarah Palin's performance on the national stage. During her vice-presidential debate last week with Joe Biden (whose conspiratorial smiles with moderator Gwen Ifill were outrageous and condescending toward his opponent), I laughed heartily at Palin's digs and slams and marveled at the way she slowly took over the entire event. I was sorry when it ended! But Biden wasn't -- judging by his Gore-like sighs and his slow sinking like a punctured blimp. Of course Biden won on points, but TV (a visual medium) never cares about that.

The mountain of rubbish poured out about Palin over the past month would rival Everest. What a disgrace for our jabbering army of liberal journalists and commentators, too many of whom behaved like snippy jackasses. The bourgeois conventionalism and rank snobbery of these alleged humanitarians stank up the place. As for Palin's brutally edited interviews with Charlie Gibson and that viper, Katie Couric, don't we all know that the best bits ended up on the cutting-room floor? Something has gone seriously wrong with Democratic ideology, which seems to have become a candied set of holier-than-thou bromides attached like tutti-frutti to a quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent sentimentality.

At the risk of oversimplifying, if Joe Sixpack can be a conservative macho feminist househusband, little wonder the activist ideologues are worried.

I'd be worried too!

posted by Eric on 10.08.08 at 10:03 AM


I have lived on both sides of that elitist line, but confess when I was raised in a bitter, gun-clinging neighborhood I was taught we were "better" than that. We aspired to be out of that, assuming our more rightful role. It was not merely an aspiring to do well for oneself, which is innocent enough. There was a sense we were meant to leave these "losers" behind.

So when I entered the world of the more elite (though nothing exalted), I was very sensitive to not being counted among the Joe Sixpacks by my new peers.

An interesting reversal occurred. Disguised among the elites as one who had always been one of them, I heard what they really thought about Joe Sixpack. They would tend not to notice their prejudices, because it was just in the air - what everyone thought. But I would notice, aware of the almost disinterested contempt I would again be subject to were I to fall from "my station." When I was young, it caused me to redouble my efforts to remain among the elites, but as I grew older I came to increasingly distrust the elites who made such statements. I decided I didn't like them - and I didn't like me.

I started as a math major and kept contact with my math and science buddies when I went into theater, medieval lit, anthropology, psychology. I found that Science and Technology group to be much more egalitarian (except the highly theoretical math guys, who tended to be more like the Arts & Humanities Tribe). It was more of a true meritocracy.

Side note: my grandfather, who had only a sixth grade education as was the egg man in Westford, MA, had worked as a chauffeur in Boston during the Depression. He became the regular driver for Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. He spoke highly of him, for Lodge asked after Grampa's family by name, remembering details. Grampa contrasted this with a lot of self-important people who treated him badly, though they had nowhere near Lodge's exalted status.

I concluded from this that those who are insecure in their status are more likely to be mean to the little guy. An overgeneralization, I am sure, but one I still find useful in dealing with people.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  October 8, 2008 11:01 AM

" they hate Joe Sixpack."

Who is "they"?

Most of the recent uses of the term that I have seen were by Gov. Palin.

And the word "hate" did not occur to me.

I do agree that it is a reference to the least cerebral component of John Q. Publis, but the Governor seems to connect with those of us who have what we have because of the kind of work that makes us smell bad.

To some people.

Larry Sheldon   ·  October 8, 2008 11:46 AM

"those who are insecure in their status are more likely to be mean to the little guy."

You put it very well.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 8, 2008 12:17 PM

I was raised to see "Joe Six-Pack" as an admirable character. "Salt of the Earth" and "Backbone of this Country" were related phrases. People who worked with their hands and actually made stuff were superior to people who sat around and thought and shuffled papers all day.

Somewhat odd given that my father was a moderately successful business executive. Then again, his MBA was probably less important to his character than his stint in the navy, my grandfather's naval service, my uncle's career in the Army, etc.

tim maguire   ·  October 8, 2008 12:22 PM

On his radio show Jean Shepherd (of later CHRISTMAS STORY fame) used to use the term "Average Walking-Around Slob" in the way we now use "Joe Sixpack." But Shepherd cautioned not to automatically put the AWAS down. Shep said that in the '30s, many if not most of the intellectual, cultural class in Germany--led by Doctor of Philosophy Joseph Goebbels-- supported Hitler. On the other hand, when Hitler spoke there was probably an AWAS in every crowd laughing at him and saying things like, "Look at that guy with the funny-looking mustache! What a jerk!"

On a related note, Susan Sontag once wrote that during the Cold War the average American got his information on the Soviet Union from the READER'S DIGEST: stories of tyranny, mass starvation, internment camps, brainwashing and torture. Whereas the average intellectual got his information on the Soviet Union from publications such as THE NATION and THE NEW STATESMAN: a more "balanced," "sophisticated," and "nuanced" picture. And yet, Sontag said, in retrospect the READER'S DIGEST-reading average American was getting a much more accurate picture of the Soviet Union than the intellectuals. Score one for Joe Sixpack. And a big one for Sontag for thinking outside the Cocoon.

Bilwick   ·  October 8, 2008 3:44 PM

The word you are looking for when you say they, is the aristocracy. If you don't think we have one you are not looking closely. Not all of these people are shits, some know what they are doing, like sen. lodge, but some are just swine.

Steph   ·  October 8, 2008 3:56 PM

The word you are looking for when you say they, is the aristocracy. If you don't think we have one you are not looking closely. Not all of these people are shits, some know what they are doing, like sen. lodge, but some are just swine.

Steph   ·  October 8, 2008 3:56 PM

The word you are looking for when you say they, is the aristocracy. If you don't think we have one you are not looking closely. Not all of these people are shits, some know what they are doing, like sen. lodge, but some are just swine.

Steph   ·  October 8, 2008 3:57 PM

Bilwick, I'm going to use that Sontag example. Quite succinct. Thanks.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  October 8, 2008 4:17 PM

Strange the Paglia can be so insightful about the silliness of today's Democratic ideology...and about the repulsive nature of the Palin-haters...but still plans to vote for Obama.

david foster   ·  October 8, 2008 6:05 PM

Why is it always about Joe? Don't forget about me - Jane Box-wine?

Donna B.   ·  October 8, 2008 6:15 PM

Another thing y'all might want to think about; Bullshit Detector. This capability comes pre-installed as an option in most average model Joe Sixpack. The device gets tuned during the formative years by older Joes who often will perform the role of unofficial mentor to the younger Joes. The device will be in full operational capacity by the time the average Joe reach the age of 30. The most finely honed Bullshit Detector can be seen in action as one observes young college town police officer questioning a freshman about underage drinking. In a different manner, if the Joe Sixpack in question opt to go to one of the Ivies, or other elite institution of learning, the Bullshit Detector will undergo some form of atrophy because of disuse. This may cause some to even forgo the label of "Joe Sixpack" voluntarily. Many may regain the use of said Bullshit Detector again around the age of 45 to 50, the mechanics of how is still in dispute.

It is said to be the most effective device against politicians' rhetoric, much like garlic to vampire, kryptonite to Superman, or call girl to Eliot Spitzer.

Sean the Maggot   ·  October 12, 2008 2:02 AM

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