Joe the Plumber may be a cliché of a human being, but since Obama made him the hero of Main Street during his 2008 presidential campaign, when he jots his endorsement down for anything, people pay attention.
“We are a great country and we cannot afford to let false promises replace truth,” he wrote for Microman USA, the new book of original comic strips by Robert Stern and illustrated by Boulder cartoonist Mark Hill. “We cannot afford to let socialism replace capitalism. Microman will make you laugh and feel good about fighting for the principles that our Founding Fathers envisioned.”
The tag for Stern’s new book is “Tea Party Edition,” which says as much of a mouthful in three terse words as Joe the Plumber’s political science treatise above. A full 20 years after the Cold War’s sudden demise, the mere mention of the word “socialism” still strikes at those core American fears, evoking untold sensationalism and knee-jerk reactions from the conservative right (which includes, no doubt, the one guy who was jailed for phoning death threats to Nancy Pelosi). “When I was growing up, all of the movements came from the left,” Stern says. “This is the first real movement I see coming from the right. It’s true that a lot are older. It’s true that a lot are white.” (“Every movement has some stronger demographic,” he adds almost apologetically.) “But it’s a feeling that the government is just taking over too much of our lives; there’s too much Washington in our lives.”
As the Microman USA book jacket states, “This toast to the Tea Party movement and American freedom stars Microman, the new hero of the conservative right. Microman loves liberty and loves his life. He just doesn’t like the notion of paying taxes on his hard earned money and watching his country turn socialist.”
On the phone, Stern talks a lot about the old days (he said the words “When I grew up” no less than eight times in 30 minutes). The world is changing, and it just doesn’t jibe with many Americans. Couple that with a ravaged economy, a Chinese takeover, a mass influx of illegal immigrants, two nasty wars, a crippled housing market and a disintegration of onceproud American values, and you have a recipe for confusion and chaos.
“Microman USA really does represent the mood of the country,” he says. “I’m a financial guy by training. I used to be an executive in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Financially, I don’t know whether to be more scared of inflation or deflation. I’m so confused by what’s going on, I can’t tell you which one, but one of the two is coming. … They’ve spent so much money that we are on the precipice of a financial disaster, and they want to blame Bush, blame Bush, blame Bush.”
Featured on Good Morning America last Tuesday, Stern comes across as one of those guys who, standing in line at a perfectly serene all-you-can-eat buffet, finds it necessary to speak at hurricane-level volumes so that everyone else in the restaurant may accidentally “overhear” his prognostications, prophecies, forecasts and divinations on the current state of affairs, political or otherwise. And he’s not alone. The silent majority wants to be understood, or at least heard, and Microman USA personifies the mounting frustrations of certain chunks of middle America.
“I always ask people, ‘Do you believe in fiscal responsibility?’” Stern says. “They say ‘Yes’ [regardless of their political persuasion]. Then I’ll say, ‘Do you believe in limited government?’ They all go ‘Yeah.’ And then I ask them, ‘Do you believe in protecting all Americans from the consequences of this illegal immigration?’ They say ‘Yes.’ And I say, ‘Guess what, you’re a Tea Party person!’ They’re Tea Party people and they don’t even know it.” Illustrated by Hill (who is not a Tea Party person and who admitted by e-mail that he’s a little nervous about attending the book-signing event), Microman USA is best described as a novelty book — something you might purchase for your Boomer dad (falsely inscribing “From Sarah Palin” just for the hell of it), to let him know he’s not alone in his fears about America’s rapid evolution. While the book itself offers less solution than it does mass sentiment, Stern isn’t shy about what Tea Partiers would like to see.
“It’s not complicated,” he says. “A return to standards and values. Honesty and integrity. Get rid of the corruption. Go back to the principles of fiscal responsibility. We’re out of control. Stop the spending. Limited government. Both sides use the expression, ‘Take our country back,’ but I use the expression ‘Get our country back.’”
On the Bill
Mark Hill appears at Barnes & Noble on Saturday, Aug. 21, at 11 a.m. Event is free. 2999 Pearl St., 303-444-0349.