David Brooks introduces us to “Patio Man,” the guy who hires “Joe the Plumber.”
He lives in northern Virginia, along the I-4 corridor near Orlando, Fla., in or near Columbus, Ohio, along the Front Range of Colorado, in the converging megalopolis between Albuquerque and Santa Fe and in many other places.
He has a house — worth less and less — in a relatively new development. He’s holding off on the new car. He’s trying not to look at his retirement account balance. But he’s happy with the new street-scape shopping area where he and his family can stroll before a movie.
If you wanted to pick words to capture Patio Man’s political ideals, they would be responsibility, respectability and order. Patio Man moved to his home because he wanted an orderly place where he could raise his kids. His ideal neighborhood is Mayberry with BlackBerries.
He doesn’t expect much of government. He believes that he is responsible for his own economic destiny. But he does expect government to provide him with a background level of order.
(Psst, David: the “converging megalopolis between Albuquerque and Santa Fe” isn’t going to happen. It’s Native American land.)
There is a deep current of bourgeois culture running through American suburbia. It is not right wing, but it is conservative: a distrust of those far away; a belief in convention and respectability; and a strong reaction against anything that threatens to undermine the stability of the established order.
Democrats have done well in suburbia recently because they have run the kind of candidates who seem like the safer choice — socially moderate, pragmatic and fiscally hawkish. They, or any party, will run astray if they threaten the mood of chastened sobriety that has swept over the subdivisions.
Patio Man wants change. But this is no time for more risk or more debt.
And he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who wants to vote for someone who would “shake things up” in Washington or vote for someone who’s all over the map with economic solutions that are phoned in, or someone who picks a running mate who hasn’t got the qualifications of a potential president. It sounds to me like Patio Man’s safe choice is Barack Obama.