Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Plumber

I only watched the first thirty minutes of last night’s debate because I had to work, but I did manage to hear the first invocation of the now famous Joe the Plumber. Joe Wurzelbacher, in the midst of his fifteen minutes, turns out not to really be a plumber at all. The New York Times is reporting this morning that though he works in the plumbing business, he’s never held a license, belonged to the union, or completed an apprenticeship.

Is this worthy of news coverage? Actually, I think it is. Through no fault of his own that I am able to qu
ickly discern (aside from a willingness to be vague about his plumbing activities), Joe was misrepresented to be something he wasn’t. Plumbers, like electricians and others, are skilled workers who almost always belong to unions. At the highest levels they can be very well compensated, but the average guy more than likely works for someone else and is a lot more like the union worker in the petroleum industry of thirty years ago than anything else. It’s not a cardinal sin by any means, but allowing the public to assume that Joe was something he’s not is unethical reporting.

The Times piece goes on to say that Joe also owes back taxes, and that his understanding of Barack Obama’s tax plan and how it would affect him personally seem to be flawed. Chances are high that he wouldn’t see his taxes rise at all.

Now Joe is an emblem for both sides. The Obama campaign will be helped by pointing out that in fact Joe the Plumber should buy that business and not worry about tax hikes on wealthy small businesses. The McCain campaign is still hitting Obama for all those other people like Joe who will be subject to higher taxes, but their emblem has now been exposed as a flawed one. Their point is a salient one, but now they’ve framed it through the prism of Joe the Plumber, a guy just trying to make it the American way but is prevented by the Obama take hikes. But that Joe is a creation; he doesn’t exist. The message will lose resonance when seen through the lens of this new information.

I’m not taking a side here; I am a dedicated member of a political party who almost always votes along the party lines, but my candidate for president was out of it by March. I’m just trying to analyze what I find to be an interesting, if ridiculous, situation.

Joe certainly seems to be milking these fifteen minutes, appearing on a dozen television shows and a webcast with Katie Couric. But unlike a radio host I listened to earlier this afternoon, I don’t think we’ll be talking about Joe in the future when we think back on this election. The message just doesn’t have any resonance anymore.

Slightly off topic: Bob Schieffer is fucking cool. I can't believe that of all the debates, his was the one I missed.

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