October 16, 2008

The Wisdom of Joe the Plumber

Marc Comtois

Google "Joe the Plumber": you'll get 1,953 news articles, like this. For those who don't know, Joe Wurzelbacher had this conversation with Senator Obama last weekend:

Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" the plumber asked, complaining that he was being taxed "more and more for fulfilling the American dream."

"It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance for success too," Obama responded. "My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Is this something that can resonate with the American voter? Perhaps. It certainly featured prominently in last night's debate. And though some in the media are trying to show that, despite his concerns, "Joe" will actually benefit from Obama's plan, they miss the actual point that Joe Wurzelbacher is trying to make.
I mean, not that I don't want to be taxed. You have to be taxed. But to -- just because you work a little harder to have a little bit more money taken from you, I mean, that's scary. You know, as opposed to other people. I worked hard for it. Why should I be taxed more than other people...? Well, I mean, quite honestly, why should [the top 5%] be penalized for being successful? I mean, that's what you're telling me. That's what it sounds like you're saying. That's wrong. Because you're successful, you have to pay more than everybody else? We all live in this country. It's a basic right. And Obama wants to take that basic right and penalize me for it, is what it comes down to. That's a very socialist view and it's incredibly wrong. I mean, $250,000 now. What if he decides, well, you know, $150,000, you're pretty rich, too. Let's go ahead and lower it again. You know it's a slippery slope. When's it going to stop?
Yes, when? And this is but another example of the sort of down-to-earth wisdom that too often gets overlooked and dismissed in the coastal regions. An accent doesn't indicate stupidity. Nor does the lack of a sheepskin. To quote Victor Davis Hanson, writing about Sarah Palin:
Half of what I learned did not come from books or graduate school or teaching or writing, but from some rather rough characters who taught me how to prune, hammer, wire, and fix things—as well as their world view that came along with those tasks. Thank God, we have that experience represented in Sarah Palin. Can’t her critics grasp that? It ain’t easy to step up to the city-council, mayorship, or governor’s office while raising kids, on a short budget, without family money or connections, and out in Alaska? Did not the career of Truman teach us anything? We have plenty of highly educated politicos, so there is no worry we are a nation of populist yokels; what is lacking in public life are just a few people who aren’t lawyers, professors, consultants, and bureaucrats.
As a former merchant mariner who also holds an MA, I've got to second that. I've gained wisdom from the stories of old salts and from the annals of History and scholarly journals, but not everyone can have that experience. So, as Hanson argues, we should really listen some of both to get a more complete picture. I know she drives some people crazy, but Sarah Palin resonates with some people. So does Joe the Barber.

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Will the "Joe the Plumber" drinking game get you hammered quicker than the "My Friends" or "Maverick" games?

Posted by: rhody at October 16, 2008 4:44 PM

Gallup now has the race at Obama 49%, McCain 47% with likely voters, within the margin of error.

What a weird race.

Go Joe the Plubmer!

Posted by: Anthony at October 16, 2008 7:03 PM

err...Plumber. Guess it does get you hammered faster....

Posted by: Anthony at October 16, 2008 7:19 PM

Rhody, maybe, but neither can touch the "Hope" and "Change" drinking game!

Posted by: Marc at October 16, 2008 9:11 PM


Debate darling 'Joe the Plumber' not a licensed plumber, owes back taxes

Associated Press Writer

8:08 PM CDT, October 16, 2008

HOLLAND, Ohio (AP) _ Joe the Plumber's story sprang a few leaks Thursday.

Turns out that the man who was held up by John McCain as the typical, hard-working American taxpayer isn't really a licensed plumber. And court documents show he owes nearly $1,200 in back taxes.

"Joe," whose name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was cited repeatedly in Wednesday night's final presidential debate by McCain for questioning Barack Obama's tax policy.

Wurzelbacher instantly became a media celebrity, fielding calls during the debate and facing reporters outside his home near Toledo on Thursday morning for an impromptu nationally televised news conference.

The burly, bald man acknowledged he doesn't have a plumber's license, but said he didn't need one because he works for someone else at a company that does residential work.

But Wurzelbacher still would need to be a licensed apprentice or journeyman to work in Toledo, and he's not, said David Golis, manager and residential building official for the Toledo Division of Building Inspection.

State and local records show Wurzelbacher has no license, although his employer does. Golis said there are no records of inspectors citing Wurzelbacher for unlicensed work in Toledo.

And then there was the matter of his taxes.

Wurzelbacher owes the state of Ohio $1,182.98 in personal income tax, according to Lucas County Court of Common Pleas records.

In January 2007, Ohio's Department of Taxation filed a claim on his property until he pays the debt, according to the records. The lien remains active.

At the debate, McCain cited Wurzelbacher as an example of someone who wants to buy a plumbing business but would be hurt by Obama's tax plans.

Wurzelbacher, a self-described conservative, had spoken to Obama at a rally Sunday near his home and asked him whether his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that currently employs him, which earns more than $250,000 a year.

"Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" Wurzelbacher asked.

Obama said that under his proposal taxes on any revenue from $250,000 on down would stay the same, but that amounts above that level would be subject to a 39 percent tax, instead of the current 36 percent rate.

McCain said Obama's plan would stop entrepreneurs such as Wurzelbacher from investing in new small businesses and keep existing ones from growing.

The McCain campaign posted a Web ad featuring the exchange between Wurzelbacher and Obama.

During an afternoon taping of "Late Show with David Letterman," McCain said he had not yet spoken to Wurzelbacher, and apologized for the press attention he had received.

"Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry," McCain said.

Wurzelbacher had to deal with a clog of two dozen reporters outside his home on a narrow street lined with ranch- and split-level homes Thursday morning. No detail about the divorced father of a 13-year-old boy was too small: Was he a registered voter? Did he have a plumbing license? Whom will he vote for?

Leaning against his black Dodge Durango SUV, Wurzelbacher at first was amused by it all, then overwhelmed and finally a little annoyed.

"I don't have a lot of pull. It's not like I'm Matt Damon," he said "I just hope I'm not making too much of a fool of myself."

He indicated he was a fan of the military and McCain but wouldn't say who will get his vote. He is registered as a Republican, the county elections board said, because he voted in the GOP primary in March.

Wurzelbacher said a McCain campaign official contacted him several days before the debate to ask him to appear with the candidate at a Toledo rally scheduled for Sunday.

He told reporters he's unsure if he'll attend, since he's now scheduled to be in New York for TV interviews.

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Obama said McCain was misleading voters by proposing tax plans that favor the rich while criticizing an Obama tax plan that would raise taxes only on people making more than $250,000 a year, just 5 percent of all taxpayers.

"He's trying to suggest that a plumber is the guy he's fighting for," Obama said. "How many plumbers you know that are making a quarter-million dollars a year?"

Wurzelbacher said he felt a bit overwhelmed by all the attention.

"I'm kind of like Britney Spears having a headache. Everybody wants to know about it," he joked.


Associated Press writer Sharon Theimer in Washington contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS name of Letterman's program to Late Show, sted Late Night.)

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Posted by: PlumberGate at October 16, 2008 10:20 PM

So Wurzelbacher has never been cited for doing unlicensed work and has apparently done a good job, but the government won't call him a "plumber" because he didn't partcipate in an approved "apprentice or journeyman program"?

Seems to me that it only highlights yet another a problem with the government, not with the plumber. I'm sure the pipefitters union will be picketing his plumbing van tomorrow morning.

Joe the Plumber aside, thousands of Americans are in a similar situation. He is but a symbol

Posted by: Anthony at October 16, 2008 10:49 PM

He's a symbol all right. A symbol for all the plumbers who make over $250,000 per year.

How in hell can you swallow that nonesense?

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 16, 2008 11:48 PM

OTL-what business is it of yours what a person makes in return for goods and/or services?I think entertainers make an obscene amount of money,but what the hell,people are willing to pay for it-it doesn't come out of the public's pocket.
I don't begrudge you whatever you make if you come by it honestly and I have no reason to suspect otherwise.You and I and everyone else should not be shaken down just because we make some money and a lazy scumbag who won't work has their hand out.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 17, 2008 12:25 AM

Let's all try to remember that it was McCain who introduced the debate audience to "Joe the Plumber" and has clearly tried to use him as a symbol. The unwanted attention the real life person is now recieving is at the feet of the McCain campaign. All Obama did was to answer the guys question.
McCain , the weathly owner of many homes may employ plumbers and other tradespersons and I'll wager cares little for them , their families, or their ideas. The desperate little man is trying to find something other than smears to salvage a campaign . What is it with "plumbers" and republicans?

Phil the fisherman

Posted by: Phil at October 17, 2008 6:15 AM

OTL, Joe stated he didn't make $250k, but he hoped to one day and didn't think it was fair, etc.

Phil, McCain highlighted it at the debate, but the clip was running for days prior and Obama was more than willing to jump on board.

In general, somehow I don't think highlighting a blue-collar guys tax troubles is going to work against him.

Posted by: Marc at October 17, 2008 8:21 AM

Phil-I get the impression that McCain sees people as individuals.Obama on the other hand,tends to the leftist stance which sees people as aggregates and bases their thoughts as to how things should be done on group dynamics.
This view of people is an underpinning of socialism.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 17, 2008 10:00 AM

My reference to joe the plumber was intended to point out that he is a vacant symbol since very few plumbers make a quarter of a million dollars a year. I really don't care how much the guy makes, his earnings are not to the point.

S-i-n-c-e-I-m-u-s-t-s-p-e-l-l-i-t-o-u-t the point is that McCain has picked someone who is a figment and has tried to elevate him to everyman status. That the Republicans have tried to make a mountain out of a molehill and many of you who write in this blog have jumped on board obviously demonstrates that you are grasping at straws. No, I really don't care how much he actually makes. It is no business of mine, but using him as a political symbol is.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 17, 2008 2:03 PM

You are right that making a political symbol out of him is grasping at straws. But you ignore the fact that Dems have made political symbols out of the likes of Cindy Sheehan, people who have lost money in the market or my personal favorite “I don’t think of CEO’s or businesses, I think of the workers who can’t pay their bills”. That this somehow is a persuasive idea shows that ‘grasping at straws’ is often an effective political tool not to mention one that you use very often in your simplistic rhetoric.

Joe the Plumber who dreams to own his own business someday is no everyman. No, not in your worldview where your dream is that the government should run everything.

Posted by: msteven at October 17, 2008 3:15 PM

Let me put this in a nut shell so that you might feel a bit more comfortable for the familiarity; no, I don't think that the government should run every business, but it should take a good long regulated look at those that affect interstate commerce. When Joe the Plumber grows to the size that his corporation affects interstate commerce, then the government needs to become involved.

Likewise, when a business becomes "too big to fail" it also becomes to big to be privately held.

I would make plenty of room for private enterprise and very little room for run away corporate capitalism.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 18, 2008 1:37 AM


I'll take your word on the clip preceding the debate. The point of highlighting a specific case that a campaign can use to sell its ideas is in bounds.


I have no idea as to the interpersonal traits of either candidate. I should correct the record about what I wrote about McCain's attitude towards his domestic workers.I dont know . I have at times admired McCain on various issuses
and now feel as though he has moved away from that political figure. Also I don't share the same abhorrence of socialism that you and others do, but I am not sure that Obama would move in that direction if elected.

Posted by: Phil at October 18, 2008 7:35 AM

In theory, I agree with you. Except that the government does currently regulate business that affect interstate commerce. I'm sure you know that and that we likely do not agree on the degree to which they should be regulated or where the line should be drawn between private enterprise and 'run away corporate capitalism'.

I also feel the same about government that you do about business. Yes, the government needs to play a role in regulating the size of business and it has done that for example by preventing certain mergers. But when and how the government should get involved I'm sure is something we'd be far apart on.

Is this the most civil correspondence we've had?

Posted by: msteven at October 18, 2008 10:48 AM

Marc, I do not see the wisdom of Joe the way you described it. Or for that matter Joe's own words- " You know, as opposed to other people. I worked hard for it." The ME generation. Me Me Me. Joe thinks he's the only one who works hard. Joe thinks only of Joe. This attitude is exactly what is wrong with our culture, our government, our politics. My father used to say that the people who had the attitude that " I'm only looking after Number 1" to explain their actions were doing a bad job of it. Obama actually had a good and sophisticated answer to Joe's ME FIRST question. How can businesses prosper if they do not have customers? If your neighbors are doing better than the local businesses will be better off. The Trickle -Down economic model is exposed in the current panic among the exalted top earners. There was no trickle down. There was vast amounts of weatlth transfered elsewhere. Smart money left. Joe wants to be one of those that can do that. Hell of a model, Brownie.

Posted by: David at October 18, 2008 4:14 PM
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