October 17, 2008

The Palin Effect with an Exclamation Point

Justin Katz

I've had the same reaction to the investigation of Joe the Plumber that Don noted earlier this morning. It's frightening, and one gets the sense that it's a taste of what would be to come (perhaps outside of public view) were Obama to be elected.

One wonders whether the stage was set by the American elite's preparation for Obama's coronation (as indicated by some conservative intellectuals' RSVPs). Watching video of Obama actually mocking the man and his profession, it struck me that this may be a Sarah Palin redux, only with an exclamation point. In his comfort, he's letting slip dinner party remarks for public consumption. "Who ever heard of a plumber making a quarter-million dollars?" If they made that much, they wouldn't have to cling to God and guns.

So now Joe is being told, in not so many words, "Go away. We'd decided." Americans were sickened by the instasmear campaign against Palin when she leaped onto the national stage, but his is worse: This is just some guy who asked a question. It could be you.

Yeah, he owes some taxes. Perhaps he's been working without a license or without the proper registration. He's divorced. Scarcely an American alive could emerge unstained from such scrutiny, but we sense there to be a protective gap of public interest. We muddle along understanding that the Eye of Sauron tends to focus on those who step forward to be seen. Even such common practices as undeclared cash-paid side work would look shady in its accusing glow.

Just answering a candidate's question when approached on one's own lawn oughtn't qualify one for the same treatment as those who scrub their lives in preparation for the big time. But Obama's army of zealots won't be able to stop themselves now or if they gain the presidency's power.

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"Obama's army of zealots "

Reminds me of Stalin's Old Time Lefty's who scoured the Ukraine for a stray potato hidden by a starving kulak.
Communists, aka Progressives are the scum of the Earth. General Franco, the man who rescued Spain from the Iron Curtain had the only cure for them. (snip)

Posted by: Mike at October 17, 2008 11:09 AM

File Joe the Plumber away alongside Peggy Noonan's criticism of the Palin choice: The McCain campaign got too busy trying to spin a story, and whenever Republicans do that, they lose.
Course, there's always the chance Palin could be a hit on SNL if she indeed does it (after all, Tina Fey has only played her thus far as loveably daffy hockey mom, not the mean-spirited rabble-rousing prig she's been on the trail the past two weeks).

Posted by: rhody at October 17, 2008 12:09 PM

Look at what you are saying. You're saying that it's an evil to scour a kulak's home to look for a stray potato, but that it's okay for Franco the fascist to call off elections, brutally suppress opposition, incarcerate and kill dissenters and rule by dictate for 40 years. See the Spanish film entitled "Butterfly" to get a feel for the way dissent was treated by the fascists.

Try to find a Spaniard who would like to return to the Franco regime and you'll be looking a long time and turn up, perhaps, a few nuts like yourself. Next, I suppose you'll have a few good words for Mussolini - after all he did make the trains run on time.

You are a frightening thought terrorist.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 17, 2008 12:50 PM

Somehow Obama's relationship with William Ayers should not be scrutinized but Joe the plumber's voting record, martital status, work record, and income taxes should be.

And of course the folks at rifuture are also convinced he's a plant...

Posted by: JP at October 17, 2008 2:55 PM

The "instasmear" campaign against Palin? Please. That is absurd. The criticism of Palin was caused by three factors:

1. It's a political campaign. That's what happens.

2. McCain picked a complete unknown. The media had never vetted her before, so all the dirt was exposed in a compressed timeframe. That's the risk with picking an unknown. The campaign knew it and decided to roll the dice anyway.

3. Palin is a mess. Troopergate? The half-truth about stopping the Bridge to Nowhere? The foreign policy expertise by virtue of her state's proximity to Russia? And to top it off, her incoherent ramblings on national television interviews? Ugh. McCain probably regretted the decision days after making it.

Posted by: Pragamatist at October 17, 2008 3:37 PM

All true, Prag, but somehow I doubt VP was McCain's decision to make.

Posted by: rhody at October 17, 2008 5:47 PM

US News & World Report, 10/17:

(US News) Joe Wurzelbacher, the plumber so often referred to by Sen. John McCain in the third and final debate had better learn to shut his mouth. The more he speaks publicly, the more he looks like the GOP plant liberal blogs are starting to claim that he is. Watch him calling Social Security a "joke" on YouTube.

I'm no fan of tax hikes, but even I recognize Social Security is no "joke." It has single-handedly lifted millions of elderly and disabled Americans out of poverty and turned America's elderly from the most impoverished age demographic to one with an income more in line with that of working families.

Joe the Plumber so loves media attention, he's drawing pro-Obama bloggers to question his authenticity as an undecided voter:

Joe has been on so many right wing talk shows it appears pretty obvious that this is a coordinated attempt to pull a last second 'tax and spend' haymaker. Family Security Matters, a wingnut security policy thinktank, has the first interview with Joe after this Obama encounter. Hmmm. What's the chance that a group like this gets the first interview with this alleged 'undecided voter'?

Other blogs say Wurzelbacher may be related to Charles Keating of the Keating Five and that his father is a major Republican donor:

Joe the Plumber, the star of tonight's debate, may have a very interesting connection to John McCain. In fact, Joe the Plumber (Joe Wurzelbacher) of Cincinnati, Ohio may be related to one Robert Wurzelbacher of Cincinnati, Ohio, who happens to be Charles Keating's son-in-law. Robert Wurzelbacher was implicated in the Keating 5 scandal, and sentenced to 40 months in prison in 1993. Wurzelbacher is also a huge Republican donor.

Keep watching this story because if it proves true that "Joe the Plumber" is the wealthy, Republican regular the liberal blogs are claiming he is, the McCain campaign could go down as the most corrupt and inept in history.

By Bonnie Erbe
Copyright © 2008 U.S.News & World Report, L.P. All rights reserved

Stay tuned for more "PlumberGate".

Posted by: Richard at October 17, 2008 5:55 PM

McCain's plumber no ordinary Joe
By: Carrie Budoff Brown and Amie Parnes
October 17, 2008 04:27 PM EST

NEW YORK – John McCain hung his final presidential debate performance on an Ohio plumber who campaign aides never vetted.

A day after making Joseph Wurzelbacher famous, referencing him in the debate almost two dozen times as someone who would pay higher taxes under Barack Obama, McCain learned the fine print Thursday on the plumber’s not-so-tidy personal story: He owes back taxes. He is not a licensed plumber. And it turns out that Wurzelbacher makes less than $250,000 a year, which means he would receive a tax cut if Obama were elected president.

McCain likes to say that he isn’t George W. Bush – and in this case of bungled public relations, it is clear he is not. The famously disciplined Bush campaign operation would likely have found the perfect anonymous citizen to illustrate a policy proposal, rather than spontaneously wrap itself around an unknown entity with so many asterisks.

While the arc of Wurzelbacher’s breakneck trip through the news cycle – from private citizen to insta-celebrity to political target – offers a curious insight into the political media culture, it also appears to offer a glimpse into the McCain campaign’s on-the-fly decision-making style.

A McCain source said Thursday that the campaign read about Wurzelbacher on the Drudge Report, while another campaign aide confirmed that he was not vetted. Senior McCain adviser Matt McDonald told Politico after the debate that Wurzelbacher was not aware that he would become central to the candidates’ third and final showdown, although Wurzelbacher told reporters Thursday that the McCain campaign contacted him earlier in the week to ask him to appear with the candidate at a Toledo rally scheduled for Sunday. (He may not make it, now that he's scheduled to be in New York for TV interviews.)

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“Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry,” McCain said Thursday, referring to the press attention that the Ohio man had received, during a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman.

McCain said he has not spoken to Wurzelbacher yet. Aides have reached out, hoping to get him on the stump at some point.

By Thursday evening, though, the McCain campaign had tied itself even closer to Wurzelbacher than the night before.

His campaign released a web ad titled “Joe the Plumber.” McCain opened his rally in Downingtown, Pa., with a shout-out to Wurzelbacher.

“We had a good debate last night. I thought I did pretty well, but let's have a little straight talk: the real winner last night was Joe the Plumber,” McCain told 1,000 people. “He won and small businesses across America won, because the American people are not going to let Senator Obama raise their taxes in a tough economy.”

For a few moments, the crowd chanted, “Joe! Joe! Joe!”

“Joe’s the man!” McCain yelled back.

Obama veered from his prepared remarks in Londonderry, N.H., to question McCain’s use of Wurzelbacher, saying the Republican senator’s tax plan would do more for corporations and wealthy individuals than, say, a plumber.

“He is trying to suggest that a plumber is the guy he’s fighting for,” Obama said told a rally with 4,100 people. “How many plumbers do you know making a quarter of a million dollars a year?”

Obama’s remarks echoed those of his vice presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who criticized McCain for “the notion of this guy Joe the Plumber.”

“I don’t have any Joe the Plumbers in my neighborhood that make $250,000 a year that are worried,” Biden said on NBC’s Today show. “The Joe the Plumbers in my neighborhood, the Joe the Cops in my neighborhood, the Joe the Grocery Store Owners in my neighborhood – they make, like 98 percent of small businesses, less than $250,000 a year. And they’re going to do very well under us, and they’re going to be in real tough shape under John McCain.”

Wurzelbacher, 34, a single father and self-described conservative, emerged as a symbol for a tax debate that has become a mainstay of the give-and-take on the campaign trail, and also of the white working-class voters who have been pursued so vigorously by both candidates.

The exchange between Obama and Wurzelbacher that first brought him to the McCain campaign’s attention, occurred Sunday while the Democratic nominee was canvassing for votes in Toledo.

“I'm being taxed more and more for fulfilling the American Dream,” Wurzelbacher told Obama, adding he was concerned about having to pay more taxes as he worked towards his goal of buying his own plumbing business, which could draw income of $250,000 a year. “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”

Obama said that, under his proposal, those making $250,000 or less would not pay more in taxes, but incomes above that level would be subject to a higher tax rate.

“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 the chance at success too,” Obama told Wurzelbacher. “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Since then, the encounter has also provided fodder for conservatives alleging his tax plan would amount to a massive redistribution of wealth.

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

Even before the debate concluded Wednesday, local TV stations, network producers and journalists from around the country were trying to reach Wurzelbacher. By Thursday afternoon, he had been picked to pieces.

Wurzelbacher acknowledged to reporters that 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. State and local records show Wurzelbacher has no license, although his employer does. David Golis, manager and residential building official for the Toledo Division of Building Inspection, said Wurzelbacher still would need to be a licensed apprentice or journeyman to work in Toledo.

Wurzelbacher also owes the State of Ohio $1,182.98 in personal income tax, according to Lucas County Court of Common Pleas records. The Ohio Department of Taxation filed a claim on his property until he pays the debt, according to the records. The lien remains active.

The McCain campaign weighed in on Wurzelbacher’s behalf, using the opportunity to take digs at two frequent targets.

“It's an outrage that the Obama campaign and the media are attacking Joe the Plumber for asking a legitimate question of a presidential candidate. This is why voters still have so many questions about Barack Obama. Instead of answering tough questions, his campaign attacks average Americans for daring to look at the reality behind his words, said Tucker Bounds, spokesman the McCain-Palin campaign. “John McCain will continue to fight on behalf of all hardworking Americans like Joe for policies geared toward increasing prosperity and reducing the burden on taxpayers -- not 'spreading the wealth around' for Senator Government to distribute as he sees fit.”

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."

Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin contributed to this story, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

Posted by: Richard in Blue at October 17, 2008 8:43 PM

Hey Justin,
How many plumbers do you know making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year? Only one I can think of might be G. Gordon Liddy.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 18, 2008 1:16 AM

Poor Joe the Plumber

He gets his fifteen minutes of fame thanks to a desperate campaign in search of an issue. First its association with a terrorist and then its taxes..the old reliable republican standby. Now Joe is getting more unwanted attention ...again thanks to McCain. All Obama did was to answer the guy's question.
By the way how is Joe's position of not wanting to give up any of his (imaginary) earnings any different than the position of any member of Council 94?

Phil the Quahogger

Posted by: Phil at October 18, 2008 7:15 AM

Joe wants to keep money he earns by conducting consensual business for clients.

Union members want to take more money from taxpayers by force of law without additional benefit to the public.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 18, 2008 8:24 AM


Council 94 members want to keep what they have. In joe's case he hopes to keep what he does not have but hopes to have sometime in the distant future or may never have. But he can have an opinion just like every other person in the country.

Posted by: Phil at October 19, 2008 9:29 AM

"Joe wants to keep money he earns by conducting consensual business for clients." Sounds like a pimp.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 20, 2008 12:42 PM
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