James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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‘Joe the Plumber’ steps into spotlight, gets singed

Posted by James McPherson on October 16, 2008

We heard about “Joe the Plumber” more than two dozen times during last night’s debate, when John McCain talked far more about Joe (though not always honestly) than he did about his own running mate, Sarah Palin. (I thought the oddest comment, said twice by McCain, was, “Joe, I’m glad you’re rich.”) McCain plans to spend some quality time with him, and Fox News refers to him as “every man,” and “a metaphor for the state of the American psyche.” For her part, Palin talked about “Joe the Plumber and Jane the Plumber” in her stump speech today, while Joe himself–whose real name is Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher–met the media.

I watched Wurzelbacher for a bit this morning on MSNBC, and he seemed clearly torn between enjoying the attention and being uncomfortable and afraid to say the wrong thing, asking at least twice if the interview was going to be national–pretty much like most of us would be on camera. Of course in a YouTube world, we should all assume that anything we do might turn into an international video. Wurzelbacher refused to endorse McCain, though his views obviously are conservative. More so than McCain’s actually, since he did say he would like to do away with Social Security. Somehow I don’t think that proposal will make it into the McCain/Palin plan.

Now it seems that Joe isn’t actually a plumber, or at least not one with a license (he says he doesn’t need one), he’s behind on his taxes, and he votes under the wrong name. I wonder if the GOP will seek to have his name purged from the electoral rolls?

I do feel a bit bad about what may end up happening to the guy. He came to public attention because he wanted to ask one of the candidates (Barack Obama) a meaningful question. Then, because of Obama’s answer, Wurzelbacher became a tool for the conservatives–and, as the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote, the plumber has been more forthcoming with the media than Palin has. Of course, unlike Palin he doesn’t have the Secret Service to keep reporters away.

On the other hand, Wurzelbacher is taking advantage of his newfound celebrity. He’s already been on Fox, ABC, CBS and MSNBC, and is scheduled to appear on Fox’s “Huckabee” Saturday. Unfortunately he has no idea how brightly the spotlight might shine, or how soon conservatives will leave him alone in the dark if other potentially embarassing problems surface.

Below you can see the original comment and a Fox follow-up, in which Wurzelbacher refers to Obama having “kind of a socialist viewpoint.” The clip concludes with Neil Cavuto calling him “my kind of plumber.”

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6 Responses to “‘Joe the Plumber’ steps into spotlight, gets singed”

  1. Mike Ingram said

    Well Jim, I think its a problem if Joe votes under the wrong name. That’s why I favor a strong, clear and consistent method for identifying voters. I’ve not researched this to the apparent degree you have. However, at first glance, this sounds like voter fraud. I’d purge him.

    And this provisional ballot thing that Dems seem to like – purge it. The ballot is either filled out correctly or it is not. People write checks, order on line and punch lotto tickets. How hard is it to complete a freakin’ ballot? If its done improperly, or with a wrong name, throw it in the trash can.

    I’m concerned about reports that a group in Ohio and one in Nevada was gathering homeless people and signing them up to vote, in spite of state laws that require a mailing address. Voter fraud must not be tolerated, by plumbers or anyone else. I’d like to see both national and state parties work together on this…but I also think the Seahawks will win a few games this season.

  2. Rich Strauch said

    Mike: isn’t the real concern vote-fraud, not voter-registration fraud? I don’t want to belittle the abuse of voter registration, and it seems like the problem arises from folks with no other source of income being hired to supply voter registrations in exchange for a commission — sounds like a sure-fire recipe voter-registration fraud if I ever heard it.

    That’s one thing, but as long as those fraudulent registrants don’t actually try to vote, or are prevented from voting, there is not much danger of swinging an election. So if my dead Aunt Matilda showed up to vote, I hope she will have the proper identification on her to prove she is who she is. (Drivers License from the Pearly Gates DMV? But then her voter registration wouldn’t be in Ohio anyway.) Voter-registration fraud isn’t the same thing as vote-fraud, but my conservative brethren might have that confused. (Basically, it sounds more like a bunch of homeless guys trying to get some cash than a sinister liberal plot tosteal the election and install a democrat in the White House.)

    And no, I have never personally had any difficulty filling out a ballot, but I have a doctorate from an Ivy League school, so I guess I’m different. Florida in 2000 seems to make a pretty strong case that there are at least a few hundred people who lack the upper body strength to puncture a piece of card-stock with a stylus, or follow simple instructions. However, as much as it might horrify some of us, their votes count as much as mine and yours — we who spend our evenings sharing our musings on the good Dr. McPherson’s blog. So unless there’s a better solution (short of disqualifying the weak and clueless from the democratic process), the provisional ballot is probably the lesser evil.

    Hopefully Obama won’t actually need Ohio’s electoral votes after he picks up Florida and Virginia.

    And by the way, I was a little miffed that neither candidate had anything to say to Frank the mail carrier, George the bus driver, or Quenton the Orchestral Trombonist. I think both candidates thus marginalized important constituencies and probably lost some votes.

  3. James McPherson said

    Good points, gentlemen, and thanks. And I think the biggest missed contingents today may be those represented by Bethany the Barista, Natalie the Nurse and Whitney the Waitress.

  4. Mike Ingram said

    Ah Rich, you are on the slippery slope here. Voter fraud grows from voter registration fraud. Make the rules in a non election year, follow the rules when signing people up to vote, and then when idiots are turned away because they are not registered then no one can (legitimately) call foul.

    And after reports of the dead voting in Washington elections in 2004 (and all for Dems apparently) I’m suspect of the practice of letting the deceased get a voice from the grave. Fill out the form, give it those who are living and registered, and you’ll have fewer problems.

  5. James McPherson said

    One problem, though, speaking of slippery slopes, is how we determine who is registered “legitimately.” Apparently Joe the Plumber and a Republican official in the same district would be banned from voting because elections people (probably accidentally, though I could see someone doing it intentionally), misread or mistyped their names into the database. Some folks are calling for laws rejecting anyone whose ID doesn’t match EXACTLY what the database says, down to a missing hyphen (“as in African-American,” Colbert said last night).

    Incidentally, the latest issue of Mother Jones (admittedly a liberal mag) offers “10 ways to steal an election” (http://motherjones.com/news/outfront/2008/11/outfront-10-ways-to-steal-an-election.html), some illegal and some just sleazy, all currently in use by Republicans in various states. You can also see a map of states with known election problems at http://motherjones.com/news/outfront/2008/11/election-fraud-map.html.

  6. jeff said

    Has anyone bothered telling Joe that, considering the extent to which his fears are skewed towards paying taxes, he’s campaigning for the wrong candidate? Buy the dream company or not, Slow Joe would get a better tax cut under Omaba’s plan (when Joe asked the question about his fake plans that ‘caught Omaba off guard’, he didn’t understand that the fake net value would be far under the mark where he, under Obama’s plan, would theoretically have had to pay a few hundred dollars, – that’s right Joe, only the portion that goes above the ‘Obama limit’ gets the higher tax rate – in other words, Joe needed to make a fake story about a much more expensive company, one that no one like him will ever be able to buy, an one whose owners would never be hurt by the most ‘liberal’ of taxes).
    Or maybe a more simple path to the Joe problem would be to ask: has anyone bothered telling Slow Joe that the tax plan he’s supporting is already in place and has been for a number of years. It obviously hasn’t helped Joe buy that company, and from what I understand about his current situation, it hasn’t helped him at all. In other words, it’s not a question of convincing people that it’s a scam and won’t work, but rather that it DIDN’T work. One thing that it did do was aid the process by which we got burned into paying 700 billion to the same people to whom Bush/McCain did give/want to keep giving the bulk of the tax-break benefits. I’ve forgotten the estimates from years ago warning us of the cost of Bush’s plan, warnings that are real now. But I’ve seen reports by independent tax institutions for the McCain version: just a hair under 1.5 trillion. Isn’t 700 billion enough to give to these people?
    But getting back to Joe, maybe he’s not so slow. Not long ago, I told myself that there’s no stretch of the imagination that could see Joe doing better under McCain’s plan that under Obama’s. I’ve suddenly realized that there are 2 ways, the first not really a stretch, the second a slight one, that Joe could join the McCain tax club: he could make campaign speeches for money or even run for office ; or, he could sue McCain for making a fool out of him by not telling him that Obama would be better for the real Slow Joe as well as the imaginary company-owning Joe.

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