Until last week, the most common axiom about plumbers was that when they bent over to fix a pipe, you could see the crack of their butts.
Thanks to Joe Wurzelbacher, we can now go to plumbers for our political future.
Wurzelbacher was mentioned about two dozen times in the debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain this past week. They called him Joe the Plumber, an average Ohio guy who had told Obama during a campaign swing that he was planning on buying a business that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year. He then asked the candidate, “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”
The exchange was caught on tape (what isn’t these days?). And from there, the pipe hit the fan. McCain held up Joe as an average American businessman who would suffer from Obama’s plan to spread the wealth around.
McCain said that with Obama in charge, guys like Joe would “not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business.”
Jackpot! Joe the Plumber, to Republicans, was instantly a working-class hero, a good, honest family man who just wanted to start a company and was gonna get socked by Obama’s socialist ideas.
By Thursday, the media were on his lawn. Katie Couric called him. You already could imagine the movie: “Mr. Wurzelbacher Goes to Washington.”
And then Joe opened his mouth.
Nothing is as it seems to be
It turns out Joe has no plumber’s license.
Joe isn’t in the plumbers union.
Joe never did a plumbers apprenticeship.
Joe’s business likely would not be taxed under Obama’s proposal.
Joe might even get a tax cut under Obama’s proposal.
Joe doesn’t believe in Social Security.
Joe’s first name isn’t Joe, it’s Samuel.
And Samuel hasn’t paid his taxes.
And that’s just as we go to press. By the time you read this, Joe may be a member of the Weathermen. None of this surprises me. It is what you get in a country that seems to think everything is a form of “American Idol.”
Look. There is a reason we call “the average guy” average. Because he’s in the middle. Average. When you aim for the White House, to lead the free world, to hold the fate of the Earth in your hands, you shouldn’t aspire to average. And this election shouldn’t be about average.
Don’t get me wrong. Plumbers, when you need them, are more desirable than presidents. I, personally, would be underwater in my home if not for my plumber.
But in politics, we overdo the small picture because we get bored with the big picture. Our eyes glaze over when candidates talk policy. The devil is in the details, but we’re not interested in the devil. We’d rather watch, be entertained, be told a story.
So we attach to how McCain looks puffed up when he walks. We attach to a volatile quote from Obama’s former preacher. I actually heard a radio host claim that a photo of Sarah Palin buying diapers for her baby could have a noticeable effect on the election.
The president isn’t all-powerful
In that kind of world, is it any wonder Joe the Plumber became a sensation? But when you dig in, you see his circumstance might be the exact opposite of that for which he’s being touted.
Now, personally, I am no fan of Obama’s tax plan – not because of him, but because I have never seen higher taxes result in more efficient government. But I also know that whatever Obama or McCain are touting now is unlikely to pass as is. Remember Bill Clinton’s health care plan? He ran on that, and after eight years, it still hadn’t happened.
By the time the House and the Senate get done with tax proposals, they rarely look like the originals, so who knows who will pay what next year?
What we do know is grabbing the “regular” guy and holding him up is an old political trick that rarely works. And sometimes it backfires on both sides.
After all, McCain is now getting criticized. And how many people will want to hire an unlicensed plumber who owes money on his taxes?
And we haven’t even mentioned a butt crack.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).