Unlike Sarah Palin’s favorite Joe (Sixpack), Joe the Plumber is at least a real person.
He’s less of a real plumber, or at any rate not an average one: the average, journeyman clog-wrangler earns about $42 grand a year. Joe Wurzelbacher is worried about the possibility that he will soon climb into the $250K+ bracket which would, indeed, mean his income tax rate would go up under Obama’s plan. (Though he appears not to really understand the distinctions between personal income and the value of a business, to say nothing of the various deductions of which an entrepreneur can take advantage. Maybe Joe the Plumber needs to have a chat with Stu the Accountant.)
But Wurzelbacher’s existence as a real, tax-paying citizen has, from the moment McCain fumblingly introduced him into last night’s debate, become secondary to his symbolic role in the 2008 presidential campaign.
It was McCain’s intention to do this, but the symbols you create don’t always accomplish the ends you intend them for. “Joe the Plumber” is supposed to be a compelling symbol of the average American; but it was clear to most of us the moment we heard of him that he was actually, like Poochie (above, at left), “a soulless by-product of committee thinking.”
In this case, the committee was John McCain’s campaign staff, who like the network suits in that back-when-they-were-good Simpsons episode, decided, in what shrewd-observer Lisa identified as “a desperate attempt to boost low ratings,” to add something new.
Poochie didn’t capture the public’s fancy, but I think Joe will catch on — just not in the way McCain and his desperate advisers intended. I think he’s likely to become, in very short order, a punchline. In fact, I think he was a punchline from the moment he was introduced, as “Joe…Wurtzelburger.” (Not to pile on the Simpsons references, but did anybody else think, for a moment, that McCain was stumbling over the name because he was making it up, a la “Joey Jo-Jo Juniour…Shabadoo”?)
Poor Joe. He’s about to join the ranks of G. David Schine (Joe McCarthy), Bebe Rebozo (Richard Nixon), and Long Dong Silver (Clarence Thomas) — people turned into walking punchlines through their associations with politicians (though Mr. Silver had his own basis for infamy prior to the Thomas hearings). Regardless of the validity of his concerns (and I suspect he wouldn’t vote for Obama in any case), this unfortunate man probably deserves better than the treatment he will receive at the hands of the late-night jokers. He’s a more-or-less innocent bystander — a volunteer to be dragged up on the stage and humiliated in a failed bit of political theater.
I only hope the McCain campaign doesn’t try to write him off their show by explaining he had to return to his home planet.