Thursday, December 25, 2008

A star is born Joe the Plumnber

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 23rd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

After nineteen months and some 35 televised presidential candidate debates, at long last the longest running Presidential campaign in American history is finally (and mercifully) drawing to a close. While the last of the three debates between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama wasn’t a game changer for either candidate, it did exemplify the importance of the symbolism attached to the “average” person in American politics.
That’s because the star of this final debate wasn’t either one of the two Presidential candidates, rather it was a guy from Toledo Ohio they called “Joe the plumber”. During the course of the debate John McCain repeatedly referred to “Joe the plumber” while he was attacking Barack Obama’s proposal to raise the taxes of the top 5% of Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year. Not only did you hear the name “Joe the plumber” mentioned some twenty times during this final debate, but on several occasions both candidates directed some of their comments and responses directly at him. In fact, McCain claims the real winner in this debate was “Joe the plumber”.
So why were both candidates paying so much attention to “Joe the plumber”? Well “Joe the plumber” is a 34 year old man who had recently confronted Senator Obama while Obama was campaigning door to door in the battleground state of Ohio. Joe told Senator Obama that he was getting ready to buy a plumbing business which took in between $250,000 and $280,000 per year. He wanted to know why Obama was proposing to increase his taxes saying “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?”
In response to this and another question about a “flat” tax (i.e. where you pay the same % of income tax regardless of how much money you make), Obama responded that while it was great Joe could afford to buy this plumbing business, he was also sure that their had been years in the past when he could have also used a tax break like the one Obama is proposing. Senator Obama went on to say that other middle class Americans who were nurses, teachers and the like needed a tax break now so that they could cope with America’s current financial stress. Obama then added that under these circumstances “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,”
The entire exchange between Obama and “Joe the plumber” was recorded and subsequently posted on You-Tube where it caught the attention of conservative bloggers and the McCain campaign, who seized on it as an example of how Obama’s tax plans will hurt small business owners. John McCain then attempted to use “Joe the plumber” as part of his campaign’s attacks on Obama and to symbolize the “American Dream” of attaining wealth and independence saying; “America didn’t become the greatest nation on earth by spreading the wealth. We became the greatest nation by creating new wealth.”
Republicans also responded the next day with signs at a McCain political rally touting “Joe the plumber” as a future Vice Presidential running mate for Sarah Palin. The American news media responded to the publicity “Joe the plumber” got during the last of this year’s final Presidential debate by clamoring to interview the real “Joe the plumber” on nationally televised politics and news shows thus making “Joe the plumber” an instant overnight TV celebrity. So who exactly is this person known as “Joe the plumber”?
Well to begin with his real name is Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher and the truth is he isn’t actually a licensed plumber. Wurzelbacher is actually one of the two employees of Newell Plumbing & Heating, in Toledo Ohio and the other employee is the business owner, a licensed plumber named Al Newell. But it is illegal to do plumbing work in Toledo and surrounding communities unless you are either a licensed plumber or you are in an apprenticeship/journeyman program. Since Joe is not, his boss, Al Newell, will soon be getting a letter from the city reminding him of these requirements.
It also turns out Joe’s plan to buy the plumbing business he works for is actually just a “pipe” dream, since he actually has no money to do so and has merely discussed the possibility of some day buying it when the current owner decides to retire. Nor does it appear that Newell Plumbing & Heating grosses the $250,000 to $280,000 a year he told Senator Obama, much less that it has a taxable income of anywhere close to this amount.
In fact, if the net income of Newell Plumbing & Heating after deductions for business expenses was shared by Joe and his boss Al Newell, both they and their company’s incomes would fall well below the top tax brackets on which Mr. Obama wants to raise rates and they would all qualify for a tax cut instead. Maybe “Joe the plumber” doesn’t care about this tax cut and is more worried about paying higher taxes in the future should he someday be able to buy this business, but I can’t help but wonder what his current boss Al Newell thinks about Obama’s tax plan.
Since one can question both the truthfulness of his statements to Senator Obama and the logic “Joe the plumber” used in concluding that Obama’s tax proposals would hurt him as a “potential” small business owner, I question the wisdom of Senator McCain using a guy like “Joe the plumber” to symbolize the embodiment of the American Dream.
But maybe it makes sense when you consider some other factors. You see “Joe the plumber” also owes the state of Ohio almost $1200 in back taxes, so I think he is really more concerned about not paying any taxes at all, than he is about a rise in his tax rate. Since Joe also admits he is a registered Republican and no fan of Obama, maybe McCain’s use of “Joe the plumber” as a symbol does make a certain amount of sense.

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