It's too bad for John McCain that the plumber he championed in the final presidential debate is named Joe Wurzelbacher and not, say, Roto Wurzelbacher. He'd be the only Roto Wurzelbacher in the world and could stand unchallenged as the right wing's idealized symbol of working America.
But it's always Joe, isn't it? Regular Joe, Average Joe, Joe Mama, Joe Six-pack, Say it ain't so, Joe—and now, Joe the Plumber.
“Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?” Wurzelbacher spouted at Obama on the street after a speaking engagement in Toledo on Oct. 11.
Obama, unafraid of being videotaped taking unfiltered questions from the unscreened public, unlike some candidates we know, stopped to answer Joe and patiently explained for several minutes his position on taxes and the economy. The right wing has ignored most of what Obama said to Joe and jumped on his point that “when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.” A-ha, he's Stalin! No interest, of course, in repeating Obama's point to Joe that under an Obama administration, it's possible that he might end up paying less in taxes (because of a proposed cut in the capital-gains tax on small businesses).
But it turns out that Joe's claim that he was “gettin' ready to buy a company” was a little exaggerated.
On Oct. 16, The Associated Press reported that Joe the Plumber said he doesn't have a license and doesn't need one because he's not the owner of the company he works for, Newell Plumbing and Heating.
But the county Wurzelbacher and his employer live in, Lucas County, requires plumbers to have licenses. Neither Wurzelbacher nor his employer are licensed there, according to Cheryl Schimming of Lucas County Building Regulations, which handles plumber licenses in parts of the county outside Toledo.
The report quotes Wurzelbacher, 34, saying he also doesn't have a good plan put together to buy Newell Plumbing and Heating. He's worked there for six years, he says, and the owner and he—the company's only two employees—have talked about Joe taking it over at some point.
“There's a lot I've got to learn,” he said.
Yes, Joe, like about licenses and the meaning of “gettin' ready to buy.”
Joe's dishonesty, however, is not an issue for McCain and the Righteous Right; he's an instant working-class hero because he's a Republican who distrusts Obama. Voila!
But if McCain wants to play the Joe the Plumber card, he's fair game for having the Joe the Plumber card played right back at him.
I found five Joe the Plumbers listed in San Diego. One's phone was disconnected and two didn't call me back. The two remaining Joe the Plumbers responded to my cold calls the day after the debate:
Joe the Plumber, Joe's Best Plumbing, San DiegoJoe watched the debate. He was surprised to hear the candidates talking directly to him, but he thinks it could've been Joe the Mechanic or Joe Anybody. “Joe the Plumber,” he says, “is just a symbol of your average Joe American.”
He was in the fishing business for 20 years, but he quit after much of the industry went “to foreign countries.” Originally from the foreign country of Portugal himself, Joe immigrated to the U.S. as an 11-year-old.
“I learned from my family that the U.S. was the land of opportunity. If you worked hard, you could succeed.” He found it to be true. His brother studied hard, got good grades, earned scholarships and became a doctor.
Joe also became a success. When the fishing business fell off, he used his engineering background to retrain himself as a plumbing, heating and air-conditioning expert and started his own small business.
Lately, though, times have been tough. “People have been trying to fix things themselves and calling me if they're in trouble,” he said. He's lucky if he works two days a week. He makes nowhere near the amount that would put him in the bracket that would see any tax increase under Obama's plan. He'd like to expand and buy a second van and hire more workers, but the economy would have to improve.
“Obama would be a better choice for president,” Joe says. He likes his plan to give small companies a tax break. He thinks we need a change and that Obama cares more about the average guy. McCain is more for the big corporations who “act like they're in casinos playing with someone else's money,” Joe says. Their “wild spending needs to stop.” Joe the Plumber, Uncle Joe's Plumbing, Chula Vista Joe worked for San Diego's well-known Bill Howe Plumbing for more than a decade before starting his own business. He's also faced a sharp decline in customers recently.
“I had to let my house go,” Joe told me. “I couldn't afford the payments.” He and his three kids and wife rent an apartment. She helps him with his business.
Joe only saw part of the final presidential debate, completely missing the part where the candidates spoke to “Joe the Plumber.”
“But I have been tracking the race all year,” he told me.
“I am more of an Obama supporter. He is trying to take care of us,” Joe said. “He is more for the people and trying to stop the war. McCain seems like he's into war, wants to fight.
“Bush has been in for eight years. Giving these guys another four years, it will be risky,” he added.“We need someone new,” Uncle Joe says.
John McCain, I see your Joe the Plumber, and I raise you two Joe the Plumbers.