It’s been quite a week for “Joe the Plumber,” aka Joe Wurzelbacher of Ohio. His comments elicited a telling moment of candor from Barack Obama, who insisted that “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” The redistributionist tone of Obama’s remarks received plenty of attention, not least from John McCain; they were a rare – and disturbing – insight into the mindset of an unusually disciplined candidate who has been remarkably under-covered by the press.
Not surprisingly, things soon took an ugly turn for Joe. In an effort to discredit him, the media camped out on his front yard and started nosing around in his past. In just two days, America learned more about Joe the Plumber than the press has told us in two years about Barack Obama. Both Obama and Joe Biden ridiculed Mr. Wurzelbacher, scoffing that they knew very few plumbers whose taxes would increase under their plan. Videos even went up on YouTube, fantasizing about Joe’s violent death, and publicizing his (and his ex-wife’s) phone numbers.
Maybe Joe should have expected it. After all, Americans have seen this kind of vitriol before. Back in 1991, the left unleashed the full weight of its fury against Clarence Thomas, a black man who refused to subscribe to liberal theories about race. It surfaced again this summer, when “feminists” came after Sarah Palin. Now, it’s Joe’s turn.
Justice Thomas, Governor Palin and Joe the Plumber have one thing in common: Their lives make a mockery of the Democrat Party’s raison d’etre – its foundational assertion that minorities, women and “regular guys” can get a “fair shake” in America only through government action. What’s more, all three of them have made it clear that they don’t want the government’s “help.” For that apostasy, and for their sheer ingratitude – after all, aren’t the Democrats the ones who “care” about blacks, women and “working men”? – the left has tried to destroy them.
To those with left-wing sympathies, Joe’s repudiation of Barack Obama’s tax plan must seem incomprehensible. How can a plumber like Joe – who, as Obama and Biden took pains to point out, hardly falls into the category of “rich” – want to vote for Republicans? How can he identify with the “haves,” when (in their estimation, at least), he should be seeing himself as an aggrieved “have-not”?
Up until now, the left has had its own answer, albeit a remarkably condescending one. Liberals have concluded that people like Joe simply don’t understand their own interests. In “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Thomas Frank theorized that blue collar voters have ignored their economic interests because of an allegedly delusive belief in a “liberal elite” pushing a left-wing social agenda. In part, it’s the issue Barack Obama was addressing when he told liberals at a San Francisco fundraiser that, because economically distressed workers had been underserved by government, they “get bitter, [and] they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Joe the Plumber’s great achievement was stripping bare those pretensions. He made it clear that he understands his economic self-interest perfectly well, thank you. And he isn’t interested in supporting a politician who asks him to mortgage his dreams for the future in exchange for a handout today.
There are still many people like Joe the Plumber in America. We’ll find out just how many on Election Day. In the meantime, their views were well-represented by a family friend, a guy who’s working eighty hours a week in order to succeed at a new job and support a young family. Agreeing with Joe the Plumber, he said, “I don’t want their money, I don’t want their “help,” and I don’t need their sympathy. I just want to be free.”