Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Joe the Plumber Rides Again


On October 25, Samuel Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber) announced he would be seeking a seat in the U.S. Congress, running as a Republican, representing Ohio’s 9th congressional district.  The 9th is currently represented by Democrat Marcy Kaptur, who’s expected to be challenged in the primary by Dennis Kucinich who lost his seat as a result of redistricting (his district was combined with Kaptur’s).

Those who followed the 2008 presidential campaign will remember Joe the Plumber as the man John McCain dramatically invited up on stage and portrayed as a symbol of America’s “noble working class.”  McCain hoped the gesture would attract the blue-collar vote.  Alas, with his abject ignorance of Obama’s proposed tax plan and his puffed-up resume (despite using the plumbers union logo on his web page, he was neither a licensed plumber nor a union member, but rather a “plumber’s helper,” having failed the journeyman’s test), Joe turned out to be more of a liability than an asset.

Still, proving F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong in claiming that there are no second acts in American life, instead of licking his wounds and slinking away in embarrassment and disgrace (and perhaps giving that journeyman’s test one more go), Joe abandoned the plumbing trade altogether and went on to bigger and better things.  He became a motivational speaker.

When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830s, he was both impressed and appalled by much of what he observed here.  One of the things that appalled him was Davy Crockett.  Crockett had recently served in Congress, representing (coincidentally) Tennessee’s 9th district.  Tocqueville described Crockett as a man “…who had received no education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent his time hunting, selling his game for a living, and spending his whole life in the woods.”

If the Frenchman was suggesting that only “educated” citizens are worthy of holding public office, he couldn’t have been more wrong.  Just consider unctuous ex-senator Phil Gramm (he and wife Wendy smoothed the way for Enron) and pesky Republican show-off Newt Gingrich.  Both of these men have Ph.Ds and were former university professors.  But Gore Vidal and Eugene Debs never spent a day in college.  Tom Paine never went to college.  Harry Bridges never went to college.  Yet, Sarah Palin holds a bachelor’s degree in—God help us—Journalism.

However, if Tocqueville’s larger point was that we Americans are too easily enamored, too easily suckered into thinking that any common man—any working man, any “man of the people”—is preferable to any nominal “elitist,” then he was definitely on to something.  Indeed, we do seem to have a fetish, a bizarre and stubborn love affair, with the concept of mock-equality.

Obviously, no voter is going to say, “What I want in a candidate is someone who’s totally unlike me, someone who has no idea what I go through day to day, someone who has never struggled and has no idea how hard it is to make a living.”  But while no one’s going to say that, it shouldn’t follow that any self-avowed “common man” who comes down the pike is automatically qualified to represent us.

The argument can be made that Franklin Roosevelt did more for working people than any president in history, and FDR was an aristocrat (scorned him as a “traitor to his class”).  Ted Sorenson, JFK’s aide and speechwriter, said that because Kennedy grew up around rich people he was not only singularly unimpressed by them, he often expressed his contempt for the rich.  Conversely, Richard Nixon, who grew up in a modest household, remained awestruck by men of wealth because they were everything he wasn’t.

Ultimately, it will be up to the good people of Ohio’s 9th district to choose.  They will be asked to decide whether they want as their representative a man who couldn’t follow a basic tax argument, who couldn’t pass a journeyman’s test, and who knowingly lied about his qualifications.  If they wish to go down that road and elect such a man, so be it.  That will be their legacy.

But maybe we’re overreacting.  After all, what real harm can one (one out of 435) unqualified congressman do?  And Lord knows, both the Democrats and Republicans have sent weirder, more offensive people to congress than this fellow.  Also, Davy Crockett may have been adept at hunting and fishing, but Joe the Plumber—even without his journeyman’s license—knows how to rebuild a lawn sprinkler and fix a leaky faucet.  Can Eric Cantor say the same?

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases