FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Stop, in the Name of Joe!

by STEVE EARLY

Am I the only American voter who’s getting annoyed by all the faux-populist obeisance and condescending lip-service that’s being paid to “average Joes” this Fall?

First there was “Joe Six-Pack,” the frequently invoked working-class soulmate of Alaskan “Hockey Mom” Sarah Palin. Then, there was “Joe from Scranton,” Senator Joseph Biden’s strained reinvention of himself as a regular blue-collar guy from Pennsylvania’s anthracite region. And now we have “Joe the Plumber,” the Ohio handy man directly addressed by both John McCain and Barack Obama in their final TV debate on Oct. 15.

What’s bothering me, first of all, is the form of address itself.
Unlike Palin’s beer-loving archetype, “Joe the Plumber” is an actual person, with a real last name (It’s Wurzelbacher and, yes, that might be hard to pronounce correctly on national TV.) Yet when someone like Joe Wurzelbacher briefly commands center stage—as a random stand-in for all workers (or, more accurately, would-be small business owners)—he is immediately shorn of his full identity and referred to by his trade instead.

To the extent that Wurzelbacher is getting full name treatment in post-debate media coverage, he may soon regret it. Already, it’s been reported that he’s non-union, un-licensed, never completed his apprenticeship as a plumber, and has an unpaid state income tax bill of $1,200. In 2006, he was earning just $40,000 when he got divorced. The two-man plumbing firm that employs him operates out of the owner’s home and doesn’t generate enough income for its taxes to be raised under Obama’s plan. It would appear, therefore, that Wurzelbacher has bigger, short-term problems than buying out the owner for $250,000, far more than the business is worth, and then, if he ever earns more than that in a single year in this economy, getting a slightly larger tax bill from Obama!

Now if McCain and Obama were talking about a better-credentialed building trades guy who only goes by one name—like “Jesus the Carpenter”–surname dropping wouldn’t seem so patronizing. (The Democrats, at least, seem to be invoking His name somewhat less than they did earlier in the campaign.) But there’s still a glaring double-standard at work here. It says a lot about how working class people get talked about by politicians of both major parties when they’re not being made to disappear entirely into our vast “middle class” (which, at times, seems to include 95 per cent of the population).

When the names of the high and mighty in America—bankers, big businessmen, professors, or generals–come up in prime time debates or on the campaign trail, they never warrant the same disrespectfully informal and/or stereotypical treatment. For example, when Obama discusses the impact of his tax proposals on a well-heeled Omaha investor (who’s also his economic advisor) and not a mere toilet-fixer in Toledo, he doesn’t refer to him as “Warren the Billionaire.”

Likewise, when McCain launches into his favorite refrain about “corruption and greed on Wall Street,” he never fingers the perpetrators by their first names (or any name actually). And just think of all the possibilities there, from “Richard the Bankrupt” at Lehman Brothers to “Alan the Enabler” of Federal Reserve Board fame. Nor does McCain cite “Dave the General” when he’s striving for greater credibility on military matters in Iraq. And even when he and Palin are warning us about that dangerous Chicago professor and Obama neighbor, they never just call him “Bill the Terrorist.” We’re always reminded of his proper name: William Ayers.

So, if ex-Weathermen are entitled to have last names attached to their first, isn’t it time that our leading pols got a little less familiar when addressing us ordinary folks, whether or not our real name is Joe? At the very least, they could stop trying to put themselves and so many of their fellow citizens into such silly, stereotypical, and ultimately meaningless categories, based on our choice of  beverage, occupation, or spectator sport. Among the hopeful signs associated with this year’s presidential race are reports from around the country indicating that voters are not allowing themselves to be so easily pigeonholed. In fact, many seem poised to cast a vote for a candidate who’s own personal history doesn’t lend itself to the usual race, class, or ethnic profiling.

With that positive development in mind, nothing would be more appropriate than a ban on “Average Joeism”—for the rest of the campaign and any future ones. Unless, of course, the candidates want to start addressing our “betters” with the same first-name familiarity they’ve heretofore reserved for us.

STEVE EARLY is the author of a forthcoming book for Monthly Review Press called “Embedded In Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home.” In any voter profiling of himself, he insists that his last name be used. He can be reached at lsupport@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Steve Early has been active in the labor movement since 1972. He was an organizer and international representative for the Communications Workers of American between 1980 and 2007. He is the author of four books, most recently Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and The Remaking of An American City from Beacon Press. He can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail