The Republicans know something the Dems still haven’t figured out: If you repeat a lie enough times it really does become true in the minds of the American public. The Dems may think they have finished off Joe the Plumber, but the Republicons are just getting started. Where there was once a little guy named Joe, now there is a towering little guy martyr.
Well after the jig was up, presidential candidate turned Fox talk show host Mike Huckabee re-delivered Samuel “Joseph” Wurzelbacher to stoke the myth that he is a working man’s hero. You might think Huckabee didn’t get the memo. But that’s the old memo. Huckabee definitely got the new one.
If you’re having trouble discerning the truth in the invented personas of McCain and Obama, take a run at the meta persona of Joe the Plumber. Which working man’s hero is he? The phony entrepreneur who plans to buy his boss’ plumbing business (but can’t actually afford to). The real unlicensed plumber who makes under $42,000 a year, who would actually receive a tax break under Obama’s tax plan? Or the idealized everyworker who can’t now but someday hopes to launch his own small business? The Republicans’ new talking point is that it doesn’t matter who Joe really is; it’s the idea of Joe that matters, all the media’s dug up facts be damned. This symbolic Joe is the Joe that the actual Joe pitched us with Huckabee’s help on Huckabee on Saturday. (Such myth-making has always been part of the strategy, but only recently has it become an overt part of the narrative. In our postmodern politics, the industrial design is part of the aesthetics.)
Huckabee began on an angry white male note, inveiging against the liberal media lynch mob which has so mistreated Joe Wurzelbacher by (making him famous and now probably rich and) dwelling on such irrelevant personal peccadilloes as the fact that he owes $1100 in back taxes – even though he rose prometheanly out of a national discussion about taxes. Huckabee then trotted out conservative Wall Street Journal economics writer Stephen Moore, who spent his first thirty seconds leading the studio audience in a call and response outpouring of support for the much maligned Joe, before lecturing us on how inimical Obama’s socialist, spread-the-wealth around tax plan would be to job creation in America.
Stephen Moore is a numbers guy. So I listened attentively when he explained that under Obama’s plan, if a guy like Joe built up a small business with half a million dollars in income, he would be paying “thirty, forty thousand dollars of extra income tax.” This means, he said, that Joe’s small business would have to hire one less worker or lay somebody off. Joe later declared funereally that Obama’s plan would “run small business right out of America.”
Meanwhile, I had gotten my calculator out. I’m not a numbers guy. But I remembered reading that Obama’s tax plan would raise taxes on individuals (including small businesses operating as sole proprietorships) by three percent – marginally – on net earnings over $250,000. That’s $7,500 in additional taxes under economist Stephen Moore’s own example, not “thirty, forty thousand.” It’s not inconsequential, but it’s not exactly an amount that requires laying off a worker. But to hear these guy’s talk about it, and fail to correct one another, it sounded like they thought Obama had invented the very idea of taxes.
Huckabee rounded out his show with an opposition figure, Al Sharpton, who quickly joined him in condemning ACORN for allowing voter registration workers to sign up some of the same gullible individuals multiple times. Huckabee and Sharpton stressed that ACORN is accused of voter registration fraud, not voter fraud. But neither of them bothered to point out that even if all of the allegations were true, and ACORN engaged in deliberate, rampant voter registration fraud on a large scale – which no one really believes – this could not possibly have any impact on election numbers unless the multiply-registered voters committed voter fraud by actually voting more than once. Sharpton made good points, including that the abuse engenders mistrust in the whole voting system and could discourage new registrants, and that whoever paid for the drives was defrauded to some extent. But outcome determinative? Not by the longest of long shots.
Most unfortunately, Sharpton squandered the chance to talk about the vastly more insidious scandal reported by the New York Times on October 8, in which “tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law.” In a follow up report released on October 16, Robert F. Kennedy and Greg Palast conclude that the number is actually in the millions.
The Dems may think they can coast across the finish line over the flattened cardboard cutouts of Joe the Plumber and the ACORN army, but unless they do something to combat these classically meretricious Republican narratives, Willie Horton and the Swift Boaters of 2008 may have just popped back up.
BEN ROSENFELD is a lawyer in San Francisco.