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Checking In With Joe the Plumber

Anyone who followed the 2008 presidential campaign will recall Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, the man who was plucked out of obscurity by Republican candidate John McCain to be paraded around as “Joe the Plumber,” intended, presumably, to represent the voice of the American Everyman.

No one is suggesting that Joe was stupid or dimwitted or in any way mentally challenged. It wasn’t his native intelligence that troubled us. Rather, what made Joe so damned infuriating was his annoying combination of abysmal ignorance and near suffocating arrogance. While practically every word out of his mouth was factually inaccurate or unsupportable, he uttered them with the supreme confidence of a Nobel Laureate.

For example, while portraying himself as a “small businessman,” he complained that if Obama were elected, his proposed tax plan would almost certainly ruin him, even though the most cursory inspection of Obama’s proposal revealed that the plan would help Joe and everyone else who earned less than $250,000 annually. At the time, Joe was making less than $40,000 a year and had a $1,182 lien against him for failure to pay back taxes.

Also, Joe fudged the truth a bit by presenting himself as a journeyman plumber. Maybe it was the result of McCain’s people pressuring him to present himself as such, or maybe he simply got swept away by the moment, but in truth, Joe didn’t possess a journeyman’s card (he never passed the certification test). His actual job title was “plumber’s assistant.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the difference between a journeyman plumber and a “plumber’s assistant” is profound. It is analogous to the difference between an auto mechanic capable of overhauling an engine and one capable of changing the spark plugs and oil.

In 2009, in a speech in Wisconsin, Joe—showing himself to be a student of colonial America—stated that the Founding Fathers “….knew socialism didn’t work, and knew Communism didn’t work.” Wow, those Founders really were the geniuses that historians say they were. Apparently, they had already rejected Communism 30 years before Karl Marx was even born.

Joe not only described Obama’s policies as “socialist,” he publicly objected to labor unions, which proved embarrassing for him, given that he had once emblazoned the logo of the plumbers’ union on his website (until the plumbers ordered him to remove it or face legal action).

So what does a guy who knows next to nothing but insists on expressing an opinion on virtually everything do once his 15 minutes of fame have expired? What’s a guy like that supposed to do? Well, he does two things: He becomes a “motivational speaker” and he runs for Congress. In 2012, Joe ran as the Republican candidate for Ohio’s 9th congressional seat. In no surprise, he was flattened by the incumbent Democrat, Marcy Kaptur.

Things haven’t gone well for Joe following his election loss. While lots of would-be congressmen manage to have soft landings, Joe wasn’t one of them. Not only did he never get his journeyman’s card, but the public made it clear that it didn’t wish to be “motivated” by his speeches. His “speaker” career went bust.

In 2011, Joe had enthusiastically spoken in favor of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s busting of the state’s public sector unions. It was a speech Joe was more than willing to give because, deep-down, he had always been anti-union (plumbers’ logo notwithstanding), seeing organized labor as one further step on the road to socialism.

But in 2014, things picked up. Joe was finally able to land a decent job—one with livable wages and benefits. He got hired on at a Jeep plant. Alas, it was a union plant, represented by the United Auto Workers. Joe the Plumber—the rugged individualist and self-made man—is now a member of the UAW. Who would’ve thunk it?

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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