Wurzelbacher Unbound!

One of the low points of the ‘08 presidential campaign (and there were plenty) surely had to be the spectacle of Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber.”  Lagging behind Obama in the polls and running out of fresh ideas, John McCain decided to drag this Wurzelbacher fellow up on stage with him, hoping that the image of a plucky, hard-working, middle-class American would resonate with the voters.

But Joe the Plumber turned out not to be what he said he was.  For openers, he wasn’t a plumber; he was a plumber’s helper.  And while that inaccuracy may seem minor, the difference between a journeyman and a helper is the difference between a bookkeeper and a Certified Public Accountant.  Nothing against helpers or apprentices (by all accounts Wurzelbacher was a good worker), but a helper comparing himself to a journeyman is silly.

For another thing, even though Joe had previously displayed the official logo of a plumbers union on his web page (a stunt that understandably annoyed the local union guys), he wasn’t a union member.  In truth, Joe had nothing to do with the union.  But because union plumbers were respected for their skills and professionalism, he used their logo to enhance his credibility.

And although McCain proudly portrayed him as a symbol of the struggling middle-class, Joe’s $39,000 a year income put him, technically, closer to the high-bottom than the middle.  This fact was important because it rendered absurd Joe’s claim that Obama’s proposed tax increase on incomes larger than $250,000 would “hurt people like him.”

Clearly, decent soul with a good heart as he may have been, this man had no idea what he was talking about.  Also, if we want to quibble about accuracy, he wasn’t even “Joe.”  For the record, his birth name was Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher.

Looking back on it, that trio of “maverick” Republicans presented a memorable tableau:  John McCain with his frozen smile masking a volcanically unstable temper; Sarah Palin warbling in her butchered syntax and Alaskan hillbilly twang; and Joe the Plumber, the working-class hero from Ohio, standing there all resolute, confident and unflinching, totally clueless.

As many will recall, Joe said some remarkable things during the campaign.  For instance, he said he was considering buying his own plumbing company, which was odd, given that he had no money, was in debt, and owed back taxes.  He described Obama’s ideas as “socialistic,” and openly questioned Obama’s patriotism and “loyalty” to America.  And on national TV he declared that a vote for Obama was a vote for “the death of Israel.”  Weird stuff.

Since the election, we’ve wondered whatever happened to Joe.  Did this politically exploited shill (perhaps a victim as much as a perpetrator) slip back into obscurity?  Did he return to the quiet life of an Ohio plumber’s helper, sadder but wiser in the ways of big-time media politics?  Did he finally buckle up and decide to pursue the certified plumber’s license that had so long alluded him?

None of that happened.  Apparently, Joe’s brief foray into celebrityhood not only elevated his self-image, it sent it straight through the goddamned roof.  After flirting with running for Congress (there was a “Draft Joe” drive launched by Ohio Republicans), he decided to cash in on what he saw as his natural charisma and God-given ability to communicate.  Joe became a motivational speaker.

While this leap from plumber’s helper to pundit is startling, it’s also ironic. If Obama had been successful in passing that tax increase on incomes greater than $250,000, and if Joe were to prosper as a motivational speaker, it would mean that his fear of having to pay higher taxes wasn’t the lunatic fantasy it appeared to be.  Only in America.

David Macaray is a playwright and author, whose latest book is How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows: Weird Adventures in India: Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims When the Peace Corps was New. Everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. He can be reached at: dmacaray@gmail.com. Read other articles by David.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 8th, 2011 at 3:55pm #

    thanks d.v for deleting my posy.

  2. beverly said on January 9th, 2011 at 9:46am #

    Only in America, where one can go far on a lack of talent and wealth of ignorance. I don’t what’s more pathetic – the fact that Joe the Plumber’s Helper is out spreading ignorance via speaking tours or the dumb-assed sheeple who pay him money to do so. BTW, the motivational speaking industry is a freaking rip off.