In last night's final Presidential debate, the good Marshall of Tombstone brought up an encounter last Sunday between an Ohio plumber named Joe and Barack at an Obama rally in Toledo. Seizing upon the brief encounter McCain tried desperately—mentioning poor Joe some 21 times during the ninety minutes—to make the Ohio Republican the leitmotif of his latest effort to liberally smear vast quantities of lipstick on a quite ugly Republican pig.
To hear the good Marshall relate Joe's plight, the hapless plumber has been working doggedly long hours of overtime in order to get his slice of the American Pie. As McCain described the encounter the erstwhile plumber, working long hours for a number of years, now makes enough money to purchase his boss' business, but would be prevented from entering the “ownership” class—becoming one of the “elect” as it were-- by Obama's alleged confiscatory tax scheme. After a brief chat, the good Marshall quoted Obama as ending the conversation by saying that we need to “spread the wealth around”.
Joe the Plumber has become, virtually overnight, America's latest celebrity with news satellite trucks parked in his yard. The “everyman” of the Republican campaign has now taken to holding impromptu news conferences and interviews holding forth on reactionary politics and likening Obama to Sammy Davis Jr. He has become the rage of the reactionary Rescumlican talk-show circuit. But, as they say, does he wash?
The first indications emerged from the post-debate polling done by CBS in which 54% of those watching judged Obama, about 35% thought it was a tie, and the predictable 25% or so who judged McCain the winner. For all the talk about the hapless Joe, McCain's numbers nudged not a bit. America remained unconvinced.
Moreover, things began to quickly unravel as the media began to focus attention on this latest Republican ruse. Keith Olbermann reported on his “Countdown” program tonight that Joe was not in the tax bracket, that is does not make over a quarter of a million dollars a year, and would not be subject to increased taxation under the Obama plan. Furthermore, Joe was making only $40,000 a year and would fare much better under the Obama plan. In addition there were no plans for Joe to purchase the business which in any case did not make a profit of over a quarter of a million dollars, in fact it was less than half that. Lastly poor Joe has no plumber's license. He is an “independent” contractor, one who works for a “general” contractor but as an independent laborer. A 1099 employee as they say in the tax business. One who works by the day, with no benefits and, because his “employer” is not required to pay withholding taxes, finds himself one of the hundreds of thousands of such folks who owe back taxes. In fact Joe the Plumber is no plumber at all. He is simply a day laborer with no rights and no protection. Why this man votes Republican is anyone's guess; why he should act as a rescumlican shill is an even greater puzzle. Nevertheless there he stood on a bright Toledo Sunday coaxing from the Democratic nominee a pledge to “spread the wealth around a little”.
During the debate Obama retorted that he meant sharing some of Warren Buffet's wealth and giving it to people like Joe the Plumber, but McCain would not be deterred from his single-minded effort to smear mass quantities of red lipstick. Here it was in bold relief, the party of privilege pretending to defend the aspirations of the “common man”.
Alas, for the hapless Marshall, the Republican understanding of the “common man” is a rather shallow one, reduced to caricatures and misrepresentations. Here was a boldface admission by the conservatives that their ideal “common man” is a white, deeply suspicious, angry, middle-age male on the cusp of “making it” but held back by the demands of the great “undeserving”. The party of Darwin in microcosm. It can be heard in the adjectives they choose to describe him, “Reagan Republicans” conjuring up Macolm county Michigan, a Detroit suburb that swung Republican in the great white 'backlash' of 1966 and has remained so since, but has nevertheless been forever identified as “Reagan Country”; the “angry white male” and “white working-class voters” that one hears Patrick Buchanan continually refer to—hardworking, play-by-the-rules, male (by inference) deserving whites on the make. These are the wheat in the Republican grist, all others are chaff.
It is perhaps laudable that the Republican Party occasionally rediscovers at least some remnants of the once great late American Middle Class, albeit a narrow one. But the condescension is palpable. “Joe the Plumber”, a mere caricature of the millions who strive to make it in these United States, is transformed in the mind of the Guttersnipe into 'Joe Six-Pack' and his “Hockey-Mom” wife. “Joe Six-Pack” is a derogatory term used by many of the “New Left” back in the sixties to describe the beer guzzling hard-hat who could not bring himself to raise his eyes about the rim of his beer can to see what was happening in the world around him. “Hockey-Mom” is a derivative of the old “Soccer-Mom” given currency by rescumlicans in the 1990's to describe middle-aged stay-at-home mothers whose sole function in life was to chauffer their kids around and run errands all day. The Marshall and the Guttersnipe have reduced this campaign to nothing other than lip-service, to mere characterizations, when they deign to address the legitimate needs of the struggling American. For the Marshall and the Guttersnipe, the world is peopled by mere two-dimensional cut-out characters. When they hold a mirror up before America, the country sees a mere characterization of itself in the reflection; not a photograph but a cartoon. A paper-doll world for a paper-doll boy and girl.
“Come back when you grow up girl
You’re still living in a paper doll world
Living ain't easy, loving's twice as tough
Come back baby, when you grow up”
---Bobby Vee, “Come Back When You Grow Up Girl”