Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama and the Plumber

It's unanimous, Joe the Plumber son the 3rd debate. This could be bad news for Obama.

Joe, (full name Joe Wurzelbacher) originally made the news after being filmed asking Obama about his tax plans. Joe has been working for Newell Plumbing and Heating (which only has the two employees). At an Obama rally he stated that he hopes to buy the plumbing company which makes more than $250,000. "Your plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?"

Obama's answer is much longer and more nuanced than what is usually reported. A bit part of it is the supposition that, if Obama's tax plan been enacted ten years ago, Joe would have made more money so he shouldn't object to paying more now.

A couple choice quotes:

It's not that I want to punish your success. It's just that I want to be sure that those folks behind you, that they've got a chance at success, too."

I believe that when you spread the wealth around to everybody, it's good for everybody.

Watch the full exchange here.

Along the way, Obama states that 95% of small businesses make less than $250,000. I'm pretty dubious about that claim since it matches his claim that 95% of wage earners make less than $250,000. The government has standards on what qualifies as a small business. A plumbing contractor can make up to $14,000,000 and still be a small business. That's 56 time bigger than Joe but Obama is going to raise taxes on those businesses in order to spread the wealth around.

McCain jumped on Obama about this, mentioning Joe and small businesses 21 times. This is probably McCain's last chance. Obama was tied or slightly behind before the financial crisis hit. His message that the current problems were caused by the Bush administration are winning him votes (even if they are not true). McCain's only chance is to show that he supports the American worker more than Obama.

Most Americans have a different definition of fairness than Obama. Most people think that it is fair to let someone who works hard for his money keep it. Obama feels that fairness requires the government to spread it around to other people who may or may not be working as hard.

Until now Obama talked about taxing "the rich" and people assumed that he meant guys in costly suits and expensive cars who work for banks or oil companies. Joe put a different face on "the rich" - a middle-aged buy with a shaved head and a gut who works 10-12 hours a day. Joe doesn't look rich. He looks like the rest of us but Obama wants to raise his taxes.

So, will this resound with the voters? Maybe. In between Joe the Plumber references McCain pointed out that Obama wants to raise taxes and trade barriers during a recession. "The last president who did that was Herbert Hoover."

If the economy stops being the lead story then McCain might be able to make his case that Obama would be bad for the long-tern economy. There is a lot of meat to work with - Obama's desire to raise taxes on corporations, his reluctance to embrace off-shore drilling or nuclear energy. These are a lot more relevant than his association with unrepentant terrorists.

On the other hand, if the Dow continues to drop or something else happens then McCain will never get a chance to get his message out.

Update: True to form, the media is out to get Joe. A Google News search comes up with literally hundreds of stories that Joe is not actually a licenses plumber, that he may not be registered to vote, and that he doesn't actually have a plan to buy out his boss. With 15 minutes of fame comes 15 hours of “gotcha” scrutiny. Strangely, none of these stories link to the original clip that brought Joe to the media attention in the first place. I'm guessing that this is because the clip damages Obama.

None of this matters. Joe didn't plan on becoming a symbol and he couldn't have known what Obama's response would be. It was the symbolism of Obama telling a hard-working blue-collar worker that he made too much money and he needs the government to spread some of his money around for him that struck a chord.

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