When Barack Obama was in his neighborhood, plumber Joe Wurzelbacher said he wanted to buy a business, and it could be subject to a tax increase should Obama be president. He asked why Obama wanted to tax him, and Obama answered the question.
Soon after, Obama and John McCain debated, and he was no longer Joe Wurzelbacher. He was simply “Joe the Plumber,” and he’s been a talking point ever since, privacy long gone.
As soon as they were done falling in love with “Joe the Plumber,” media outlets decided he was prone to the same scrutiny as an elected official. They found out he was a registered Republican. They found out he didn’t have a plumber’s license. They found out he owed back taxes. They found out the local plumber’s union endorsed Obama.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has since decried the dirt-digging into Wurzelbacher’s life.
“Mr. Wurzelbacher never claimed to make $250,000 a year,” Malkin wrote. “He told Mr. Obama that he might be ‘getting ready to buy a company that makes about $250,000, $270,000’ a year. His simple point was that Mr. Obama’s punitive tax proposals would make it more difficult to realize his dream.”
You can argue that Malkin defended Wurzelbacher for ideology alone, and at the very worst she’s doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Whatever, she’s doing the right thing. I’m fine saying Wurzelbacher is being honest to us, and that he’s been investigated more than a private citizen should expect.
Let’s instead go with what didn’t require dirt-digging. Wurzelbacher said in media interviews that he did not make $250,000 a year, so Obama says he’d get a tax cut. There’s reality.
Every time John McCain or a supporter is concerned about unfair taxes on “Joe the Plumber,” it’s the job of a responsible news organization to fill in the blanks. It’s their job to tell us those concern are based on a hypothetical “Joe the Plumber” that makes a lot more money than the actual “Joe the Plumber” who inspired such talking points.
When we say we want honest people in Washington, we’ve got to remember we’ll never get there until we’re being honest to ourselves. Simply put, every political argument based on hypotheticals requires a counter-argument based on realities. Otherwise, I want to know which candidate’s crime policies will finally bring the Hamburglar to justice.
And if the media that’s telling the story of the $250,000 “Joe the Plumber” can’t be bothered to find a business that actually makes $250,000 a year, it’s laziness. Consider that A) some businesses make more than $250,000 annually and B) 103 percent of Americans hate tax increases (with a 3 percent margin of error). There are plenty who match both A and B, and it’s an insult to them to assume a media-created character suffices for their discourse.
If we insist on making character-based choices without looking into how policies will help or hurt actual Americans, our democracy’s going to go down the drain. That’s a task no plumber, real or hypothetical, could be expected to fix.
Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org