Tuesday, October 21, 2008

joe the plumber

OK, so I have been a bit slow getting around to commentary on the last presidential debate (as if anyone cares). But I’m going for perspective here, not breaking news.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. By most any metric, Obama won again. The usual snap polls:

CBS poll of independents on “Who won?:

Obama 53%
McCain 22%

The CNN poll found the same thing:

Obama 58%
McCain 31%

(More important, McCain’s favorable/unfavorable actually dropped from 51/44 to 49/49. Obama’s went up from 63/35 to 66/33. On “likeability” Obama swamped old Grumpy McNasty, 70 to 22.)

Pollster Stan Greenberg came up with a similar favorable/unfavorable result. McCain went from 54/34 before the debate to 50/48 after the debate. The Obama result was even more extreme (in the opposite direction). He went from 42/42 before the debate to 72/22 after the debate.

Remember, Obama didn’t have to “win” any of these debates on points or polls. He had to reassure American voters that he met the basic threshold level of stature, intelligence, competence, judgment, values and temperament to be president. He didn’t have to be better than McCain. He had to be competent and qualified. He met the test. As it turns out, he also did better than McCain. He and Biden clearly bested their rivals four for four.

Here is a Gallup summary of the three debates:

First debate: Obama 46% McCain 34%

Second debate: Obama 56% McCain 23%

Third debate: Obama 56% McCain 30%

As a CBS/New York Times poll release yesterday notes, Obama picked up some support among Republicans but made his big gains among independents.

But the narrative of the last debate is not really about polls. There were two major themes in the debate:

1/ McCain was boiling over with barely-restrained seething anger. His blinking, loud nasal inhaling, eye-rolling, eyebrow-twitching and other bizarre exhibitions were, for me, truly disturbing (and I mean that in the most literal sense – it was truly disturbing, like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny). Don’t take my word for it. Check out this video compliation(one of many I could have chosen from)

2/ Joe the Plumber. McCain gave America its archetypal middle-aged angry white guy – which is the Republican party base these days – and gave him his 15 minutes of fame. America couldn’t get enough of Joe the Plumber, it seems. But like everything else in the McCain campaign, Joe the Plumber turned out to be a train wreck. Another unvetted wonder thrust upon the country by McCain’s lack of impulse control.

By now you know the basics: Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (i.e., “Joe”) of Holland, Ohio, as it turns out, did not have the required plumber’s license. Nor was he a member of the plumbers union or part of any apprenticeship program. Which essentially means he is an illegal worker. And our latest anti-tax hero happens to … owe back taxes. He is one of two employees of a small plumbing firm in Toledo, Ohio. By his own account, he hoped to buy the company some day and was angry that Obama would raise his taxes when he hit gold. But as
MSNBC reported, "Ohio business records show the company’s estimated total annual revenue as only $100,000.” Net taxable income, of course, would be much lower than that. Which means that Mr. Wurzelbacher would actually receive a much bigger tax cut under Obama’s plan than under McCain’s plan.

But that didn’t prevent McCain and Palin from making “Joe” the new centerpiece of their campaign. As McCain said at a recent rally:

“Joe the Plumber is the average citizen, and Joe the Plumber is now speaking for me and small business people all over America. And they’re becoming aware that spreading … the wealth around [is] not what small business people want.”

(Never mind that Joe is not really a small business owner and that the actual owner of Joe’s business – along with Joe – would get a bigger tax cut under Obama.)

And the Disasta from Alaska went a step further:

“Senator Obama said he wants to quote ’spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit. But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man [ed. note: don’t ask] … think that it sounds more like socialism. Now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me, our opponent’s plans sound more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution.”

Now Obama is not merely Liberal, mind you, but a SOCIALIST! Cutting Joe’s taxes instead of those of, say, AIG executives is … SOCIALISM. And Joe is on board with all of this. Wow. This is getting confusing. Joe (not his real name) the (not really a) Plumber is worried that his business (which is not really his business) would pay higher taxes (which would actually be lower taxes – if he did pay taxes, which apparently he doesn’t all the time) if Obama became president. Because that would be socialism.

I want the vetting job on the McCain campaign. It would give me more time to write these blog posts.

But that is the low-hanging fruit. My favorite part of the legend of Joe the Plumber is the fact that, if Republican voter suppression efforts in Ohio were successful, Joe wouldn’t even be able to vote.

We pick up the story with from the New York Times:

Mr. Wurzelbacher is registered to vote in Lucas County under the name Samuel Joseph Worzelbacher.

"We have his named spelled W-O, instead of W-U," Linda Howe, executive director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said in a telephone interview. "Handwriting is sometimes hard to read. He has never corrected it in his registration card."

No big deal, right? A misspelling of his name on his voter registration card. Sounds harmless enough.

The only problem is that the Republican party in Ohio just went to the US Supreme Court to try to disenfranchise anyone who registered to vote since January 1 whose voter registration information differs in any respect from other state or federal records. This is because the overwhelming majority of the more than 600,000 new voter registrations in Ohio this year are Democratic. Of course, local registrars, in the two weeks remaining before the election, could still go through the hundreds of thousands of (primarily Democratic) new voter registrations and try to prove that they are, indeed, legitimate voters. Not likely. Which means that, due to the misspelling of his name on his voter registration records, the Ohio Republican party would deny Joe the vote (and – just to add insult to injury – would also give him a smaller tax cut than Obama would). The Republican party assure us this isn’t anti-democratic (or anti-Democratic) – just trying to prevent “voter fraud.” We wouldn’t want some illegal worker who owes back taxes trying to commit voter fraud by … you know, actually voting.

No wonder Joe the Plumber has become the new centerpiece of the McCain/Palin campaign. John McCain couldn’t come up with a better example of everything the Republican party and his campaign stands for.

But in one respect Joe really could set a good example for the McCain/Palin campaign: In his 15 minutes, he has actually held a press conference. Which is something that Sarah Palin, in the eight weeks since she was named to the Republican ticket, still hasn’t done. This is probably the major under-reported story of this campaign. McCain and the Rove junior varsity actually think they can take their unqualified vice presidential nominee all the way from obscurity to election day without a single press conference. And it looks like they are actually getting away with it. There is still something like a 10% chance the McCain/Palin ticket could win, and given McCain’s health the Disasta from Alaska could end up the most powerful person on the planet – all without her ever holding even a single press conference. And just to really insult our intelligence, they actually have Palin out there asking audiences, “Who is the REAL Barack Obama?”

But in one key respect, Joe really is an appropriate symbol of the McCain/Palin campaign. The plumbers of Ohio have done poorly under Republican economic policies that McCain promises to continue. As (Nobel laureate) Paul Krugman writes:

[A]ccording to the May 2007 occupational earnings report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of “plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters” in Ohio was $47,930. … [T]heir real incomes have stagnated or fallen, even in supposedly good years. The Bush administration assured us that the economy was booming in 2007 — but the average Ohio plumber’s income in that 2007 report was only 15.5 percent higher than in the 2000 report, not enough to keep up with the 17.7 percent rise in consumer prices in the Midwest. As Ohio plumbers went, so went the nation: median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2007 than it had been in 2000.

… Ohio plumbers have been having growing trouble getting health insurance, especially if, like many craftsmen, they work for small firms. According to the Kaiser
Family Foundation, in 2007 only 45 percent of companies with fewer than 10
employees offered health benefits, down from 57 percent in 2000.

And bear in mind that all these data pertain to 2007 — which was as good as it got in recent years. Now that the “Bush boom,” such as it was, is over, we can see that it
achieved a dismal distinction: for the first time on record, an economic expansion failed to raise most Americans’ incomes above their previous peak.

Finally, apropos of nothing in particular, I can’t end a commentary on the last debate without passing along with actual, un-retouched photo from the debate:

A blog associated with radio station WFMU in New Jersey ran a contest for the best Photoshopped versions of that photo. You can view the results here.

Here is one from a different source:

It’s that kind of creativity and humor that causes me to love the REAL AMERICA.

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