Directly from the pages of CounterPunch:
McCain's Latest Blunder
by DAVID MACARAY
By now, most people have heard of Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber’s assistant whom John McCain chose to promote as a symbol of working class Americans who will be victimized by Barack Obama’s announced tax plan. Talk about a clumsy promotion. During the course of Wednesday’s presidential debate, “Joe the Plumber” was mentioned a staggering twenty-five times.
Leaving aside Wurzelbacher’s personal views on politics—which turn out to be a mixed bag of knee-jerk homilies, including calling the Iraq occupation a “good thing,” railing against people who “criticize” America, arguing that social security should be privatized (after the latest Wall Street debacle, wouldn’t we all be broke?), and declaring that no one should have to pay taxes—his work background needs to be examined.
After all, this guy was yanked out of obscurity by the Republican Party’s nominee for president, and held up to the country on national television as a representative of America’s hard-working plumbers. He’s Joe the Plumber, the poster boy for the country’s blue-collar skilled workers. It’s important we know who he is and what he does.
First of all, Joe the Plumber is not a plumber, at least not a licensed one. His job title is “plumber’s assistant.” He works for Newell’s Plumbing and Heating, a two-man outfit in Toledo, run out of a garage behind Al Newell’s house. The way McCain portrayed Joe the Plumber, he was this budding entrepreneur looking to buy his own company, only to have that dream in danger of being destroyed by Obama’s confiscatory tax plan.
In 2003, Joe the Plumber applied for a plumber’s apprentice program and took adult education classes to that end. He never finished the program and never received a license from the city of Toledo or Lucas County, Ohio. As a plumber’s assistant, he’s not required to have a license, so long as his boss has one (which Al Newell does). But Joe the Plumber is also not allowed to call himself a “plumber.” Joe the Plumber is a fiction.
Second, the reference to Newell’s business as being worth between “$250,000-$280,000,” is very likely another falsehood. Because Al Newell does little fix-it jobs (repairing toilets, leaky pipes, etc.), local plumbing companies in and around the Toledo area estimate his business to be worth a fraction of the amount mentioned by McCain’s people, who needed the higher figure as a basis for making their case.
Third, while no one can say for certain, it’s improbable that Joe the Plumber is in a position to buy Newell’s business, modest as it is. Not only did the single father with a 13-year old son earn about $40,000 last year, he has a $1,182 lien against him from the state of Ohio for failure to pay back taxes. Also, isn’t there that little matter of a major credit crunch going on with the banks?
Fourth, as has been noted by the media (and reluctantly acknowledged by Joe himself), Joe the Plumber’s biggest beef with Obama—that under his plan he’d have to pay additional taxes—is baseless. In truth, under the Obama tax plan he would actually have his taxes lowered. Ah . . . so he had it totally backwards. Sort of like the White House had it on WMD in Iraq. I guess that’s why they call them “low information” voters.
Fifth (and this is the one that’s freaking out union workers all over the country), despite the fact that Joe the Plumber is not a licensed plumber or a union member, and despite the fact that Al Newell does not run a union shop, on his MySpace page Joe the Plumber has the balls to use the union logo from Columbus Local 50 of the United Assn. of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry.
He’s a non-union craftsman using a respected union logo. In some places, that would still get you a well-deserved ass-kicking. Union credentials, especially in the skilled trades, are hard to obtain and really count for something. You hire a union plumber, electrician or mechanic, and you know that you’ve hired a competent worker, an expert.
Making this whole thing even more gruesome, not only is Joe the Plumber posing on his website as a union member, but Local 50 has already formally endorsed Barack Obama for president. Ouch.
So, whom do we blame here? Joe the Plumber for being a knuckle-head, or the McCain campaign for not properly vetting the guy? Maybe it’s a little of both.
Let’s not forget that McCain’s brain trust is the same team who didn’t know that Sarah Palin’s daughter had gotten knocked up, that her husband wanted to secede from the United States, and that Palin herself was mired in a messy political scandal. Compared to that stuff, I suppose Joe the Fake Plumber doesn’t look too bad.David Macaray, a playwright and writer in Los Angeles, was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org