Joe The Plumber and Cindy Sheehan
It’s hardly new to see political advocates whose non-ideological identities are as important to their public role as the substance of what they’re saying—but there’s traditionally been some sort of link between the two. That is, it matters that Ward Connerly is a black man arguing against affirmative action, and that Cindy Sheehan is a dead soldier’s mother arguing against the war in Iraq, because who they are is seen as lending some kind of special credence to what they say. Joe the Plumber started out in that familiar mold: Here was a working class guy with entrepreneurial aspirations challenging Barack Obama’s tax policy. But JtP soon branched out, becoming a war correspondent for Pajamas TV and an all-purpose media critic, sitting on a panel about media bias at last week’s “Conservatism 2.0— subconference at CPAC.
I’m not so sure that this is very different from Sheehan, who after a while was offering pronouncements on topics somewhat distant from Iraq (the virtues of Hugo Chavez, for example) and who eventually wound up doing a Vanity Fair photo spread that formally dwelled on the reason for her fame but in context seemed miles removed from it. Ever since the Gaza venture, in which the plumber-pundit discussed the Middle East with all the sophistication of Sheehan describing Venezuela, I’ve thought of Joseph Wurzelbacher as the Cindy Sheehan of the right: Both evolved from sympathetic spontaneous grassroots voices into increasingly grotesque media figures, sinking deeper into self-parody the more they embraced their celebrity.
But, he continues,
And still I find myself sympathizing with the mother and the plumber. That’s partly because both have withstood nasty smear campaigns, but it’s also because I’m not sure I’d behave any differently in their position. Put yourself in their shoes. For most of your life you’ve been anonymous. Suddenly thousands, maybe millions of strangers want to hear your opinions. Are you really going to refrain from spouting off? When there’s money on the table? And when you’re ultimately no less qualified to opine than some of the loudest voices on Fox and MSNBC? In a sane world, Cindy Sheehan and Joe the Plumber would be mid-level bloggers whose sporadically insightful punditry doesn’t interfere with their day jobs. In a sane world, the same would be true of half the regulars on talk TV.
Quite. Sheehan has already made a failed bid for Congress and Wurzelbacher is apparently headed in that direction, too.
I should note, too, that while I decidedly don’t want Joe The Plumber as the face of the Republican Party (any more than a sane Democrat would want Sheehan to occupy that role), I don’t dislike the guy. Sheehan grates on me more than Wurzelbacher because she strikes me as shrill and he strikes me as a decent enough guy who’s in a little over his head.