Joe The Plumber and Cindy Sheehan

Julian Sanchez and Jesse Walker draw a great connection that would never have occurred to me:  Joe Wurzelbacker as the Republican Cindy Sheehan. They’re at odds as to the relation.

Julian:

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.

Jesse counters:

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Raoul says:

    Shrill=sexist.

  2. odograph says:

    I agree that the connection, once stated, is obvious.

    That said, I don’t think Sheehan was a broad “direction of the party” figure for the Democrats. She was an anti-war lightening rod, and I guess some followed her to anti-globalization battles … but very few.

  3. A reasonable connection, to be sure.

    Allow me to be thoroughly bipartisan and state that I find both of them highly annoying.

  4. It does occur to me to add this: Joe the Plumber was actually elevated to a key prop for the GOP’s presidential candidate (not only at the debate, but on the campaign trail itself), while Sheehan never reached that level of significance for the Democrats (in an formal sense).

    As such, I see Joe as a more problematic figure, as he seems to a symptom of a disturbing (to me, anyway) populistic wind blowing through the GOP/conservativism at the moment–again, as represented by the support afforded to Gov. Palin.

  5. Sam says:

    For whatever it is worth, Joe the Plumber is the only guy who asked Obama and got an honest answer out of him that people listened to.

  6. Hal says:

    It’s pretty clear that the GOP is well along the path of “Sheehanization” or whatever you want to call it. I mean, when you have pretty much everyone in the party literally grovelling before Rush Limbaugh, you’ve simply traversed the line of farce and are well into tragedy.

    But let me put a small point on James’ argument. First, Sheehan was essentially her own phenomenon. Perhaps this is simply my misremembering, but I don’t recall Obama latching on to her like McCain did to JTP, nor the entire party latching onto her like some lampry. I *do* remember the right working overtime to make her the face of the democratic party, but that was just your typical wanking on the part of those who desperately *wished* Sheehan to be the face of the party.

    Further, I’d like to point out that Sheehan actually *was* the mother of fallen soldier. JTP is simply a moron who isn’t a plumber, doesn’t understand income tax or for that matter *any* of the things he’s actually talking about. Sheehan unwisely tried to use her *actual* position to effect political change. JTP is simply a convenient face of whatever it is the party wants to present and the moment he gets his own views on things they’ll drop him like a hot potato.

    Face it James. The Republicans are now a party led by a drug using demagogue who happens to be a popular radio host. His right hand is a hapless fool who does that stupid thing with his chin to butch up. His left hand is Sarah Palin, who was also a nationwide joke of a candidate. His foot soldiers are composed of clowns like Pajamas media, Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin.

    You’ve gone from a party defined by the social conservatives, run by the hard Christian right, to a party run by complete buffoons who haven’t got a clue as to what their politics actually are besides “pissing off democrats” and some whacked out retread versions of 70’s literature from the Ayn Rand institute.

    If I didn’t believe that we actually need a sane opposition party, I’d find the whole spectacle hilarious. Instead, I find it simply terrifying.

  7. interested says:

    although both are annoying, it strikes me that JtP persona was quickly outed as being false at the onset. (He wasn’t a plumber, his income was a lie, etc.) That removed any legitimacy he could have claimed and revealed him to be the tool that he is.

    Sheehan started with a real premise and grew into a celebrity cause. While some of her tactics were over-the-top (camping out near the Bush residence), she wasn’t claiming to be anything other than herself. While I disagree with her, she’s exercising her rights.

  8. Hal says:

    Oh, I forgot about Bobby Jindal, age 9, who can’t seem to stop fabricating stories and who seems to think the biggest problem is that we’re monitoring too many volcanoes.

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    Quit dragging Joe back into it. He’s a media creation that the media (including bloggers) won’t let die.

  10. Hal says:

    Steve, it’s not the media. It’s the *party* that won’t let him die. But even if he did, there’s still Limbaugh, Palin, Jindal and a host of others waiting breathlessly to take his place.

  11. Triumph says:

    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 would LOVE to see Sheehan as the face of the Republican Party.

  12. Wayne says:

    I can’t believe the idiots that still claim that Joe isn’t and never was a plumber. It has been well establish that he was just not license. There are many fields that people can be professional in without having a license or certificate. Mechanics and IT fields are two more examples.

    Comparing JTP to Cindy is about like comparing Oprah and Jerry Springfield shows. Yes there are similarities. Big surprise but to say they are one and the same is ridiculous. JTP believe in personal responsibilities and having the opportunities to succeed. He knows that he is not knowledgably in many areas but is pretty sure that many who think they are actually are clueless. He is pretty consistent with his outlook. Cindy is all over the place.

    It makes one wonder what insecurities or purposes of those that fell it is necessary to smear and tell lies about him. Again for the thousand time he was an unlicensed plumber but a plumber no less.

    To me he is not some great intelligent leader that is going to tell us something we don’t already know but just a symbol for some of the common folks. Big deal, if you don’t like something he stand for state it. Attacking him personally just show weakness in your values.

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    Hal, I must disagree. Like with the current Rush (I’m not a listener by the way) fiasco it serves the Dems to make these people representative of the Republican party. Easier to attack them than the people with real ideas like Newt and Bobby Jindal. Rahm is likely pushing this strategery. It’s his style.

  14. Hal says:

    Steve,
    “real ideas like Newt and Bobby Jindal” is exactly the point. You’re shining leaders consist of a washed out congressman who’s primary relevance is simply the reputation for throwing bombs and a governor who talks to the American people like they were a bunch of nine year olds, who’s primary claim to fame is cleverly using the right’s spectacular failure of Katrina.

    In case you haven’t noticed, the approval rating of your republican heroes is somewhere close to people’s desire to catch the plague. Speaking strictly as a partisan, I’m all behind your party’s insane death spiral to irrelevancy. But speaking as an American, I believe that it’s crucial to have a strong alternative to democrats.

    Unfortunately, y’all seem to have chosen the fast track to oblivion.

    “Newt and Jindal” Seriously, dude. That’s hillarious.

  15. tom p says:

    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.

    Agreed. But I need to make a few points about some of the comments:

    Allow me to be thoroughly bipartisan and state that I find both of them highly annoying.

    I do not find him annoying… just the apparent nomination to Sainthood by some on the right.

    Quit dragging Joe back into it. He’s a media creation that the media (including bloggers) won’t let die.

    and

    Steve, it’s not the media. It’s the *party* that won’t let him die.

    A point of fact: Joe wants to be dragged into it, he does not want his 15 mins of fame to fade away (nobody dragged him to CPAC at the point of a gun)… That said, more power to him. It is the American way: Milk the mindless for as much as you can, for as long as you can.

    I can’t believe the idiots that still claim that Joe isn’t and never was a plumber. It has been well establish that he was just not license.

    Wayne, there are 3 things one needs to know to be a plumber: Sh*t flows down hill, payday is on Friday, and don’t chew your fingernails. I know this and a little bit more (like how to light a propane torch and how to flux a joint for silver solder). Does that make me a plumber? Not hardly… Now to be a licensed plumber, that takes a little more. (and for the record, I know a lot of plumbers… there is a difference)

    He knows that he is not knowledgabl(e) in many areas…

    Than why won’t he shut up about those areas he knows nothing about? Milking the mindless (more power to him)…

    he is not some great intelligent leader that is going to tell us something we don’t already know but just a symbol for some of the common folks.

    OK, I am just a “symbol for the common folks” (a Union carpenter)… put me on a pedestal and send me your money!

    Like with the current Rush… fiasco it serves the Dems to make these people representative of the Republican party. Easier to attack them than the people with real ideas like Newt and Bobby Jindal. Rahm is likely pushing this strategery. It’s his style.

    Steve, I agree, I am sure that Rahm is pushing it… but so is Rush, it serves his purposes as well… It is all about the ratings guys, all about the ratings… (although I feel the need to point out that when it comes to people with “real ideas”, the GOP only seems to be able to trot out guys with 80’s retreads) So why do so many on the right go along with it? Here we have Newt (I have no love lost on the guy) actually proposing something (I found his “ideas” to be a joke, but that is beside the point, at least he is trying) and on the other hand we have Rush saying, “F*ck that shit! None of it matters!”
    So who is going to stand up to the “Great Rushbo” and tell him he is an idiot? Not Michael Steele.

    To close, I can only echo Hal’s sentiment:

    If I didn’t believe that we actually need a sane opposition party, I’d find the whole spectacle hilarious. Instead, I find it simply terrifying.

  16. Hal says:

    Gotta love headlines like these:

    GOP to Michael Steele: Quiet About Rush Limbaugh or You’re Fired

    Kind of show’s who’s the top and who’s the bottom in this relationship.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Re Sheehan’s being shrill, my wife and I lost our daughter a year ago, and we can’t stop thinking about her. Stuff like that makes you shrill.

  18. You Bush and Obama loving fascists continue to amaze me!