Joe the Plumber Angry at McCain, Palin

Joe the Plumber, Angry in PennsylvaniaSam Wurzelbacher, briefly the face of Americans angry about potential tax hikes, has turned his ire against those who made him famous:  John McCain and Sarah Palin.

FDL’s Blue Texan and The Hill’s Eric Zimmerman are spreading the word throughout the blogosphere but Pennsylvania Public Radio’s Scott Detrow had the scoop.

Wurzelbacher touched on several different points during his speech, and many of them were surprising. He said he doesn’t support Sarah Palin anymore. Why? Because she’s backing John McCain’s re-election effort. “John McCain is no public servant,” he told the room, calling the 2008 Republican nominee a career politician.

I pointed out he’d just be plain old Sam Wurzelbacher of Ohio — Joe the Plumber wouldn’t exist —  without McCain. His response was blunt. “I don’t owe him s—. He really screwed my life up, is how I look at it.”

Wurzelbacher said, “McCain was trying to use me. I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy.”

So why’s he still milking the Joe the Plumber image, appearing at conservative events across the country? Wurzelbacher says it’s his duty to take advantage of the platform he’s been given. He wants to talk up the issues he cares about, and encourage the grassroots tea party movement.

Wurzelbacher also told the room to lay off the extreme personal attacks on President Obama.  He said people who question whether Obama was born in the United States or compare him to Hitler “belittle and set back” the conservative movement.  “The birthers, the truthers — if people are trying to bunch them [with tea partiers], that would kill us. That just pushes away Democrats and independents who might come out for our cause otherwise.” He said he actually likes Obama, in some ways. “I think his ideology is un-American, but he’s one of the more honest politicians. At least he told us what he wanted to do.”

It’s an amusing spectacle.  On the one hand, McCain gave him a huge platform that he’s taking advantage of; on the other, McCain ruined his life.  On one hand, we shouldn’t say outrageous things about Obama; on the other, his ideology is un-American.

As to McCain, he did spend a quarter century in the Navy, several years of which were spent in an enemy prison camp.  But, yes, he’s been on the national political scene even longer and if you reflexively hate politicians, there’s not much denying McCain is one.

But this is all the predictable result of the Joe the Plumberization of the Republican Party.  It’s one thing to exploit populist angst as a means of motivating voter turnout and distinguishing yourself from the opposition party.  It’s quite another to embrace reflexive anger as the face of the movement.  Not only does it not have an intellectual core, which some might say is a feature rather than a bug, but it ultimately stands for nothing.  And, inevitably, that anger will be directed back at the party.  Because, after all, Republicans who get elected to office become politicians, too.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    I love it that all these east coast, Hollywood elites bash Joe the Plumber. It just shows how out of touch they are with America.

    Plumber is the right’s most potent intellectual force. It is clear that he and Palin will be a dramatically effective presidential ticket to overturn Barry Hussein in 2012.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I thought incoherent rage was the intellectual core of the GOP. Is there some other thing they believe in? Because if there is I haven’t heard anything about it. Take away the spittle-flecked rants and there’s nothing left of the GOP.

  3. bystander says:

    That’s right! Let’s just take the vote away from the ignorant spittle-ranting conservative middle-Americans all together. What the hell do they know anyway? Just pay your damned taxes and keep your mouths shut. Let the ivy league educated elites run this country the way the framers of our Constitution intended.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:


    What’s funny of course is that’s precisely what the framers intended. They intended the vote to go to property-owning white men.

    Of course since then the franchise has been steadily expanded. By liberals. Over the objections of spittle-flecked conservatives.

  5. anjin-san says:

    One more shrill shriek from the angry right…

  6. Herb says:

    “McCain was trying to use me!” says the slowest learner ever.

    Great point about the dangers of exploiting populist anger, though. It’s the scorpion and the frog all over again.

  7. bystander says:


    You must have read a different Consitiution than I did.

  8. bystander says:


    How do you know I’m not a f-ing retarded liberal?

  9. Michael Reynolds says:


    So your constitution as originally drafted by the sainted framers did not limit the vote to white males? It didn’t send the election of Senators to the state legislatures to elect as they saw fit? And likewise the president?

    And those various state legislatures didn’t enact limits on the franchise that often excluded the non-wealthy by means of poll taxes?

    We didn’t get popular election of senators until 1913. Less than a century ago, less than half the history of the US.

    Conservatives believe the most amazing stuff. They actually manage to attack elites while praying at the feet of that all-male, all-white, wealthy elite of landowners, slavers and merchants who wrote the constitution.

    Which is it? Are we supposed to venerate the elites or despise them?

  10. bystander says:


    Let me give a more civil answer: I believe our founding fathers established a Constitutional Republic – a nation ruled by law. The main duty of government was to protect the rights of the people. (Including the right to air their opinions, even when they are angry.) The deplorable acceptance of slavery wasn’t just a selfish or evil attribute unique to our founding fathers. It was a very real part of the world-view that practically all of Western culture held at the time. Indeed, it was the strength of our Constitution that eventually expanded the ‘rights of the people’ to women and people of color. Courageous reformers (including Lincoln) often referred to the Constitution in their campaigns.

    Moving on, I believe we have seen a dangerous shift in the attitude of our career politicians in Washington – a move toward an oligarchy; the rule of a powerful few. More and more, that circle of the ‘powerful few’ seem to see themselves as ordained by some sort of historical fate to be empowered to exceed the limitations that our Constitution had originally placed upon them in order to move our nation forward in their grander vision – whatever that might be.

    The authority of this nation does not rest in the hands of an elite few, nor does it rest in the hands of the majority of the people (equally, if not more dangerous). Our authority is stated in a document of law. If the elite of Washington want to expand their power, then they need to change the wording of constitution – and that is a very complicated and difficult task indeed. It is easier to redefine the wording of the Constitution by the very elitists who interpret it. Now we see Supreme Court appointments as the elite way of moving agenda forward – for both sides. I’m not all that happy with how our leaders are handling things in Washington – on either side of the isle. And I am afraid President Obama has really brought nothing new or fresh to the plate – only more of the same.

  11. Wayne says:

    The liberals care nothing about the truth. They repeat their lies hoping if they say it enough times that people will believe it. They claim the GOP hasn’t put forth proposal which they have several times in legislation, video, web site and every other media. They claim conservative anger is empty while ignoring time and time again clearly laid out issues that they are angry about.

    By the way, they seem to forget the fact that conservatives have had issues with McCain for a long time. The fact he got the GOP Presidential nomination doesn’t change that. It was a weak group of candidates and too many felled for the MSM propaganda that he was the only one that could win. I suspect the next batch will be much stronger candidates and more conservative. On top of that one will win against Obama.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:


    I agree with most of what you said.

    But the constitution did not somehow ordain or even contemplate the extension of the franchise — that was done by civil rights activists, by feminist activists, by populists and liberals in various guises and under various labels down through our history.

    The liberal/populist impetus was then enshrined in constitutional amendments which, in many cases, simply superseded the vision of the framers.

    That said the framers were wise enough to see the constitution as a living, breathing thing — not as the zombie document so-called conservatives wish it to be — and created a process whereby citizens could alter it.

    It took five years of war, 600,000 dead, another century of lynching, castration, rape and murder, people bombed in their churches, people beaten, just to extend the franchise to blacks. That’s not a constitutional process, it’s bloody war. The subsequent amendments are like treaties imposed by the winners on the losers.

    Like Christians with their bible we have an amazing ability to locate within the constitution whatever suits our political ideology. Conservatives manage even now to conclude that the constitution contemplates second class citizenship for gay Americans.

    Slavers found in their constitution everything they needed to continue to treat humans as property. In fact the constitution was a major contributing factor to the extension of slavery in this country long after the rest of the civilized world had abandoned the concept. The constitution defended slavery.

    The constitution isn’t the agent of change, it’s more the record of change.

  13. bystander says:


    “The constitution isn’t the agent of change, it’s more the record of change.”

    Agreed. However, the reformers still used the primary premise of this marvelous document to “protect the rights of the people”. You are, I guess, assuming I am a Republican by your candor. I am not. I am an independent who agrees much more with the ‘stated’ substance of conservative values than I do with the nebulous ideology of the progressives. Who can argue with “Hope we can believe in”? But what is the substance of that statement? If status quo is indeed ‘hopeless’, how do we get from here to hope? Somehow, the elitists in Washington believe that the route lies outside of the current understanding of the tenants of the Constitution and are finding progressive ways around them.

    Gays absolutely have rights in our nation, and they deserve to be protected by our Constitution. They are fellow citizens whose stories are as important as heteros. But do elitists have to redefine the ages-old cross-cultural definition of ‘marriage’ in order to protect them?

    The record of change in the Constitution of which you speak is, in your terms, the change of expansion of the franchise, not the change of the basic terms of the franchise; To protect the rights of the people and limiting the powers of government in order that the people are free to produce. Our government has gotten so top-heavy that the people are no longer able to produce what is needed. The government now has to borrow scandalous amounts of money in order to feed themselves and their elitist ideological pursuits.

    Where will it end?

  14. Stan says:

    Wayne, I think you’re talking about the health care debate when you refer to the proposals the Republicans have set forth. I’m one of the liberals you’re angry with. I’d like to see a health care bill that would a) substantially increase the number of people with medical insurance, b) end the practice by insurance companies of denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and dropping coverage for chronically ill people on what seem to me to be flimsy grounds, and c) control costs. I can’t see any Republican proposals that address the first two points, and I think that tort reform and allowing insurance companies to evade state regulation (AKA selling across state lines) wouldn’t do much about costs.

    If you think I’m wrong, make your case. Insulting me may relieve your feelings, but it’s not going to change my mind.

  15. tom p says:

    bystander and Michael: had to say “thank you” for your thoughtful responses to each other. Wish I had time to respond but I have to go cook for my hard working wife (laid off right now). I do not agree with bystander on several points (tho on others I do), but it is nice to see a thoughtful discussion without the vitriol.

  16. Wayne says:

    Actually my comment is about the general claim by liberals that the Reps do not put forth proposal. Simply not true. Just because they don’t agree with the proposal or the base of those proposal doesn’t change that they are made. Not agreeing with the Dems proposal does not mean they don’t have proposal of their own.

    For example just because Reps don’t support gun bans don’t mean they have no proposal to counter crime or proposal in other related areas.

    As for health care, are you like many liberals claiming the Reps have no proposals?

    As for point a and b, the Reps think that many of their proposal would do that. You may disagree that they would be helpful as the Reps disagree that the Dems proposal would be helpful. That is why we have debate. However it would be a lie for us to claim the Dems have no proposals as it is a lie when people claim the Reps have no proposal.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    To protect the rights of the people and limiting the powers of government in order that the people are free to produce.

    But also to:

    … form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .

    Which does not mean a government that simply steps aside and turns the national life over to the free market.

    We feed the poor and give medical care to children and ensure that the elderly don’t live out their final days in squalor. We also attempt to limit the ability of the strong to prey on the weak — not just through criminal laws, but through regulation of things like pharmaceuticals, cars and so on. We build roads and airports, we secure ports and borders, we support education.

    In pursuit of those goals we raise taxes on those who can afford to pay them.

    The government is probably too big. But a remarkably tiny percentage of the population really wants to do anything serious to change that. We have a bi-partisan con game in which neither side is even remotely serious.

    We also, incidentally, have the anti-democratic remnants of a constitution that hands disproportionate power to the smallest, least populated states so that the average Californian has far less political weight than the average Dakotan. Because of this flaw — this failure to see over the horizon by the Founders — we have a national government that can be effectively paralyzed by Senators representing 10% of the population — fewer people than are in the state of California.

    While we’re justly lauding their successes, let’s also make note of their failures: the institutionalization of slavery, white supremacism and sexism, and I would add the failure to recognize that states are a political concept that no longer has any meaning.

  18. Cllovis says:

    On the one hand, McCain gave him a huge platform that he’s taking advantage of; on the other, McCain ruined his life.

    Uh, you might be thinking about the wrong guy. That sort of foolishness belongs to the Charles Johnsons or John Coles of this world.

    One could hope that such a glaring error was unintentional, but hope is in pretty short supply ’round here. Like change.

  19. Cllovis says:

    Oh, dear God.

    I will re-calibrate my sarcasm meters.

    My apologies.

  20. Wayne says:

    You may consider the U.S. Constitution and our founding fathers intentions as flawed but I do not. There is a reason for States. They have their own governments and their own rules. We don’t want to be fiscally and morally bankrupt like California. We shouldn’t have to live by large population state rules. Many of them are out of place outside of major cities.

    If you want to dissolve the Constitution and the coalition of States, fine let’s do it. All the States can go their own way and make their own coalitions. Frankly I tire of many in California bitching about the Senate system, state rights and thinking their shit don’t stink.

  21. bystander says:


    You make a number of very good points, however I think it a bit unfair to exaggerate my point. I did not say (nor does the Constitution) to obliterate powers of government. There is no doubt that we need government sanctions to keep potential greed of private enterprise from running roughshod over the general populace. My big frustration is that somehow it seems we have gotten to the point of simultaneously experiencing the worst of both. Thus, because the Constitution assigns ultimate responsibility on the federal government, I lay the greatest blame on them.

    From my perspective, none of the three branches seem to be willing to do anything productive to correct the situation. They seem to be more intent on strengthening their elite coalitions in order to form an oligarchy that they then believe will be able to solve our problems through the means of their collective ideological applications at some point in the future. In order to do this, they need minimal interference from ‘the other’ party, and from public and media influence. As the founding principles of our Constitution would not allow this, they must erode its power by whatever means are available to them. Although both parties have had their hand in attempts, the Democrats almost pulled it off except the public was on to them and elected Scott Brown to stay the tide (I believe there will be many more Scott Browns coming down the pike) not because people are becoming Republicans, but because independents are fearful of the power of an oligarchy. At the present, it seems like gridlock is the best option for us citizens.