Meet Joe the Plumber

Joe Wurzelbacher views the debate from his Springfield Township home. (TOLEDO BLADE/LORI KING )

Joe Wurzelbacher views the debate from his Springfield Township home. (TOLEDO BLADE/LORI KING )

Joe Wurzelbacher, a/k/a “Joe the Plumber,” took up an inordinate amount of time at last night’s debate, to the annoyance of many.  CBS reports that:

McCain and Obama mentioned Wurzelbacher 26 times during the 90 minute debate. By contrast, Iraq came up six times, and the word “economy” was used 16 times.

As Megan McArdle put it in her live blog, “I am second to none in my appreciation of the many contributions that plumbers make to Our American Way of Life. Nonetheless, I am slightly concerned that we are spending so much time focusing on the effect of our national policy on Plumbing-Americans.”

Ezra Klein observed that the repeated references made McCain sound “like your great-grandfather telling you about his childhood milkman.” He also points out that “the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters was one of the first unions to endorse Obama.”

While we bloggers may be tired of him already, however, the mainstream press is fascinated.  His hometown Toledo Blade did a nice feature on him.

Mr. Wurzelbacher, 34, was more interested in taking in the debate than in assessing his place in presidential politics.

“Honestly, I’m a small part of it,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said. “They’re just using me as an example right now for the American public. I think they’re discussing more important issues.” He excused himself so he could finish watching Barack Obama and John McCain debate.

Afterwards, even he was tired of hearing about Joe the Plumber.

But after the debate, Mr. Wurzelbacher expressed some embarrassment that he was now known across America as Joe the Plumber. “There’s a lot more important issues than me, and I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable with it,” he said. “Everyone’s more worried about what Joe the Plumber has to say than what Obama or McCain has to say.”

While watching the debate at home with his father, he was interrupted several times by calls from the national media including CNN, Fox News, and Good Morning America. In addition, CNBC, ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, and the BBC called The Blade in their quest to reach Joe the Plumber.

Joe goes video:

The Blade also recaps the incident that generated his 15-plus minutes of fame.

Mr. Wurzelbacher and Mr. Obama had something of a debate Sunday as the candidate walked house to house on Shrewsbury at the start of the candidate’s four-day visit in the Toledo area.   He told Mr. Obama that he was trying to buy a plumbing business.  “I’m being taxed more and more for fulfilling the American dream,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said Sunday.

Mr. Obama said, in part, “It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody that is behind you, that they have a chance for success, too.”I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

The exchange was caught on videotape and was broadcast on a variety of news outlets and put on numerous Web sites, including YouTube. It was the “spread the wealth around” comment that caught the attention of conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, and in discussions on the Internet. Mr. Wurzelbacher was a guest of Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Tuesday.

Apparently, Joe didn’t mind the media attention too much, since he agreed to talk with Katie Couric after the debate.  He makes a truly insightful point here:

COURIC: Well, he supposedly will raise taxes only on people who make over $250,000 a year. Would you be in that category?

WURZELBACHER: Not right now at presently, but, you know, question, so he’s going to do that now for people who make $250,000 a year. When’s he going to decide that $100,000 is too much, you know? I mean, you’re on a slippery slope here. You vote on somebody who decides that $250,000 and you’re rich? And $100,000 and you’re rich? I mean, where does it end? You know, that’s – people got to ask that question.

They do indeed.

He was at it again on ABC’s Nightline:

“Joe The Plumber” has weighed in on Wednesday’s presidential debate and he says that Barack Obama’s tax plan “infuriates me.”

“To be honest with you, that infuriates me,” plumber Joe Wurzelbacher told Nightline’s Terry Moran. “It’s not right for someone to decide you made too much—that you’ve done too good and now we’re going to take some of it back.” “That’s just completely wrong,” he added.

[…]

During his telephone interview with ABC News, the Ohio plumber argued that the government should not tax some Americans at a higher percentage than others and argued that this principle should extend not only to taxpayers at his income-level but also to the world’s richest man.

“I don’t like it,” said Wurzelbacher. “You know, me or — you know, Bill Gates, I don’t care who you are. If you worked for it, if it was your idea, and you implemented it, it’s not right for someone to decide you made too much.”

I hereby take back my threat to punch this guy in the nose.  Indeed, maybe McCain should announce his intention to nominate Wurzelbacher for Treasury Secretary.  We’ve had worse.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
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. DC Loser says:

    the Ohio plumber argued that the government should not tax some Americans at a higher percentage than others and argued that this principle should extend not only to taxpayers at his income-level but also to the world’s richest man.

    In principle, I agree. However, as it is currently implemented, there is no such thing as a level playing field. Let’s get rid of all the tax loopholes and lower tax rates such as capital gains, and just have a flat tax with no deductions. Until you have that, it’s not a fair system.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Let’s get rid of all the tax loopholes and lower tax rates such as capital gains, and just have a flat tax with no deductions. Until you have that, it’s not a fair system.

    I tend to agree, although I’d rather not tax income at all, just spending.

    My only problem with taxing capital gains as regular income is the timing. I shouldn’t have to pay taxes on paper gains that are being rolled over and reinvested as if I’d actually gotten a check for that money. If you want to tax profits when I cash in, that’s reasonable enough.

    Of course, taxing spending rather than income would fix that, too.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and thank Joe for pulling McCain back into this campaign and winning the election for him.

    While bloggers may be tired of him the American public is not. He stepped up to the plate and asked Obama a tough question about the economy and the quasi socialist philosophy he espouses. Coming off as a stealth journalist he managed to get past the screeners and throw a hard ball question.

    It’s not so much the details of the tax plan but the idea government is entitled to it that Joe questions. ‘Why punish my success?’ is the question that resonates. This is man who works every day and wants success in the long run. When he finally gets it why indeed does the government punish him with higher tax rates.

    This guy’s story has legs and will move those uncommitted voters away from Obama and his tax plans. His skeptical nature will cause others to become skeptical. His hard nose attitude of not falling for the anointed one theme will wake some people up.

    I overheard a US senator say after his debate the other night that debates are not won they can only be lost. I have to agree with that sentiment. I also believe the full story of a debate is not known until days after. The story lines have to be swallowed, the media chews them up, and the public digests them. By the weekend I expect we will have the full picture of what went down.

    Joe was one of us and he jumped into the middle of this race at the right time.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Steve, I respectfully beg to differ. I’ll ever offer a friendly wager as to who will win on Nov 4. At this point in our economy, not too many American give a rat’s a** about Joe the Plumber and his speculative $250k income, and how Barama’s tax plan will hurt him. The 99% of Americans making less than $250k want to know what’s in it for them? They look at their retirement savings, their health insurance (or lack thereof), and job prospects, etc., and know the McCain has the last 8 years of Bush tied around his neck. Class Warfare? Maybe. That’s never stopped McCain before.

  5. DC Loser says:

    um…shoulda said Obama….

  6. duckspeaker says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and thank Joe for pulling McCain back into this campaign and winning the election for him.

    Relatedly, we’ll be greeted as liberators and the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    I’m voting for Joe Wurzelbacher for President. Screw McCain and the Obamassiah, this guy gets my vote.

  8. DC Loser says:

    At least if he’s the Prez, we can save money on the plumbing maintenance at the WH. But it appears that Joe can’t even vote this year.

  9. Floyd says:

    Question for Megan McArdle & Ezra Klein….
    Just how do you become a writer without ever coming across or learning to recognize a METAPHOR?!

  10. sam says:

    Joe hates Social Security, too, and thinks it should be privatized, see here. And not only does he not like the idea of new taxes, he apparently doesn’t like to idea of old taxes, either–at least as far as paying them goes, according to Politico’s Jonathan Martin:

    Joe the Plumber really is no fan of paying taxes.

    According to records from the Lucas County (OH) Court of Common Pleas found by my colleague Avi Zenilman, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher has a lien placed against him to the tune of $1,182.92.

    The lien is dated from January of ’07.

    Paying taxes — that’s for suckers.

  11. Rick DeMent says:

    In principle, I agree. However, as it is currently implemented, there is no such thing as a level playing field.

    Until all income is treaterd the same the playing field will not be, in any sense, equal. You can tax farm income, non-farm-income, capital gains, and wages at different rates and call that fair. If your going to tax income, all income should be taxed at the same rate.

    Having said that the only fair thing to tax is property, the more you have, the higher your tax. Taxing anything else is fundamentally unfair. I understand why income is taxed thought because it’s the easiest thing to tax and not have collection nightmares like you would have with a national sales tax (the newly minted underground economy would be a hoot).

  12. BaxterJ says:
  13. Web Smith says:

    Joe has the American Dream. Why would he dream and strive to make more only to have it taken from him? In order to get city, state, and other general contractor work, Joe the Plumber will be hiring union plumbers. They get their health insurance through the union. It is deducted from their paychecks. Union plumbers cost Joe a lot more money than scabs, but a lot less money in law suits because they know how and why to do things the right way. Joe now knows that neither one of these guys have a clue and he is really, really worried.

    The bank bailout worries Joe, too, because he knows that the population has just had more wealth taken from them and they won’t be able to afford to hire him.

    People losing their wealth

  14. sam says:

    Hey, it gets better. According MSNBC, Joe doesn’t have a plumbing license, either. You know, I think Joe may end up rueing the day he was fingered by McCain for immortality.

  15. Steve Plunk says:

    Sam,

    Looks like the opposition research goons have descended on poor Joe. Like many Americans he may not pure as the driven snow but how about debating his ideas rather than just smearing him.

    It wasn’t McCain who picked him. Joe was already famous after Obama picked his neighborhood for a photo op with the common people.

  16. sam says:

    Steve, it’s just a cryin’ shame, is all.

  17. just me says:

    LOL Obama is going to love this one-his supporters going after Joe the Plumber. Obama really doesn’t need this, with or without Joe the Plumber he was going to win-now his minions are out there attacking the average Joe who doesn’t want his taxes raised.

    In 20 years nobody will remember the most boring debates every, but Joe the Plumber can tell his grand kids all about his 15 minutes of fame. I hope he video taped the interviews.

  18. Hey, it gets better. According MSNBC, Joe doesn’t have a plumbing license, either.

    Perhaps because he doesn’t need one. Link courtesy of Tom Elia. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way of the TRUTH!

    Man, I can’t wait until Senator Obama’s minions have the full power of the government to really strike back against any perceived opposition.

  19. Oh, and just curious Sam, but should anyone who owes back taxes be prohibited from expressing an opinion or even holding office? Think carefully before answering.

  20. sam says:

    Charles, it doesn’t strike you as the slightest bit, oh, I don’t know, unseemly, maybe, that someone held up as an icon on the anti-tax front owes back taxes? I mean, doesn’t that smack of taxes are for thee, but not for me? That’s taking anti-taxism pretty far, doncha think?

    Perhaps because he doesn’t need one.

    From the Toledo Blade:

    Article published Thursday, October 16, 2008
    SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP
    ‘Joe the plumber’ isn’t licensed
    Local man focus of presidential debate

    By LARRY VELLEQUETTE and TOM TROY
    BLADE STAFF WRITERS

    “Joe the Plumber” isn’t a plumber — at least not a licensed one, or a registered one.

    A check of state and local licensing agencies in Ohio and Michigan shows no plumbing licenses under Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher’s name, or even misspellings of his name.

    Last night, his name, “Joe the Plumber,” came up about two dozen times in the debate between Mr. Obama and Republican nominee John McCain.

    Since last night Mr. Wurzelbacher who lives alone with his 13-year-old son has been besieged with local and national news media, willingly granting interviews.

    Mr. Wurzelbacher told reporters Thursday morning that he worked for Newell Plumbing & Heating Co., a small local firm whose business addresses flow back to several residential homes, including one on Talmadge Road in Ottawa Hills.

    According to Lucas County Building Inspection records, A. W. Newell Corp. does maintain a state plumbing license, and one with the City of Toledo, but would not be allowed to work in Lucas County outside of Toledo without a county license.

    Mr. Wurzelbacher said he works under Al Newell’s license, but according to Ohio building regulations, he must maintain his own license to do plumbing work. [My emphasis]

    He is also not registered to operate as a plumber in Ohio, which means he’s not a plumber.

    Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was hired by Mr. Newell six years ago and that the possibility of him eventually buying the company was discussed during his job interview.

    He said it’s his understanding he can work under Mr. Newell’s license as long as the licensed contractor works on the same site.

    Mr. Wurzelbacher said he is working on taking the Ohio plumbing contractors’ license test.

    So sayeth the Toledo paper. Maybe you could drop them a line and set them straight on the licensing laws. I know they’d appreciate it.

  21. Actually, it strikes me as amazingly consistent that someone who owes back taxes would object to higher taxes. It’s a logic thang, you wouldn’t understand.

    But I did notice that you have studiously avoided answering my question.

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    The politics of plumber destruction, liberals are sad little pu–ies, oops I meant donkeys.

  23. Also Sam, I cannot help the fact that you find the Toledo Blade a more authoritative source for professional licensing requirements in the state of Ohio than the Ohio Administrative Code itself. Your on your own.

  24. sam says:

    What, you mean this silly question:

    Oh, and just curious Sam, but should anyone who owes back taxes be prohibited from expressing an opinion or even holding office?

    The answer is no they should not.

    Actually, it strikes me as amazingly consistent that someone who owes back taxes would object to higher taxes.

    Me too, that was my point.

  25. Brett says:

    I understand why income is taxed thought because it’s the easiest thing to tax and not have collection nightmares like you would have with a national sales tax (the newly minted underground economy would be a hoot).

    Don’t forget, too, that sales tax is already the biggest source of funding for most state governments. If the US government suddenly switched over to a massive, nation-wide sales tax, then odds are the state governments would turn around and do an income tax.

  26. Billy says:

    now his minions are out there attacking the average Joe who doesn’t want his taxes raised.

    Obama is about as responsible for this as McCain is for “kill him!” and “sit down boy.”

    Also Sam, I cannot help the fact that you find the Toledo Blade a more authoritative source for professional licensing requirements in the state of Ohio than the Ohio Administrative Code itself.

    A lawyer you are not. Google “local government authority” and see if that helps.

  27. just me says:

    Billy it doesn’t matter if Obama is responsible for them, if it looks like people who are supporting him are going after Mr. Average Joe the Plumber it will hurt him-just like the accusations about McCain and Palin have hurt them, even though it turns out the whole “Kill him” thing didn’t even happen.

    Charles, it doesn’t strike you as the slightest bit, oh, I don’t know, unseemly, maybe, that someone held up as an icon on the anti-tax front owes back taxes?

    Not necessarily-depends a lot on why he owes them. Owing back taxes doesn’t always mean a person criminally evaded them-sometimes you just screw up something in your filing, and it is especially easy to do if you work for yourself or do side work.

  28. Steve Verdon says:

    Not necessarily-depends a lot on why he owes them. Owing back taxes doesn’t always mean a person criminally evaded them-sometimes you just screw up something in your filing, and it is especially easy to do if you work for yourself or do side work.

    Or even have a tough year financially. If he were a CEO of a large financial institution sam would be all too willing to bail him out.

    I don’t know the specifics of Joe Wurzelbacher’s finances and don’t particularly care. They strike me as beside the point to the issue of taxes and policy.

  29. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The point is being missed here. Obama went to this guys neighborhood, not the other way around. Obama picked him out of the rope line to talk to. Obama’s choice. Joe asked a question the media should have been asking Obama for a long time and the answer he got is financial redistribution in nature. Shall we call a communist pig a communist pig? Or is that racist?

  30. anjin-san says:

    One thing I will say for ‘ol Joe, he has done more interviews in one day then Palin has done since she arrived on the scene…

  31. Bill Smith says:

    Given his comments here, it seems only fair that Sam should come out of the closet and provide full disclosure as to his own identity, his employment history, and the addresses of his various domiciles over the years.

  32. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Nice strawman, Anjin. How is that working?

  33. Grewgills says:

    First, attacking the man is counterproductive to any argument that you might want to make. Whether he is a plumber or a plumbers apprentice or if the business he is working to own makes fifty thousand or 5 million is entirely irrelevant. He asked a straight forward question about a business situation and got a long, thoughtful, and respectful answer. If you wanat to advocate for Obama follow his example on this one.

    I finally watched the piece and think that Obama handled it quite well and in a way that will appeal to more people than it will anger. Many on the right on latching onto him saying something like, we’ve got to spread the wealth around. Pulling this out of context for political advantage is to be expected, but should not be taken seriously. Listen to the whole thing and if you disagree (and many here will) then argue against his actual argument. Anything else is just freelance hackery or worse.

  34. Billy says:

    Nice strawman, Anjin.

    You don’t know what a strawman is, do you?

  35. anjin-san says:

    “Fifty percent of small business income taxes are paid by small business.”

    John McCain