Does Joe the Plumber Matter? The Answer Might Surprise You!

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"Well, Joe, this is probably the last I'll ever hear of you. Take care." Photo: Getty Images

It didn't take long for the media to make Joe the Plumber this election's Britney Spears. After all, with more than two weeks to go, we can't just run out the clock like Barack Obama. That would be boring. We need new stories. So, in the 24 hours following Wednesday's debate, the press dug deep into Joe's life to discover the inevitable dark secrets. He's neither a Joe nor an officially licensed plumber. He doesn't always pay his taxes, and he actually would get a tax cut under Obama's plan. And while it's interesting to see Mr. Plumber transformed from a regular guy into an ephemeral celebrity overnight, does any of it really have any real relevance to the election or the greater issues? Surprisingly, yes.

• Carrie Budoff Brown and Amie Parnes write that the "arc of Wurzelbacher’s breakneck trip through the news cycle ... appears to offer a glimpse into the McCain campaign’s on-the-fly decisionmaking style," as the McCain campaign apparently didn't truly vet Wurzelbacher before making him a centerpiece of the debate. [Politico]

• Margaret Carlson thinks McCain is using Joe because he "has no argument left except that no one should have to pay taxes, and that Obama isn't one of us." [Bloomberg]

• Ed Morrisey says that Obama supporters have kept "the story alive by their rabid character assassination of a man who did nothing more than ask a question." It seems desperate, "as if they sense defeat coming from a moment of honesty from Obama about his real intentions to institute a regime of redistribution." [Hot Air]

• Michelle Malkin claims that "Obama-Biden simply can’t tolerate an outspoken citizen successfully painting the Democratic ticket as socialist overlords," and so they and their supporters have waged a "a dirty, desperate war" against Joe. [National Review]

• Jennifer Rubin thinks liberals are making the same mistake with Joe the Plumber that they made with Sarah Palin, disrespecting them both for being non-elites, and treating "them as cartoon characters or as frauds sent to foil their own quest for power." But this approach only "convinces ordinary voters that the Democrats are vicious snobs," and additionally, doesn't address the question of "wealth redistribution" at the heart of the matter. The McCain campaign "can hardly believe their luck." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Howard Kurtz wonders what the big outrage over the investigation is about, asking, "[I]f the McCain camp is going to hold this fellow up as an exemplar, wouldn't it follow that journalists would ask a few questions about him?" [WP]

• David Sirota believes that the "mere fact that we are talking about Joe — that we are talking about class-based economic concerns — tells us we have, indeed, matured past the greed-is-good paeans of the 1980s and the 'new economy' platitudes of the 1990s." But ideally we would discuss not the "personal foibles or heroics of the individual Joe Wurzelbacher" but the "far more important class meaning of the archetype Joe the Plumber." [HuffPo]

• Andrew Romano contends that because, in reality, Joe "could just as easily serve as a symbol of why some voters may prefer Obama on the tax issue," he "is like this year's entire tax debate distilled into one perfect Rorschach test of a person." [Stumper/Newsweek]

• Marc Ambinder notes that while the McCain campaign should get props for finding "a way to get people talking," it's also true that "every mention of 'Joe' includes the fact that his taxes would get cut under Obama's plan." [Atlantic]

• Hendrik Hertzberg thinks that the problem with Joe, for the McCain campaign, is that "McCain mentioned Joe the Plumber so many times that it became a running joke that, as of this writing, is still running, with McCain as the butt." [NYer]

• Matthew Yglesias raises the issue of "whether or not it really serves the public interest to have so many occupational licensing rules," as he's not confident "that these licensing schemes are tracking quality in any meaningful way, just preventing a certain number of people from earning a living." [Think Progress]

• John J. Miller agrees, writing that Joe's lack of a plumber's license "says nothing about his actual plumbing abilities. Occupational licensing is one of the Leviathan State's biggest scams." [Corner/National Review]

Related: Joe Wurzelbacher Is the Britney Spears of Election 2008

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.