Joe Wurzelbacher, the plumber from Ohio, not only got more than his fifteen minutes of fame at the third presidential debate, he also got millions of dollars in free advertising as John McCain and Barack Obama pitched their policy prescriptions for the weakening American economy to him and millions like him around the country. While Joe took the attention in stride and recognized that his name will be but a footnote in the history of the 2008 campaign, there is much more involved in the life and future of this Ohio plumber than just a tag line for the media.
As Americans begin to make their final decisions on who to vote for on November 4th, it is important for them to think about which one of these candidates really is looking out for the best interests of Joe the Plumber. John McCain used Joe as the poster guy for what likely will happen to taxes and wealth distribution if Barack Obama wins the White House. McCain would have Joe and middle class America believe that he will be fighting for them to ensure that an Obama-directed IRS doesn’t dip further into their wallets. Of course McCain conveniently leaves out the part of the story that over the last eight years the Bush-directed IRS has given a sweet deal to those who make way more than Joe, and in the process created a huge income gap between the haves and the have nots.
When Obama retorted that his tax policy would be based on fairness and provide guys like Joe with some long needed relief, McCain could only fall back on the old class warfare cry, which is what the rich now call the proposals to end the sweet heart deal. Never mind that the Bush tax policies have been based on class warfare against the middle class, causing millions of financial casualties in this country. But when the subject of tax fairness is raised and the prospect of a truly progressive income tax looms on the horizon, all of a sudden the wealthy start whinning.
I have no idea how Joe the Plumber will vote on November 4th and he did seem to be taken aback when Obama mentioned the phrase ” spread the wealth.” But even though the Obama comment had a tinge of Marxist theory in it, what has been happening in this country in the Bush presidency is indeed a spreading of wealth, away from the savings accounts of the middle class and into the hedge funds of the rich. All Barack Obama is doing is proposing a turnaround in who benefits from tax policy, the huge middle class or the tiny 1%. If casting a vote is at it’s core a decision about self-interest, than Joe the Plumber and millions like him will realize that tax fairness is long overdue. And if the wallets of the 1% are a little lighter in the coming years, that’s what is meant by change.