Last night, while waiting at the port for the bride to return on the ferry from Athens, I grabbed a cappuccino and watched the news at the cafe on Greek TV. A full 5 minutes were devoted to the unfolding story of "Joe the Plumber". The newscaster's comments were certainly unflattering toward Joe, John McCain and US politics in general. My fellow coffee drinkers watched and when the unexpected turn of events were given, laughed heartily at how McCain had failed to get the real story on Joe, his occupation and less than honest representations to Obama.
There is, however, at least to me, a very telling lesson to be learned here. John McCain is running for the highest office in the land. Amongst his many claims for being highly qualified is his military service. If there is anything I learned in the military, it was that you "never come to class without having done your homework". Apparently, John forgot, or never learned this lesson.
But more significant to me, a lover of numbers and the challenge of making sense of them, Joe's comments didn't hunt from the very beginning. First, Obama's $250,000+ income population represents about 2% of the households in the US. Was this guy saying he was going to buy a plumbing firm that would set him above 98% of the households in the country? Quite a stretch. Then I thought about what level of business a plumbing firm would have to do to turn a quarter million in profit. At a 20% profit margin, he'd have to have annual sales of $1.25 million. That's a hell of a lot of plumbing at a very high profit %.
When McCain jumped upon Joe as an example of "middle class workers", that really blew me away. Again, Joe's question pertained to tax rates on the highest 2% of households. I doubt there are many "workers" in that category, and by definition, no middle class households. But, it looked like a great "GOTCHA" moment. Rather than simply say that Obama simply wanted to "spread the wealth", McCain decided to make Joe an icon of how Obama would repress the working class.
The Story of Joe the Plumber, as presented to the world by John McCain, is a fraud. First, the tax proposal being bashed does not apply to the working class. Second, Joe will never make $250,000 by buying his boss's two man plumbing operation. Third, at present, Joe cannot buy the company and operate under current licensing laws in his area.
Anyone who has taken a freshman level course in business should have seen the holes in Joe's original comments. Anyone versed in public policy should have recognized that $250,000 annual income is not representative of the middle class. Anyone who served in the military should have thought about doing some homework before thrusting this incident onto the world stage as a campaign transforming event. John McCain claims expertise in all three of these areas. As cute as it was, it just didn't hunt.
That the campaign, along with it's candidate, chose this path raises some very serious questions about both. But, in this age of sound bites, cute and gotchas, those serious questions will never be as fully addressed as, let's say, where Bill Clinton stuck a cigar.
So, what the story of Joe the Plumber tells us, is that no matter how bad our government and our elected officials perform, we deserve it. We keep electing people like this.