Saturday, October 18, 2008

What does the story of Joe the Plumber tell us?

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.




Anonymous said...

Let's hear more from these politicos about Joe the Veteran, Joe the Bus Driver, Joe the College Student, Joanie the Nurse or Schoolteacher.

seydlitz89 said...


Agree. I think it also says soooo much about the state of the McCain campaign were they are grasping at just about anything at this point.

And Powell's endorsement of Obama is just another nail in the box. I had a long conversation with my best friend back home this week who was swearing up and down that Obama was Muslim . . . they just repeat what they hear, but Powell calling the Reps essentially liars might have a positive effect. . .

Not that I'm all that hopeful that Obama as president will actually change that much. . .

basilbeast said...

Would love to hear you military folk comment on the bigger (?) story of the day, Gen. Powell endorsing Obama.

AFAIC, that's fine, appreciate it, but I think he could help clear up some things in the couple of years after 9/11.

To say the least.


Aviator47 said...


I have held from the beginning that Powell was still thinking like a soldier when he worked for GWB. He obeyed the lawful orders he received, even if they were not optimal. Combine that with the false intel he received from the CIA, and, at least to my charitable mind, he simply saluted and vigorously carried out his assigned mission.

The IHT coverage had this interesting tidbit:

Much of what he said is now known to be based on false information provided by the Central Intelligence Agency. Powell has been widely criticized for the appearance, including by Obama, a fact that Brokaw brought up on Sunday.

Brokaw read aloud a passage from Bob Woodward's most recent book, "The War Within," that quoted former Secretary of State James Baker III, a Republican, as saying that Powell was "the one guy who could have perhaps prevented" the war from happening.

Powell, who friends say remains angry about his time in the Bush administration, briskly responded that "it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped it."

As I have posted before on Intel-Dump, I received an e-mail in Aug of 2002 from a retired 4 star who had recently been in DC and had visited with friends in the Pentagon. He said that the invasion of Iraq was a foregone conclusion, regardless of any UN actions or compliance with inspectors. This was while the administration was still claiming that Saddam held the option to preclude such action.

Powell was duped, and he knows it. I think that his intellectual and moral compasses did, indeed, steer him to support Obama for the very reasons he states. As time has passed, it is clear that McCain is not focused, is very myopic, suffers from tunnel vision and target fixation, is somewhat intellectually incurious and is being co-opted by the same neo-con players that co-opted GWB and duped Powell. Almost sounds like a guarantee of "four more years". Powell is too sharp to support another four years of dysfunction.

Rather, Powell has admitted that his party and it's presidential ticket are dysfunctional and not in the best long term interests of the country. Unlike GWB, who has no concept of the old "Fool me once" adage, Powell does, and he displayed it on Meet the Press quite eloquently.


basilbeast said...

Al, I cannot disagree with anything you wrote.

Apparently, from what you say, his being SoS was a bad fit. He had at his disposal the State Department's own intelligence force which was proven to have good info.

Why did he go with Bush/Cheney and not with them?

What caused him to do so?

There was also a good number of folk on the outside disputing the Bush Administration's line on Iraq. Wasn't he in contact with the Germans WRT "Curveball"?

He did not take their views into consideration? Why?

What I see being on the outside is a man either duped as you stated or actively participating in the promotion of an illegal military action or refusing to stop/slow down actions he knew was wrong.

Nothing there to buttress a legacy.

I suppose we'll have to wait for the inevitable Oliver Stone bio-flic.


seydlitz89 said...


"Wasn't he in contact with the Germans WRT "Curveball"?"

Powell was never in on the real decision loop if there was one imo, that is the goal was most likely a war in Iraq from the first day of Cheney/Bush. Powell was a stooge and a frontman, who they used to sell their case for war, sqeezing him like a tube until he had no credibility left in regards to Iraq.

As to "Curveball", Ron Suskind has an interesting tidbit in his "The Way of the World" . . .

"The truth is that someone inside the CIA - a man the Germans trusted completely - recommended to the Germans that they never provide the US with access to Curveball. His name is Joe Wippl."

pp 176-178

Guess who Wippl's "boss" is? The guy who's made sure that Wippl has been well taken care of inspite of being fired from two level government jobs?

FDChief said...

Joe's an idiot - his appearance on Hannity and Colmes was pathetic. He should really STFU before he digs his grave any deeper with his lips.

As far as McSame, what else can he do? He's got nothin', the GOP is as intellectually vacant as a box of Johnson and Johnson cotton balls - 100% sterile. If he didn't have the mud to sling, he'd be back at the condo serving Cindy her mojito in his "little French maid" outfit as the Stepford Heiress prepared his punishment for the evening...

Regardless of who wins, the story of Joe tells us that the American public doesn't have the sense God gave a bag of hammers, and no matter who wins in November he and we will be pretty much fucked - WASF, as Al so eloquently puts it.

I am fairly indifferent to Colin Powell. He was a supremely effective CJCS, to the point where my understanding was that the civilian leadership at DoD worried about their influence with Bush 41. I was disappointed by his impotence as SecState and by his unwillingness to either leave, speak out or both. ISTM that he wants to be a "Good Republican" in the sense of "Good German - doesn't want to say anything that will get him trouble with the Party bosses, wants to keep his hands clean but also doesn't want to hear about the nasty stuff that someone says someone else heard that someone did somewhere else...

C'mon - the guy is still hanging with the GOP of Karl Rove, Willie Horton, of "Barak Hussein Bin Laden". Until he grows a pair and spits on the people who have turned the GOP into the He-Man Nigger Haters Club, he's nothing to me.

Aviator47 said...


Well, last Sunday, you got your wish. Powell pretty much disavowed the GOP.

Had an interesting conversation with a French friend tonight. He noticed that a few GOP Senate candidates and House candidates who had, as has most of the party, distanced themselves from Bush, are now distancing themselves from McCain, quoting some of the reasons Powell offered. My friend said that he thinks Powell "opened the door" for rational Republicans to speak out against the McCain/Rove machine and the neo-cons.

Interesting thought.

On a different topic, today's revelations of $150,000 in September for wardrobe and accessories for Sarah and family are quite revealing. She needs the equivalent of 2 1/2 times the median family income for wardrobe? Quite the expenditure for someone posing as "your average hockey mom". And using taxpayers' dollars at that.

Of course the use of taxpayer campaign funds for expenses like this is prohibited. Another indication of how sophomoric the McCain administration would be.


FDChief said...

Al: I was heartened to hear Powell call bullshit on the GOP race-baiting and traitor-shrieking. It's been amusing to watch Oregon Republicans srink like vampires from daylight from Dubya and the GOP brand name - most Repubs don't even identify themselves as such: no little pachyderm on the yard signs, no national brand on the TV ads.

I wish I thought that the disgraceful last eight years would have sent this mob into the wilderness for a generation. I think that Americans have lost the sense of decency and honor to go that far. But hopefully this year will mark a turning of the tide.