Remember Joe the Plumber? He was the guy that the Republicans choose to personify their notion of Everyman during the 2008 presidential race. He had a longer shelf life than Cliven Bundy and his freeloading cattle, but Joe was nowhere near as slick as Scott Brown and his old truck.
That entire 2008 campaign must have been very bewildering to the GOP. Their candidate was a rich, tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. He had served in Congress for decades. John McCain was a war hero who had been captured and tortured by the North Vietnamese and, not to put too fine a point on it, he was white. The other guy wasn’t any of those things, especially white.
At one point in this country’s history, that election would have been referred to as a slam-dunk. Recognizing that times have changed, however, has always retained a place on the GOP ladder of priorities just above embracing minorities. It might seem like a rung to them, but it’s never too far off the ground.
Flailing around haplessly after it became obvious that the Palin thing wasn’t going to work out that well (she insisted upon opening her mouth), the McCain campaign happened upon Joe.
He first came to their attention during one of Barack Obama’s campaign stops in Ohio. Joe’s real name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher and he had ambitions to open a plumbing business. He asked then Sen. Obama a question about taxes on small businesses. Obama’s response utilized the phrase "spread the wealth around."
Loose talk about "spreading the wealth" is like dipping the fat red apple of capitalism into a vat of deadly socialism and offering it to the masses as something that might be good for them. God forbid that a halter be placed on a Wall Street banker’s annual multimillion-dollar haul. The essence of entrepreneurial spirit will be crushed, the quality of leadership will suffer a marked decline, and the word "bonus" will be referenced as archaic in the dictionary.
So, the impetus that thrust Mr. Wurzelbacher into the spotlight was not really anything he had done except ask a question, prompting a response from Obama that was an abomination to Republican doctrine.
Someone on Mr. McCain’s team must have recalled a role played by Shirley Temple’s childhood nemesis, Jane Withers, in commercials for Comet household cleanser. Josephine the Plumber and her legacy of sparkling countertops was cleverly transformed into Joe, who unwittingly became a living symbol for a political party that regards the issues of concern to working class people with the precision of a Swiss watch around election time.
Unfortunately Mr. Wurzelbacher evolved into one of those people who perfectly enunciate the GOP agenda when it is to the party’s best interests and, indeed, to its long-term viability, to be a little more vague and circumspect about those things. Candid doesn’t sound so hot when the message runs along the lines of "better a salary you can starve on than no job at all." It is some indication of Joe the Plumber’s epic failure to bond with conservatives that he didn’t even land a commentator’s job on Fox News.
The retreat back into relative obscurity, however, has not dampened Joe the Plumber’s knack for enunciating policy that is best kept quiet.
On Friday, May 23, America experienced another mass shooting. It is some indication of how immured we have become to these incidents that our first response now is likely to be: "How many this time?" This time it was four, a number that is hardly going to stir the collective conscience of a nation that actually has allowed restrictions on gun ownership to loosen since a gunman murdered 20 kindergartners in December 2012. Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims of the latest carnage, had the courage to publicly place the blame squarely where it rests, castigating "craven politicians" and the NRA for his son’s death.
The fact that this man was grieving over the brutal and senseless loss of his son made little difference to Mr. Wurzelbacher, who actually had the almighty gall, after some paltry gesture of condolence, to say that "your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights." Isn’t that pretty much what they have been telling us all along?
The key word there, in case it eluded you, is not "Constitutional." It is "your," as in "not mine." It’s so much easier to pontificate about rights when the dead child isn’t yours, isn’t it, Mr. Wurzelbacher? Children’s lives are regularly sacrificed by a distorted interpretation of an amendment to the Constitution that applied to arming militias. Even the most imaginative of the Founding Fathers could hardly envision the hellish weaponry that exists today. But Christopher Martinez’ right to a future is deemed secondary to maintaining the Dodge City atmosphere of mindless violence that is so lucrative to gun manufacturers and their political lackeys, and it is all carefully shielded from the sun by the umbrella of Constitutional rights.
Richard Martinez neglected to mention one group of people who deserve to shoulder their share of blame for the gun violence rampant in America. That would be you and me.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.