Friday, October 17, 2008

Sliming Joe

How did three weeks before the election did everyone become obsessed with Joe the Plumber? And what does this whole episode reveal about how the left will go after someone who happens to make The One look less than swell?

Remember this guy didn't seek out Barack Obama, Obama was doing a photo op in his neighborhood and Joe came out to ask a question. And now we're at the point where journalists and liberal bloggers are swarming all over this guy's personal background with an avidity that they haven't shown about Barack Obama's record and associates. Does he have a license? Is he registered to vote? Does he have tax liens? Is he related to Charles Keating? Is he a Republican?

They even posted his address on the internet. How low will these guys go to attack anyone who says anything that makes their guy look less than awesome?

What the left doesn't understand is that Joe's personal background doesn't matter at all. What matters is Obama's answer. And when asked about how Obama's tax plan would affect a small businessman earning over $250,000, Obama said that it was time to "spread the wealth around." And it turns out, as James Pethokoukis points out, that overwhelmingly most Americans aren't in favor of redistributionist tax policies. But Obama revealed that his instincts are, as he told Charlie Gibson in the Democratic debate, to tax wealth as a matter of "fairness."

So on the way to the coronation of President Obama, one ordinary guy asked a question that made Obama look bad. And the response by those on the left is that this guy Must Be Destroyed. And both Democratic candidates look for easy jokes about what type of plumber earns $250,000. They are tone deaf to the idea that Joe was asking a question about his dream, a dream that many people share of working hard and building up a small business.

As Ed Morrissey describes what we've learned from this revealing episode,
1. Thou shalt not offend The One by asking him a question. Of any kind.
2. Anyone who questions The One will have to undergo a public pillorying of a kind unseen since the Red Scare, or perhaps the Inquisition.
3. The Tanning-Bed Media will happily participate in any inquisition, as long as it keeps them from investigating irrelevant issues like Obama’s ties to the Chicago Machine, William Ayers, ACORN, or his record on protecting infanticide.
For those on the left who think that this whole story is about Joe's personal background, let me put in in terms they should understand. Think of Joe as a symbolic construct whose situation is "fake but accurate." The left always seems to like that sort of approach to what they regard as underlying truths. Think of him as the left thought of Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature with her autobiography of how, as an indigenous Mayan, she and her family had suffered at the hands of the Guatemalan army. Except it turns out that many of the details in her autobiography were fabrications. That didn't matter to the left or the Nobel Prize Committee because they regarded her story, true or not, as an essential expression of suffering that could have been true.

It doesn't matter if Joe is secretly a multimillionaire plumbing magnate or an apprentice plumber with unrealistic dreams. What matters is how Obama answered his question and what it revealed about his approach to redistribution of wealth. We're not about to elect Joe the Plumber.

A further thought: I would have thought that Democrats would have learned the dangers of going too far in sliming an opponent or anyone who doesn't support their guy. They helped promote Sarah Palin to a phenomenon by their relentless pursuit of anything that could be used against her. Questioning whether or not she was really the mother of her baby and if she could serve as vice president with a Down Syndrome infant set her up not only for a backlash among ordinary people but helped innoculate her against more substantive criticisms.

Obama suffered some of his biggest setbacks in the primaries after he was taped describing Pennsylvanians as bitterly clinging to their guns and religion. Now John Murtha is having to backtrack after calling his own constituents in western Pennsylvania racists because they might not support Barack Obama. And Obama's followers are now all outraged that a guy asked the senator a question that evoked a revealing answer when Obama popped into his neighborhood for a photo op. It wasn't Joe's question that was so important, but Obama's answer.

Are they trying to demonstrate that they have actually no real care for ordinary people unless those people are falling in line to vote for The One? They really ought to be more careful not to let that mask slip before the election is over.

UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin agrees. In a post titled, "It's not Joe, It's Barack, she writes,
This, it seems, is the nub of Obama’s problem: he’s been telling everyone he’s a moderate who really respects markets and wants only to return to the glory days of the 1990’s. But if your core philosophy is redistribution above all else – even in a depression — then what are people to make of him? It does, after all, suggest that grabbing money from the “rich” is the highest priority.

In fact, he told Charlie Gibson just that in the Philadelphia primary debate in April. Back then he acknowledged that even if a hike in the capital gains tax rates had a history of bringing in less revenue, he’d be in favor of it because of “fairness.” There he was — spreading the wealth, regardless of the economic consequences.

This is precisely the line of argument McCain needs to pursue: do Americans want to grow the economy out of the recession/depression? Or use this as an opportunity to sock it to the rich? Suddenly, the race card doesn’t look as important as the class warfare card.
Can the media and Obama supporters (I do repeat myself) keep this up any longer and extend the backlash?
The liberal media throng and Democratic elites never learn the right lesson. It’s been only a month since they vilified Sarah Palin, leading to a gigantic backlash and the largest surge in John McCain’s standing in the polls yet. But they didn’t learn. They are at it again with Joe the Plumber and, once again, are exercising no self-restraint.

They don’t, at bottom, respect non-elites from middle America or listen to their concerns. They treat them as cartoon characters or as frauds sent to foil their own quest for power. So they set upon Joe the Plumber in the mistaken view that what was significant about the interchange with Barack Obama were Joe’s concerns. And–surprise, surprise–you’ve got the makings of a backlash.

There are two problems with the approach of the Obama supporters. One, as with the Palin feeding frenzy and Bittergate, it convinces ordinary voters that the Democrats are vicious snobs. Two, it doesn’t address the problem: voters may begin to suspect that Obama is fixated on wealth re-distribution. That’s the idea the Democrats should be working to dispel. But since they can’t imagine that the public would have a problem with raising taxes in a recession, they don’t even bother to reassure voters that of course Obama wants the private sector to grow and of course he understands that you must tread carefully in tax-burdening small businessmen.

The McCain team must be pinching themselves: they can hardly believe their luck that the Democrats have attacked an everyman and prolonged a dangerous storyline. The only question remaining: will they keep it up? McCain couldn’t be that lucky, could he?
Think of the film of Obama's photo op on Joe's street as Obama's macaca moment.

Let's face it. Every day spent talking about Joe the Plumber is not a campaign day well spent for Senator Obama.