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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber: Political Game Changer?

Only time will tell if that question mark will turn into an exclamation point and frankly, in my opinion, the likelihood is that it won't. One thing is for certain and that is that Joe the Plumber is the latest, and likely not the last, twist in what has been an endlessly fascinating and interesting election.

First, here are the reasons that Joe the Plumber has a real chance of being relevant in this election. 1) He isn't merely like your average but rather he is an average guy. He doesn't need to fake anything. He is the genuine average voter. 2) He's direct and straightforward. He didn't give the typically diplomatic media question to Senator Obama. He asked him a tough and direct question. In every interview, he speaks his mind directly. 3) He challenged Senator Obama and made him uncomfortable. Sadly enough, Joe the Plumber asked a much better question than any media personality short of Bill O'Reilly has asked of the Senator the entire campaign. Americans want our politicians to feel uncomfortable. That's because their policies and proposals should be challenged and explored. It appears that it took a plumber to finally have the Senator get challenged. 4) He appears to be rather unbiased. He says he hasn't made his mind up. No one has linked him to one party or another. As such, so far at least, there doesn't appear to be an agenda.

Of course, now that Joe the Plumber has been thrust into the spotlight, we can all count some "vetting". In fact, it appears that Joe Biden is already skeptical.

I don't have any Joe the plumbers in my neighborhood that make $250,000 a year.

Now, if the media and the Democrats insist on attacking Joe the Plumber, they had better find something there. The worst thing that could happen here for the Democrats is for this to become the Democrats and the media against the average Joe. If, on the other hand, it is found out that Joe the Plumber is really a partisan, or worse a plant, or even that he is making something up about this business he is buying, then that will boomerang against McCain. For now, I will assume that Joe the Plumber is not lying.

Now then, how does Joe the Plumber become a political game changer. First, he becomes a celebrity. Here he is on Good Morning America

Here he is starring in the brand new McCain ad.

Apparently, he will be on with Mike Huckabee this weekend and you can bet that the media appearances are just getting started. In other words, becoming a media celebrity, step one, is taken care of.

Second of all, he needs to continue to spread the same message he has been spreading. That is that Obama's tax proposal will hurt him the potential small business owner, and that in his view Obama's plans are socialistic in nature. Joe the Plumber has to be all over television, radio, and print explaining how Obama's proposal will mean that he will have less money on equipment, hiring, and expansion. Furthermore, he has to continue to speak his mind in calling Obama's plan socialism. Joe the Plumber has an opportunity to be the face of Obama's tax hikes.

If both of these things happen, then there is really no stopping this force. By becoming a celebrity, Joe the Plumber also puts the election focus on Obama's tax proposals. Obama has gotten away with vagule pronouncing that 95% of the public will get a tax cut. Once the proposal is examined in detail, it will be undressed for the house of cards that it is. If Obama's tax proposal becomes the topic of serious debate, he and his surrogates won't be able to simply parrot 95% of the people will get a tax cut over and over. The so called tax cuts, really tax credits, will be examined. People will notice that he is planning on raising the top marginal tax rate, while he won't actually cut any other income tax bracket. Rather he will give people so called tax cuts through a series of tax credits.

Now, to be fair, if anyone's proposal is put under a microscope the way I envision Obama's being examined, all the warts would be revealed. (of course all proposals are really filled with warts) As such, Obama's problem is a lot less that his tax proposal is a house of cards but rather it is that you never want any of your policies examined the way a Joe the Plumber media firestorm has the opportunity to create an examination of his own tax proposal.

If this happens, the Obama will occupy that terrible place right in the middle of the rock and the hard place. What will the campaign do to respond? They can't attack Joe the Plumber unless something nefarious has been discovered. Attacking your opponent is one thing but attacking your average voter is political suicide. His campaign will then have to come on every political show and begin defending his proposal. Suddenly, the discussion will turn into a technical debate over whether or not a tax credit is a tax cut, and how much each income group will really get. In the end, the average voter isn't going to remember that 95% of the people will get a tax cut, but rather they will remember a very complicated proposal that they simply don't understand. Once that happens we have our game changer.


Anonymous said...

Did you catch this in the debate last night? During the Question: Why is Your Economic Plan Better than Your Opponent's, Sen. McCain asked why would anyone want to raise taxes during this downturn? In the video, at 11:22, Sen. Obama said that he didn't mind paying a little more taxes. Why haven't we heard something about this? It is an arrogant statement.

By the way, I am learning a lot from your blog. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

mike volpe said...

I remember the back and forth, but I don't remember that part. Obama has always framed his tax increases by using himself and Warren Buffett which is the right way to frame it.

That's why Joe the Plumber could be so devastating if he is framed properly. So, the unfolding of this story is worth keeping an eye on.

Anonymous said...

Well if you were paying attention to today's news cycle about this Joe the plumber guy, you would have found out that he doesn't make anywhere near the $250,000 a year to get a (small, 3%) tax increase under Obama's plan. As anyone with common sense would expect, plumbers don't make that much, they make closer to $40,000 a year (which is his salary technically as a "contractor," since the guy isn't even a licensed plumber). So the whole premise of his initial questioning of Obama ("You're going to raise my taxes, aren't you") is false--dare I say, made up. The business he wants to "someday" buy (i.e., has no concrete immediate plans, nor is in any position to buy the business as of yet) would be taking in a net income of $100,000 a year, still not high enough to get a tax increase from Obama. The guy is obviously an ideological right-winger (and I suspect is possibly a plant); he even spoke out against Social Security, so clearly he has his partisan ideology and is not just some "neutral, undecided" voter. Finally, the whole focus on this one guy is ridiculous; I'm sure Obama could find plenty of plumbers who would be displeased by John McCain's economic policy. The fact that the media is giving this guy even 15 minutes of fame is a testament to how broken they are, and how easily led by the nose they are by the McCain campaign and Republicans in general.

mike volpe said...

Of course, he doesn't, and that's because he doesn't own the businss yet. He said the business that he wants to BUY makes somewhere between $250-$275K but so far he doesn't own it, yet he hopes that when he does he will make over $250,000.

Common sense says that small businees owners, successful ones, make all sorts of money. Joe the Plumber is not yet a small business owner, but once he is he hopes to be successful enough to make more than $250K.

Now, if folks like you want to attack the messenger, that is your business but it is a strategy I would tread on very carefully.

Anonymous said...

No one's attacking the messenger. Rational people are simply asking, "what's the point," i.e., this is an individual obviously of right-wing leanings who is giving his opinions about Obama's economic policies, yet nothing makes what he says of more weight than what anyone else says. The way his original questioning of Obama was initially portrayed by the media, first by Fox News and then by others, and the way this situation is still largely being portrayed, is "Oh, here's a PLUMBER, and he's going to be TAXED MORE by Obama! SEE, Obama's plan taxes PLUMBERS more!!!!" In general the way the media constantly changes the subject to whatever McCain wants, and reports it the way he wants, shows how broken it is in this country. He's able to constantly pull cheap political gimmicks, rather than actually ADDRESS issues, because of this.

mike volpe said...

He's obviously a right winger. What exactly makes him obviously a right winger?

No, the real problem has nothing to do with Joe the Plumber which is why attacking the messenger is silly. The real problem is that Obama's answer revealed a socialist. He said that he believes that it is the government's job to take from the wealthy and redistribute it so that wealth is spread. That is what a socialist would do. You can attack Joe all you want but Obama's answer is what the problem is.