I wonder how fast the McCain campaign and various media outlets from MSNBC to CNN to FAUX news will be eating crow and/or retracting their statements after various revelations about “Joe the Plumber” being “the big winner from the presidential debate” Wednesday night. After claiming to have been undecided on the upcoming presidential election, and stating that he’s a plumber looking to buy a business and, allegedly according to Obama’s proposed tax changes he’d be hurt under them, it turns out that Joe Wurzelbacher is not a licensed plumber–though he needs to be in Lucas County where he resides. Also, Wurzelbacher is so concerned about paying taxes under Obama’s proposed plan that he himself has owed back taxes and, though he allegedly wants to buy the small plumbing business for which he works–apparently unaccredited and if so against Toledo’s regulations (Ohio does not have statewide licensing for plumbers, according to Larry Rohter and Liz Robbins at “The Caucus” blog at The New York Times)–has no clear idea about how to go about doing that. Yet the guy just so happens to be a registered Republican who voted for McCain in the GOP primaries in Ohio, and lavished praise on McCain while criticizing Obama after the debate, by which he admitted afterwards he “wasn’t swayed.”
Now to be clear, I don’t give a hoot in hell whether or not he’s a Republican, a licensed or unlicensed plumber, owes back taxes, or supported McCain in the past and future elections. I care that the guy was clearly dishonest. Additionally, that he just so happened to become a push-button topic for McCain to criticize Obama’s tax plan, which Wurzelbacher speciously referred to as “very socialistic” as McCain rails against “big government,” raises a red flag with me. We may never know, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the McCain camp, at some point between the driveway conversation Wurzelbacher had with Obama and Wednesday’s debate, was in contact with Wurzelbacher–if not before. It’s just fishy–Wurzelbacher just so happened to question a tax plan at which he, if he ever deigned to get accredited as a plumber, and put together a plan to buy the business where he works (though he lacks a clear one despite professing the possibility to Obama that may buy one) would be right at the $250,000 cutoff mark for providing medical insurance and getting tax breaks? The same “undecided” guy who was Republican all along? It smells fishy, especially because Wurzelbacher wasn’t honest.
Before I forget, all the sniveling about Obama’s plans for taxes and health care being “socialism” or “socialistic” is really hilarious. I was listening to a caller on a local morning radio show saying that Obama will bring socialism to the US, something possibly gleaned from the quintissential propagandist Rush Limbaugh. Please, already. Please. Obama has bipartisan advisers on everything from foreign policy to the economy, and none of them are socialists. The US has no effective left-wing party, least of all a socialist or communist party with any power whatsoever. Its most successful socialist party presidential candidate was Eugene V. Debs–nearly a century ago, who by the way was in jail during the 1920 elections. Progressive taxation and national health care, while things that socialists tout where actual, powerful socialist parties exist, are policies that myriad politicians and people espouse in the most industrialized as well as industrializing nations and less-developed countries (LDCs)–that is to say, a good many places around the world. It’s not socialism, and McCain is trying to invoke a long-standing boogey-man about these policies. McCain, Limbaugh, and others have latched onto Obama’s statement about it being good to “spread the wealth around” as somehow emblematic of socialism. One, it’s not. Two, why is this bad, the notion of spreading wealth around as income inequality has risen drastically to the highest level in the world and has been exacerbated by tax breaks? Why is spreading the wealth around so bad when yet again, wealth hoarding and risky speculation with the nation’s wealth through neo-Ponzi schemes has recently brought the economy into profound crisis? Why is the idea that employers–and not the government, note, for all falsely claming Obama’s health care plan is “socialism” or “socialistic”–providing health care such a bad thing, when this is how they wanted it right from their defeating Truman’s postwar Fair Deal? Employers asked for this system by organizing to defeat national health care in the late 1940s. Thus, until the US enacts a national health care plan, employers can provide it at a reasonable cost and with measures of regulation–another good and necessary thing. Lastly, as my very astute wife pointed out, exactly how bad off is Wurzelbacher or anyone if they’re considering buying a small business possibly worthy $250,000 or more–especially with so few staff including at least one unlicensed? My wife and I both work, as do Wurzelbacher and his wife, yet we’re not in any position to consider buying such a business. Nor are most people I know; nor would it be likely that they’d secure the loan for it, even before these lean times. If Wurzelbacher were to actually cobble together some plan and the money for buying this business, he’d be doing pretty well for himself and his family. He wouldn’t be “rich” as McCain sardonically and clumsily joked. Yet he wouldn’t be working class like me and most of us, either.
That’s what all this is meant to do–use people’s fears of taxation to try to elide widening class divisions and ignore that the richest people, including McCain, are the ones who far and away benefit most from tax breaks. McCain might as well crow from behind the curtain, “Pay no attention to the very wealthy candidate with several homes and thirteen cars who married into money behind the curtain. I am everyman!”
Also, this business about ACORN and allegations of voting fraud deserves significant attention–more than Joe the unlicensed plumber. It isn’t as though there aren’t some real problems with ACORN’s system of hiring people to enroll voters, for there are especially since those working to enroll voters seem to get, or seem to have been, paid by the quantity or people enrolled. (There is discrepancy about whether or not this system of pay still exists, though ACORN says they pay people hourly. Even if so, they don’t pay well, possibly part of the problem.) But honestly, there are some important facts and recent history to consider if we are to treat allegations of ACORN and voter fraud seriously. First, yes, there have been phony signatures and information among the forms that ACORN submitted, including some clearly oddball signatures such as “Mickey Mouse.” These present problems and a waste of people power sorting these out. But these are not voting fraud. In fact, one should question whether or not these even represent voter registration fraud. Why? In order for actual voter fraud to occur, one would have to present identification and verification of residence with a phony name and/or residence, and get away with it. The chances of this are very slim, and the instances of this quite rare. Also, it’s difficult to consider this voter registration fraud–note the difference–when ACORN itself has turned in and notified prosecutors of those potentially committing such fraud. According to former US attorney Bud Cummins such instances make ACORN not a perpetrator of fraud (the intent to deceive) but the one on whom fraud is perpetrated.
This is crucial not only because the GOP is trying to curtail the effectiveness of massive voter registration for the Democrats especially galvanized by Obama’s presidential campaign, but also and crucially to use some of the same methods as in 2006 and 2004 that ultimately resulted in some of the firings of US attorneys general, either reluctant to press voter fraud claims or who found no evidence of them, after the trouncing the GOP took in 2006. Fired US attorney general David Iglesias responded to news that the FBI is pursuing an investigation into ACORN by saying, “I’m astounded that this issue is being trotted out again,” Iglesias told TPMmuckraker. “Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it’s a scare tactic.” He’d know, he was inappropriately fired for not pursuing such voting fraud claims with sufficient vigor for Republicans, according to the Department of Justice’s own Inspector General report.
Wurzelbacher as a very timely stand-in for McCain’s political attacks is a bit fishy to me, and we’ll see how much more about Samuel Joseph Wurzelbach. The bigger, stinkier fish to me is the ACORN issue, problems with ACORN’s system of voter registration notwithstanding. This is 2004 and 2006 all over again, and where the real focus should lie–more than on some lying unlicensed plumber in Ohio who wouldn’t own up to his political affiliations.
[Edit: I forgot to mention this earlier, but the issue of tax breaks is something on which Obama and McCain have a fair degree of agreement, with the main differences being who would benefit most from them. In the process, I believe Obama has missed some opportunities to change the discourses about how we consider taxes, probably for fear of invoking lots of opposition from people over taxation. These changes, including through the right wing's anti-tax pushes, in discourse take time and don't occur overnight. The right pushed for tax cuts for a long time before they came to pass. Obama, if he's actually interested in this and that's something I question, he'll need to continually take time to convince everyday people who are legitimately squeezed by the combination of wage constraints, tough economic times, and taxation especially if they're home owners that such plans actually benefit them and the nation. He also needs to illustrate, if he's interested in this also and I question it, that there are stark differences between the everyday people who desire tax cuts and fairness while they are often willing to pay taxes for certain things but want to see tangible policies and results, and the very wealthy who benefit far disproportionately from tax cuts. That is, he needs to explain that tax cuts aqnd tax policy is not the same for everyone, and that takes changing the debate and discussing it a lot. He's not done that much, and that's a problem to me.
One way to solve this is to illustrate that government can benefit people and the economy--that taxes can be of enormous value. For an example, see the Federal Highway Act of 1957 that greatly expanded and interconnected the interstate highway system, resulting in enormous travel, growth and spread of capital through travel, greatly expanded service industries, tens of thousands of jobs for construction, increased machine, auto, gas and parts sales, and more. Think about what the country would be like without this massive qand incredibly beneficial system, which was also created for national defense. The country simply would not be as we now know it without this system and the immense investments that the federal, state, and local governments made in it and the localized urban systems connected to it.]