Dumb and Plumber

10/31/2008

You would hope that a presidential election of this magnitude and consequence would inspire a debate worthy of its heft. Based on experience, that’s a damned audacious hope.

My memory of these things goes all the way back to 1968 and an appearance in my hometown by George C. Wallace. So excoriated by Wallace’s venom, an onlooker heaved a projectile at the Alabama governor that, had he not ducked, would have further defiled his ugly scowling mug.

“Nice try,” he growled, “come on up here and I’ll sign your sandals,” said Wallace to the delighted howls of the gathered adoring rednecks, who were far more interested in punching-out a hippy than talking policy.

Thank goodness presidential politics got more sedate and cerebral in the four decades since. In the round after that, the projectile Wallace couldn’t duck was a bullet and the Democrat’s vice presidential choice was run off the ticket when it was discovered he’d once been treated for depression. (That this year’s GOP pick ought to be treated for delusion is a topic for another discussion.)

Yet even more relevant sideshows ensued. Who could forget George Bush’s news conference at an I-Hop (conclusively proving Clinton was a “waffler"), the baby Bush’s crew waving rubber shoes (conclusively proving Kerry was a “flip-flopper") and Michael Dukakis’ apish grin as he tooled around in a tank (conclusively proving Dukakis was a “dweeb").

Not much has changed since Bob Dole congratulated a California crowd on the success of the “Brooklyn” Dodgers and promptly fell headfirst into them. It’s just that the incidents and characters that perpetrate them have become more random and bizarre.

Which leads us to Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, this year’s entry into the presidential-campaign-inspired-nobody-who-became-a-national-somebody-and-nobody-can-figure-out-why sweepstakes. While he does strikingly resemble ultra-liberal Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, that hardly explains John McCain’s creepy man-crush on this vacuous rube.

We know he’s supposed to symbolize plumbers (but he isn’t licensed) and small business (but he doesn’t own one) and over-taxed citizenry (but records show he’s in arrears). But those are just inconvenient disconnects compared to the fact that he’s become the personification of an informed voter and the media elite hang on his every pronouncement. He’s Chauncey Gardener with a plunger. (Jerzy Kosinsky must be having a belly-laugh at our expense from the Great Beyond).

Yet it took news that McCain’s unofficial running mate had “signed with country music artist and producer Aaron Tippin to form a new partnership that includes booking-management firm Bobby Roberts and publicity-management concern The Press Office,” to push “Muse the Eyewitness” into complete madness. Evidentially, so boundless is the talent that oozes from Joe it’ll take a publicity team and professional handlers to handle the offers.

And that reflects on the judgment of all of us “real people” boys and girls. It’s come to this. The plumber that isn’t, business owner that doesn’t, and taxpayer that won’t has become the highest profile “The” since John “The” Baptist. Please, for the love of the Articles of Confederation don’t let this happen to our democracy. Look away. Ignore him. Purge any thought.

This guy has plumbed the depths of ignorance and we’re rewarding him with recording contracts and book deals. He doesn’t know a treaty from a toilet and networks carry his proclamations on the future of Israel. Make it stop!

If you need your drain snaked, give him a call. If you need to understand fiscal policy, try the Congressional Record. But don’t celebrate ignorance, look where that has gotten us.

Joe the plumber is a symptom of the disease that’s making America the Dumber.

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