Thursday, October 16, 2008

This Plumber Was A Bathtub Ringer

All of the talk at Wednesday night's presidential debate about "Joe the Plumber," reminded me of a joke I tell my students every year.

It goes like this; Some years ago I called a plumber to unclog a pipe in the kitchen. The guy spends a grand total of 20 minutes under the sink. After which he presents me a bill for $100. I say, "$100 for 20 minutes of work, that's $300 an hour. I'm a lawyer and I don't charge $300 an hour!" To which the plumber replies, "when I was a lawyer, neither did I."

As a group, plumbers are generally not reputed to be among those who struggle economically. In fact, the plumbers I know of here in Santa Barbara seem to do pretty well. For example, there's a retired plumber I'm aware of who is quite the man about town. I'll leave his name out of it because although I'm acquainted with him, I don't know him well enough to be putting his business out on the Internet. But he's in his late 70's, perhaps older, drives a Mercedes SL500 and lives down at Fernald Point.

For those of you aren't familiar with the area, Fernald Point, with it's beach front homes, is arguably the most exclusive area within Montecito, which is arguably the most exclusive area within Santa Barbara, and so on and so forth. If you want to spot him in the field, try the bar at the Canary Hotel on Fridays during happy hour, Brophy Brothers restaurant on a Sunday afternoon, or Lucky's any night of the week. (Yes, he's a bachelor.)

My point is that if John McCain wanted to pick a poster boy for the members of the middle class who he claims would stand to lose under an Obama presidency, he sure wouldn't have picked my guy from Fernald Point and I suspect that Joe Wurzelbacher from Toledo ain't doing too shabby either. Neither one is likely to engender a lot of sympathy by virtue of having their tax bill go up. If Joe's plumbing business is that prosperous and his taxable income exceeds $250,000 a year, that's a "nice" problem to have in my book.

I think a far more serious problem for Joe is that he has suddenly become the "butt" of numerous plumber jokes. Or as Timothy Egan wrote in the New York Times, "McCain chose to dwell on a guy who spends a lot of time with his head in the toilet." Hopefully, with his trousers hiked well above his waist line.

And speaking of "head in the toilet," isn't this a great country when someone who doesn't know the difference between gross receipts and taxable income thinks he has a shot at making over $250,000 per year? Now that's what I call the politics of hope!

I will give McCain credit for having the courage to venture into this territory. No one has dared to mention "plumbers" and "White House" in the same sentence since Watergate.

I guess the first clue that invoking the name of "Joe the Plumber" wasn't a spontaneous reaction to a question from Bob Schieffer was the fact that media crews had been dispatched to Joe's home to get video and stills of him watching the debate and record his reaction to having his name mentioned. Within minutes after the debate ended, Katie Couric had him on the phone, which causes me to conclude that there can't be too much competition in Toledo among plumbers because the producers at CBS News didn't have to wade through too many names in the Yellow Pages to find Joe.

Joe the Plumber, watching Wednesday's debate.

So, I think it's fair to say that the McCain campaign's selection and focus on "Joe the Plumber" was pretty well planned. I doubt that it was a coincidence that Joe happens to be a non-union plumber. Joe, unlike Sarah Palin, was well vetted.

In other words, there was no chance Joe would be telling Katie or anyone on the morning news shows the next day that after watching the debate he was voting for Obama.

Nice to know that McCain checks out his plumbers more thoroughly than his running mates.