Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is the October surprise “Joe the Plumber”?

Sen. John McCain, with his back against the wall, used the Ohio blue-collar worker as a symbol of how Sen. Barack Obama‘s policies represented a form of class warfare and efforts to redistribute the nation’s wealth.

“It’s pretty surreal, man, my name being mentioned in a presidential campaign,” said Joe Wurzelbacher, a plumber from Toledo who had an impromptu exchange Sunday with the Illinois Democrat about his desire to purchase the business where he has worked for years.

Joe leapt into the political debate for the highest office in the land via YouTube, in a video viewed thousands of times, and soon to viewed 1 million more. He wasn’t just mentioned in passing. He was cited 23 times in the debate. At one point, Mr. Obama said, “I’m happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you’re out there.”

The massive plumber with a shaved head cornered the Democratic nominee Tuesday and told him that he hoped to soon be the owner of a small plumbing business that could take in more than $250,000, the amount at which Mr. Obama plans to begin raising tax rates.

He asked point-blank: “Your new tax plan’s going to tax me more, isn’t it?”

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Mr. Obama was frank. “It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance at success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Last night, Mr. McCain was first to claim “Joe the Plumber.”

“Joe was trying to realize the American dream,” he said directly to Mr. Obama. “Now, Senator Obama talks about the very, very rich. … What you want to do to Joe the Plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business.”

“In other words, we’re going to take Joe’s money, give it to Senator Obama and let him spread the wealth around,” Mr. McCain said. “I want Joe the Plumber to spread that wealth around.”

Mr. Obama said, “The conversation I had with Joe the Plumber, what I essentially said to him was, five years ago, when you were in the position to buy your business, you needed a tax cut then.”

When the Democrat said he would surround himself with the best minds in business, like billionaire investor Warren Buffett, Mr. McCain jumped in with a dismissive laugh: “We’re talking about Joe the Plumber.”

“Now, my old buddy Joe, Joe the Plumber, is out there,” Mr. McCain said. “Joe, you’re rich. Congratulations, because what Joe wanted to do was buy the business that’s been he working for 10, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. And you said that you wanted to spread the wealth. … The whole premise behind Senator Obama’s plans are class warfare: Let’s spread the wealth around.”

Mr. Obama said he wanted to tax higher earners “in order to give additional tax cuts to Joe the Plumber before he was at the point where he could make $250,000.”

“So, look, nobody likes taxes. I would prefer that none of us had to pay taxes, including myself. But ultimately we’ve got to pay for the core investments that make this economy strong, and somebody’s got to do it,” the Democrat said.

Joe the Plumber said about Mr. McCain: “He’s got it right as far as I go.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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