- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2008


It says something about the oddness of the 2008 cycle that the simple, straightforward questioning of a plumber from Ohio gets a bigger rise out of Sen. Barack Obama than any question posed by Sen. John McCain.

Plumber Joe Wurzelbacher — without question the victor in the final presidential debate — became an overnight sensation after confronting Mr. Obama about his tax policies. In response to Mr. Wurzelbacher’s questioning the wisdom of penalizing success by raising income and payroll taxes, Mr. Obama maintained that he merely wanted to “spread the wealth around.” It doesn’t take a Harvard degree to recognize this as “socialism,” and the plumber rightly identified it as such. Mr. McCain, desperate for success after several weeks of lagging in the polls, latched onto this blue collar symbol of the ramifications of Mr. Obama’s FDR-lite economic proposals. Selfishly, Mr. McCain turned the poor fellow into a target for crazed fans of Mr. Obama, who took to the internet search engines digging for any dirt on the Midwestern man who dared to speak his mind.

Within hours, Ohio union bosses were attacking Mr. Wurzelbacher as “disreputable” because he isn’t a union member, that he has back taxes to pay, and that he doesn’t have a plumbing license — never mind that such a license isn’t required for non-corporate work. Mr. Obama himself scoffed on the campaign trail, conflating the value of the plumbing company with the income from it: “How many plumbers you know makin’ a quarter million dollars a year?” Apparently, in Mr. Obama’s America, plumber salaries will be properly slotted in a salary schedule based on their value to society (presumably slightly above street performers, and slightly below “peace instructors”.)

Our sympathies should go out to Joe the Plumber, guilty of the new sin of expressing an opinion in disagreement with the New Adonis. As for Mr. McCain, his state would be a sad one if it was not so well-deserved.

For years, Mr. McCain favored the paeans of the media establishment over his own party’s constituencies — earning the praise of editorial pages that reveled at every sharp stick he jabbed in the eyes of traditional conservatism. And Mr. McCain’s crusade for public financing of campaigns and the elimination of special interest groups from American politics — motivated in no small part by the fact that for years his special interest group of choice was the New York Times, and their donations come in ink, not cash — set the stage for his presidential campaign being outspent by Mr. Obama’s by 8-to-1 margins in almost every key state.

Today, Mr. McCain’s resume of maverick achievement, of bucking every trend of conventional wisdom in constant pursuit of his stubbornly unique brand of honor, matters not a whit. McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Lieberman: once-brave stands in the face of the Republican establishment and the conservative base, now worthless scraps of paper to a media horde that has moved on to a new, younger beau. Of course, their love may be unrequited — with his vast bankroll, Mr. Obama can afford to run ads in every commercial break during every sporting, dramatic, or live event from now til Inauguration Day. His upcoming TV special, set to push back the start of Game Six of the World Series, is just one last indication that Mr. Obama needs the New York Times like “American Idol” needs Entertainment Weekly.

What brave stands does Mr. Obama have on his resume? Having co-authored half as many laws as memoirs — and that law a rather insignificant piece of Open Government legislation — Mr. Obama’s appeal isn’t found in resume or history. Rather than taking on political machines and bucking authority, Mr. Obama has time and again been bent to its will. Rather than forming friendships and alliances with even-keeled moderates and independent reformists, he has embraced union bosses, questionable operators, and in the case of William Ayers, violent radicals.

If the right’s reluctance to support Mr. McCain can be summed up as the assumption that as president, he will be exactly the kind of politician he has proven to be time and again, a proud servant of none — the eagerness to elect Mr. Obama is based on the assumption that he will be the opposite kind of politician he has been for his entire career. It is the political framing of the empty page — on television, he seems the type of personality to be balanced and moderate and reasonable, so let’s just ignore that “most liberal” rating from National Journal.

“The ultimate authority, they say, is in will, not reason,” G.K. Chesterton mused a century ago. “The supreme point is not why a man demands a thing, but the fact that he does demand it.” America’s electoral choice in 2008 is no longer based on reason, on the whys and wherefores of established fact, or on the citizen — the plumber — expressing his view. It is based on the new unshakeables of feeling and sentiment, on a state of mind expressed eloquently in Mr. Obama’s surprisingly honest slogan — no, not the ever-present affirmation of “Yes we can,” but the bastardized Latin of his hubristic presidential seal: “Vero Possumus.” Literally translated, it is an exclamation with all the balance and reason of a toddler stamping his feet: “I do it!” And soon enough, barring a thousand more Joe the Plumbers brave enough to withstand the assault, he will.

Ben Domenech is the editor of The City.



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