Joe the Plumber: Horatio Alger with Plumber’s Crack

Yesterday Senator John McCain continued his “Joe the Plumber” bus tour. Throughout central Florida McCain rehashed his attacks against Senator Obama by enlisting other “regular Joes” to reinforce his message that Senator Obama’s tax plan will unduly punish successful small businesses.

Of course we know that the character known to millions as Joe the Plumber is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, the Ohio resident who engaged Senator Obama on his tax plan earlier this month.

Since then, in part due to Senator Obama’s “spread the wealth” comment, Senator McCain has sought to use the exchange to assert unreasonably that Obama’s plan is socialist. But in the process, the McCain-campaign shuffled up on another campaign shtick—let’s usher in Halloween by dressing up as many folks as Joe the Plumber as possible (including Joe the Plumber) and convince them that Senator Obama seeks to fleece them of their “wealth.”

Yes, I know. This all reads more like a Backyardigans adventure than a campaign strategy. But think about it. The Joe the Plumber costume works in the minds of a critical mass of American society because it strikes a familiar cultural chord. He is the archetype of a hard-working, thrifty, and industrious Americans who simply want government “out of the way” so that he can thrive. In this regard, Joe the Plumber is the latest reincarnation of the ahistorical, decontextualized protagonist of America’s myth of success.

The narrative is so neat, compelling and manipulative. Present Joe as the self-made man who heroically pulls himself up by his bootstraps, taking the reins of his own destiny to navigate through the rough terrain of those who wish to derail his rags to riches destiny. It matters little that Mr. Wurzelbacher’s life is a far cry from the quarter-of-a-million-dollar small business owner persona that he originally presented to Senator Obama. Nor does it matter that Joe’s trick-or-treat companion “Sarah the Hockey Mom” has a wardrobe that cost more than Mr. Wurzelbacher’s Ohio home. Such facts are irrelevant in the minds of those who need to believe the stories we tell ourselves. A modern day Horatio Alger with plumber’s crack is much more appealing than the reality of a depreciating house, evaporating 401K, and dwindling American job market.

Unfortunately, regardless of the characters and costumes that the McCain/Palin ticket parade this week, these are the real stories of our lives that we must eventually confront. Trick or Treat!!