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Joe the Fake

October 18th, 2008

You have almost certainly heard of Joe the Plumber. Maybe you heard that his name is Samuel, not Joe, but Joe appears to be his middle name, and if he uses it, then it’s a non-issue and let’s move on.

And there is a lot to move on to. McCain apparently did not vet Joe the Plumber any more than he did Palin. But since McCain repeatedly talked about Joe the Plumber, he really should have gotten his facts straight. McCain thought that Joe would be a great way to attack Obama. Joe stopped Obama in Ohio and said that he was preparing to buy his boss’s plumbing company; he claimed that the firm’s income was more than $250,000 a year, and asked “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” McCain glommed on to this amateur attempt to show up Obama as unfriendly to the common man, mentioning Joe almost two dozen times in the debate.

The problem is, Joe’s question to Obama was not exactly legitimate.

First, Joe ain’t a plumber. He works for a plumbing company, but he’s not trained or licensed in the state of Ohio, where he lives. He says he works under his boss’s license, but (a) that appears not to be legal in many places in Ohio, and (b) if Joe bought the business he would not be able to work under his boss’ license anymore. He’d have to retake the training program he never finished and then get licensed first.

Second, Joe is highly unlikely to be able to buy the business in the first place. Records show that Joe makes around $40,000 a year and owes back taxes he hasn’t yet paid; he claims that he wants to buy a business that nets a quarter mill a year. Without a whopping big loan, less likely now than ever considering the bank loan crisis, Joe probably isn’t buying anything; his question to Obama was likely a fictional stretch in an attempt to make Obama look bad.

Third, the business he claims to want to buy probably doesn’t make “more than $250,000” in taxable income; people who know Joe’s boss, All Newell, say that his business is run out of a garage and couldn’t possibly net that much. Experts estimate the business’ net income at no more than $150,000 to $200,000 a year at the outside, where it would not be taxed more under Obama’s plan. As Obama explained it to Joe in that initial talk on the street, any income under $250,000 would not be subject to a tax hike–only the taxable income over $250,000 would be taxed. If, as Joe claimed, his imaginary business made $280,000, then only $30,000 would be taxed at 39% instead of 36%–a modest increase of $900. And frankly, on that level of income, you’re doing damned well enough to pay your fair share.

Fourth, Joe is not your average, independent, undecided Joe Voter. Joe is a registered Republican. He first claimed he was undecided, but eventually admitted that he is indeed a McCain backer. And to top it off, it appears that he hails from Mesa, Arizona, in McCain’s home state. This was not an honestly uncommitted voter trying to suss out the truth from a candidate, it was a McCain supporter trying to do a “gotcha” on Obama under false pretenses.

So in the end, we don’t have a hard-strapped independent everyman plumber who will be hit hard by Obama’s oppressive tax plan, we have a Republican McCain supporter putting forth a fake scenario intended to make Obama look bad, but who will actually not be hurt at all by Obama’s plan.

In fact, in the ironic capper to the story: Joe will make out better under Obama than he will under McCain. Recalling the candidates’ tax plans and Joe’s actual current income, Joe would get a 2.0% tax cut under Obama, but a 0.6% tax cut under McCain–that’s about $800 in relief from Obama and $240 from McCain.

But Joe seems to represent an ever-increasing segment of the American population: those who are actually helped more by Democrats, but vote Republican because they dream and fantasize about being rich and influential, under which circumstances they imagine they would benefit greatly from Republican policies.

Categories: Election 2008 Tags: by
  1. October 18th, 2008 at 13:29 | #1

    Jim the Democratic plumber

  2. Alex
    October 18th, 2008 at 14:13 | #2

    Watching tonight CNN I just realized something grizzly: McCain will not stop until he will destroy Obama no matter what. An approach similar to the swift boat veterans for truth. McCain would be able to orchestrate (not directly) the investigation through FBI of “patriotic citizens” testifying how they were Obama’s accomplices in terrorist acts. Many undecided voters might fall for it. Evidently, the scam will fail after elections, but the damage was done and McCain might win.
    This seems the turn of McCain campaign because he has nothing to lose: under the “veil” of patriotism and the fight against terrorism his campaign will crusade to expose Obama.
    I hope the republicans (or McCain campaign staff) are not reading your blog 😉

  3. Glynnistan
    October 18th, 2008 at 14:52 | #3

    Wow, you have really ‘outed’ him. Obama came to him, asked for his vote and he asked the Messiah a question. How dare he!!! LETS DEMONIZE HIM!!! How pathetic.

  4. Luis
    October 18th, 2008 at 15:44 | #4

    Alex: My worry is that what we see now is less an attempt to defeat Obama in the current election, but rather to set the stage for the next four years on the very strong chance that Obama will win this year. I think that once Obama wins, we will see a 4-year camaign to slime and disempower Obama so virulent and nasty as to make the eight years under Clinton seem like a virtual love-fest.

    That is the 21st-century model of governance under Republicans: bully and steamroll when in power, smear, obstruct and disable the other side when not in power.

  5. Luis
    October 18th, 2008 at 17:37 | #5

    Glynnistan: Nope. If I were “demonizing” Joe, I would be calling him “unpatriotic,” claiming that he was a secret GOP plant, and accusing him of trying to commit vote fraud and that he has ties to terrorist groups–in short, I would be making stuff up, exaggerating the truth, and filling the remaining spaces with vile innuendo.

    In contrast, what I have documented here is nothing more than provable fact. His divorce papers revealed his income, public records showed his lack of certification, and his own testimony changed on who he intends to vote for. The analysis of tax proposals is based upon firmly established proposals.

    So, how is telling the truth “demonizing”?

    This guy Joe decided to do something that was demonstrably dishonest. McCain made him into a national poster boy for an easily-disproved lie.

    Of course, I realize that in McCain’s America, up is down, conviction is vindication, remote association is guilt-ridden accomplicing, and anyone who questions McCain, the GOP, or supporters who join in their dishonesty is an unparriotic villain.

    So, in that sense, I see your point.

  6. ykw
    October 19th, 2008 at 01:04 | #6

    If the business revenue is 250K and it pays out 200k to people that help the business, then the profit is 50k, and that could go to the owner. Here, the owner would be taxes on that 50k profit. If someone had a plumbing company w/ 10 employees, they might be able to run a 250k profit and have that go to the owner. In that case, the owner would be considered to be quite wealthy. I do not understand why McCain considers a plumber that takes home 250K to be disadvantaged in some way. McCain is sometimes sloppy.

  7. stevetv
    October 19th, 2008 at 01:24 | #7

    I really wish you hadn’t touched this one. The way the blogosphere left has been all over this poor guy (and yeah, I’m almost feeling sorry for him) is way too reminiscent of the horrendous gobsmacking the right wingers inflicted the Frost family with last year, simply because they dared to go public and endorse Democratic-backed CHIP program. I understand J t P isn’t exactly smelling like a rose, but that just proves my point. What message does this send to everyone else? That if you, a private citizen, dare to confront a presidential candidate, the rest of the country will dig through your personal life until they find something to disgrace you with and reduce you to a laughing stock?

    Do I seem overly critical, or overly sensitive? Well, consider this? You mentioned his divorce papers. Shortly after the debate, someone managed to get a hold of them and post them on Daily Kos. I don’t know if it was a contributor or a commentator, but someone put it up there. And besides containing some really unsavory details about why his marriage fell apart, it also contained his address and phone number. To Kos’s great credit, they had it taken down, but putting it up in the first place is very dangerous, and it shows what great lengths some people will do to discredit another, whether they’re on the right or left.

    You say you’re not demonizing Joe, but a lot of people were. The rumors came out fast and flying. “Joe isn’t even registered!” “Joe is a plant!” “Joe is a distant relation to a member of the Keating five!” “Joe’s name isn’t really Joe!” You say you’re not claiming he’s a secret plant (although a commenter has), but come on, Luis! You did put the suggestion out there, and you know it. “And to top it off, it appears that he hails from Mesa, Arizona, in McCain’s home state.” So what?? Why even bring that up? What’s the insinuation here? He’s from Arizona, okay. But today, he is a resident of Ohio. Is there no such thing as an innocent coincidence anymore? You make it sound like McCain’s people flew him in from Arizona a week ago in order to confront Obama. Barak Obama happened to be in his neighborhood, and Joe happened to be on his lawn. And I don’t think Obama was tricked into going to the neighborhood where Joe lived. If you weren’t suggesting something here, then what exactly was the point of mentioning where he’s originally from at all? Now we’re supposed to discredit anyone who’s from Arizona? Or is it just transplanted Arizonians?

    And then there’s “Joe is not your average, independent, undecided Joe Voter. Joe is a registered Republican.” Okay, look. I am absolutely ignorant of the statistics, but I’m willing to bet that the great majority of undecided voters are registered Democrats and Republicans. Someone being a Republican doesn’t make a claim of undecided-ness invalid. People who are registered in a political party are allowed to be undecided.

    So, what about Joe himself? Well, he’s not a licensed plumber, that’s indisputible. I don’t know what this business arrangement is that he has with his employer, but it sounds pretty shady. My guess is, Joe probably has a criminal record in his past, and I don’t think they give licenses out to convicted felons. But he’s plumbing because, simply put, a plumber is what he is. He’s behind on his taxes. Meaning, Joe could be negligent (and it might tie into his felony record, if he has one). It could also mean he fell on very hard times, and a divorce would only exascerbate his financial condition. And for all we know, he has a payment arrangement with the IRS. Then again, maybe not. I can only speculate like everyone else, but there are all sorts of possibilites. We don’t know the details of his life, but enough of them have been put out there to shame Joe into silence. No, he doesn’t seem like a very nice guy. But what if he was? What if he was a terrific guy with pure motivations and no shady background? It would mean, regardless of how wonderful Joe is, a whole bunch of nefarious people would be digging deep into his private affairs in order to debunk, humiliate and bury this guy. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me, were I to ask McCain something and it was broadcast on television and the results infuriated his supporters, even if I were clean as newly fallen snow (which I don’t claim to be). And THAT’S my bone of contention. Private citizens should not have their lives rummaged about and their skeletons brought up and put on display, even if they are on public record, simply for confronting a political candidate, just like they shouldn’t have a file kept on them in the FBI if they protest the war, just like they shouldn’t be survilled excessively, just like they shouldn’t be scrutinized and kept on record as Bush’s culture-of-spying policies aim to do. Because the problem isn’t just looking into people’s lives. That’s horrifying enough. It’s what other’s may decide to do with your information should someone stumble upon it.

    But Joe was playing “Gotcha” politics! Joe was asking under false pretences. Joe was being dishonest. Joe was lying! Guess what I say to that? Good for Joe! Shocked I’d say that? It’s not because I hate Obama. There is no way I’m going to vote for McCain, and won’t if I’m guaranteed to live to be a hundred for doing so. It’s because, number one, it’s none of our business whether Joe is lying or not. Even if details of his life are on public record and legally can be our business if we want it to be, there’s still some things that really shouldn’t be our business to know just from a principled standpoint. But really, what was Joe doing? Pretending he was going to own a business and pretending he was undecided so he could get a straight answer out of Obama because he felt he wouldn’t get one otherwise? Bravo, Joe! I wish more people would do that to our politicians. What, we’re supposed to rely on our media to keep our politicians honest? We can’t. Sometimes we have to do it ourselves, even if it takes a little dishonesty on our part. I mean, how many of us have thought doing the same thing? It would give us better access to the politicians, for one thing, claiming you’re undecided, or claiming you’re of a different party in order to ensure a very brief audience you may not otherwise get. Especially if it’s in a controlled environment when everything including the choice of who gets to ask questions is micromanaged. But has there never been anyone who invented a sick relative in order to corner a Republican candidate on the health care issue?

    Actually, the media does this sort of subterfuge all the time. The pretend to be passengers about to board a plane when they’re really reporters stowing weapons in their briefcase in order to test the security system at the airport. They pretend to be job applicants in order to see if employers use racist practices in their hiring methods. We praise the media for this, as well we should. Joe’s pretending to be undecided and he asked Obama a question. I’d like to see more of this on the other side, and without repurcussions for doing so. If a politician is worth what he claims he is, he’d be able to handle anything that’s thrown at him, and Obama did very nicely. And let’s be honest, there really was nothing out of bounds about the questions themselves or anything he said, so what’s the problem? Well, there is a problem, and that’s how McCain took it and ran with it. THAT’S the story, at least for a day. McCain is the one who should have the egg on his face and should be brought down for it, and he has been. But that’s not the story everyone’s writing about. It’s all about bringing down poor Joe, and about how we’re able to dig through his public records when someone irks us, simply because… we can?

    Anyway, the media has pretty much moved on, and I wish the blogs would too. There’s really no meat to this story, other than under Joe’s fictional circumstances he’d be helped more by Obama’s plan than McCain’s plan. But is he a registered Republican or not? Who cares? No one is going to come to him for political advice anyway. I wish all the effort to smear Joe could have been used for more worthy causes, like fighting the overblown Acorn charges, which besides being far more important, also terrifies me. I’m glad to see you wrote about it (although I don’t think you went far enough; besides being utterly bogus, it’s racist as well), because this is what’s going to dog President Obama for the next four years, allegation after allegation and lawsuit after lawsuit. This is what was planned all along. But Joe the Plumber? Here today, gone tomorrow.

  8. Luis
    October 19th, 2008 at 04:24 | #8


    Yikes, you really do have an opinion on this one, don’t you? :-)

    Look, to me it’s simple: Joe injected himself into the election discourse; that opens him up to scrutiny, as it was and should have been with the Frosts. The main difference is that the Frosts were genuine, Joe was not. The Frosts should have expected scrutiny, not stalking; so should have Joe. Neither deserved stalking or smearing, and those who have smeared either are wrong to do so. As I said, those who claim that Joe’s a plant, with no hard evidence to back up that claim, were demonizing him and that was wrong. The same goes for those who made up crap about the Frosts. Anyone on the right who criticized the Frosts based upon hard facts in a factual, reasonable analysis was right to do so; anyone who wildly exaggerated their prosperity and branded them as fakes, liars, and welfare cheats were out of line, because none of that was true. The Frosts made a public case to forward an issue, and if they misrepresented themselves, then that should have been made public.

    But there were some big differences between the Frosts and Joe. The Frosts were promoting a program which had saved them from the poorhouse and they felt would benefit Americans; they were not backing any politician or party, they were backing what they legitimately and genuinely felt was a good cause. Joe, on the other hand, was a partisan McCain supporter trying his hand at amateur politics, willfully jumping into the spotlight and clearly enjoying the attention in what was clearly a political game. Once the media deluge began, the Frosts tried to maintain their private lives; Joe, on the other hand, basked in the media glow, welcoming it, holding press conferences on his front lawn and so forth. I didn’t see Graeme Frost hold press conferences in front of his school.

    Look, I have been consistent here; look back at my blog posts on the Frosts and you’ll see the exact same approach. I stick to the facts. The facts upheld the Frosts’ claims, and the reaction of many on the right was to distort those facts; Joe, on the other hand, lied. The facts bear that out. I make no apologies nor excuses. Both the Frosts and Joe deserved scrutiny where they made public claims about the facts. Neither deserve demonizing, but if they lie and you call them on it, that’s not demonizing. But you stick to the facts.

    The only point you make which I would consider salient is my mention of Joe hailing from Arizona. I only mentioned that because it makes him that much more likely to be a McCain fan, as contributing evidence. But you’re right–it didn’t belong there. It wasn’t something that demonized him, but it was less than relevant enough to warrant mentioning.

    Your other points, however, I do not accept. Analyzing and criticizing Joe is not inconsistent in light of defending the Frosts; Joe lied, the Frosts did not. I will accept what you said about someone posting public documents with Joe’s personal info, but as you note, the Kos people took that info down–Malkin, on the other hand, put the Frosts’ info up–including the names of the schools that the children attended. While Joe the Plumber was orchestrating press conferences on his front lawn, 12-year-old Graeme Frost was being stalked at his middle school. Not equivalent.

    Nor do I accept your insinuation that I was suggesting Joe was a plant, or planned this long in advance. I put forward evidence that he was biased for reasons not having to do with factual evidence, and that he misrepresented himself. Adding that he was from Arizona is not, as you suggest, equivalent to insinuating that he was a McCain operative, it simply was intended to speak to the greater probability of his bias.

    As for your argument that just being a Republican doesn’t mean you’re undecided, please realize that in the next sentence I noted that Joe himself admitted to being a McCain backer–making his earlier claims about being undecided further evidence of his dishonesty in representing himself.

    Then you rather strangely go on to speculating in a way that you had just finished denouncing–that Joe’s business sounded “shady” and that he “probably has a criminal record.” Not only is that not factual, it is not relevant. I don’t care if he’s an ex-con or a deacon in his church, I am only interested in how he represents himself and what facts are relevant to how this has affected the national political race.

    As for “good for Joe for lying” because you felt he was making a good point, that’s completely unnecessary. He could have simply forwarded the case as a “what if,” been completely honest, and still help Obama to the exact same scrutiny. What Joe was doing was attempting to portray himself as a victim. Listen to how he asked the question–he first said $250,000, then amended it to $270,000, then $280,000. We now know that his boss’ business is not worth anything near that, which proves that Joe was making the number up. And the number he started with was coincidentally that same number that has been made so public, the number above which Obama would begin to tax people. That he then adjusted upward–again, you have to keep in mind that he is making these numbers up–suggests that he wanted to go above the cut-off limit so as to appear that he would be taxed more. In short, he was trying to position himself as a sympathetic small-business owner who would get socked by Obama.

    And note that Obama’s answer was completely factual and honest. Joe’s question did not uncover anything tawdry, it simply prompted Obama to give the same straight answer he has been openly giving for a very long time, that he would start raising taxes of incomes over $250,000.

    So your point about “keeping Obama honest” is not really on point–Obama already was being honest, and remained so before Joe came along. Why are you happy then that Joe lied when that was completely unnecessary for two different reasons?

    The one who needs to be kept honest here is McCain, who is lying about Obama’s tax plan, and Joe, who was trying to show up Obama as a tax-raiser for regular Joes like him, when the truth was that Obama was in fact giving Joe a bigger tax break.

  9. Paul
    October 19th, 2008 at 08:56 | #9

    People aren’t demonizing Joe the plumber when they take on his question, as Luis has done, and break it down and explain why Joe has nothing to fear from Obama’s tax plan.

    It’s not “demonizing” him to explain that he isn’t going to pay more taxes. It’s not “demonizing” him to point out that he doesn’t pay his taxes NOW. It’s not “demonizing” the guy to say that a guy like Joe would actually wind up better under an Obama Presidency than under a McCain Presidency.

    Demonizing would be to suggest all kinds of nasty things about him, like that he’s unpatriotic or hangs out with terrorists or is secretly a Muslim. Oops, that’s stuff that McCain/Palin have been saying about Obama.

    To address the very issues that Joe was addressing is only following along the debate.

    I have some sympathy for Joe- he didn’t ask for McCain to mention him a couple dozen times. If McCain had asked, Joe would have been able to say “no, man, don’t talk about me” if he’d so chosen.

    But McCain didn’t, and Joe has been ragging on Obama in the media afterwards, so I say Joe is getting what he asked for.

  10. Jim
    October 19th, 2008 at 12:58 | #10

    Anyone else find this to be a racist comment:

    “I’ve always wanted to ask one of these guys a question and really corner them and get them to answer a question for once instead of tap dancing around it,” he said.

    “And unfortunately I asked the question but I still got a tap dance. Almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr.”


  11. Luis
    October 19th, 2008 at 13:25 | #11


    To me, that statement could be racist, but it would depend upon Joe’s internal thinking. Technically, Joe was building a tap-dancing metaphor, and Sammy Davis, Jr. was a talented tap dancer. As far as that is concerned, I see three general possibilities: (1) the association was innocent and merely called up Sammy Davis, Jr. because he stood out as the most famous tap dancer Joe could think of; (2) Joe mentioned Davis instead of say, Fred Astaire because Obama and Davis are both black, in which case it might indicate a certain grouping-together of blacks in Joe’s mind, which is akin to stereotyping; or (3) Joe is a closet racist and so this kind of an association just comes naturally. Given no contributing evidence either way, I would give Joe the benefit of the doubt and assume theory #1. At worst, Joe could be criticized for being tone-deaf to how the statement sounds to a lot of people.

    There is perhaps a slight chance again of stereotyping in calling what Obama was doing “tap-dancing,” in that the art is often associated with black people. But politicians are often criticized for tap-dancing around an issue without race being involved, so that would be a stretch.

    As for the charge of ‘tap-dancing’ itself, that is what rubs me the wrong way the most. Obama’s answer was truthful and straightforward. He admitted straight-up that if Joe made more than $250,000 a year, then that extra income would be taxed at a higher level, and Obama even mentioned the specific percentages. Had Obama withheld factual answers and instead just done his rationalizations about “another way to see it,” that could be called tap-dancing. But answering the question directly and then presenting rationale for seeing the increase as reasonable, that is definitely not ‘tap dancing.”

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