The final presidential debate launched an unlikely national superstar — Joe Wurzelbacher, otherwise known as Joe the Plumber. The weekend before the debate, Joe was approached by Barack Obama when Obama was campaigning in his area, and Joe asked Obama about tax policies that might adversely affect him if he is successful in buying a plumbing business.
Part of Obama’s long, convoluted answer included this gem: “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 that when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody.” The video snippet became quite popular online.
I had the opportunity to interview Joe, an interview that appeared online before he became a household name. (You can read that interview here.) In it, he displays an admirable grasp of how the distribution of wealth is much more effective when it’s done by the private sector — job creation, trade, etc. — than when the government takes it from you and decides how it will be allocated to the masses.
When John McCain mentioned Joe the Plumber during the debate, suddenly it was impossible to get hold of him because his phone was ringing off the hook with requests for media appearances. I too was deluged with emails from media reps about how to get hold of him. CNBC actually tracked my phone number down, calling to plead with me to get them in touch with Joe. (I wonder: if they could find my phone number, which didn’t thrill me, why couldn’t they find Joe’s?)
But this story is not about me. After a slew of television and radio appearances, where he kept his cool and entranced the nation with his obvious grasp on how bigger government hurts the average American, the media made sure that we began to find out unsavory tidbits about Joe: his given name is Samuel; he has a tax lien; and he calls himself a plumber when he doesn’t have a license — even though his employer has one. And, maybe most egregious of all, didn’t Joe know that the local plumber’s union supports Obama? (I received an email to that effect from an anonymous union rep.) Heaven forbid he should think for himself. Even his divorce records were considered fair game.