October 16, 2008
Joe Wurzelbacher was the star of the third and final presidential debate. Both candidates directly addressed the Ohio plumber who recently asked Obama about tax increases on small business owners.
Just to review, Mr. Wurzelbacher, on camera at a campaign stop, recently asked Obama if taxes would increase on his plumbing business since he took in more than $250,000. Obama answered that everybody benefits when we "spread the wealth around" meaning that Mr. Wurzelbacher could expect to see higher taxes in an Obama administration.
John McCain brought Mr. Wurzelbacher into the national spotlight by repeating Obama's statement about wealth redistribution. From there, the candidates clearly made a pitch for all of the Joes in the heartland with a radically different vision of the role of government in shaping economic and health care policy.
To whom will Joe give his vote?
It remains to be seen how the many men and women like Joe will vote, but the real Joe Wurzelbacher has spoken out about his encounter with Obama and he sounds worried about an Obama administration.
An advocacy group, Family Security Matters, posted an interview with Mr. Wurzelbacher where he reacted to his dialogue with Senator Obama. At the Toledo, Ohio event, Mr. Wurzelbacher asked Mr. Obama if he believed in the "American dream." In his interview with Pam Meister of Family Security Matters, Wurzelbacher gave this reaction to Mr. Obama's answers,
"Initially, I started off asking him if he believed in the American Dream and he said yes, he does - and then I proceeded to ask him then why he's penalizing me for trying to fulfill it. He asked, "what do you mean," and I explained to him that I'm planning on purchasing this company - it's not something I'm gonna purchase outright, it's something I'm going to have to make payments on for years - but essentially I'm going to buy this company, and the profits generated by that could possibly put me in that tax bracket he's talking about and that bothers me. It's not like I would be rich; I would still just be a working plumber. I work hard for my money, and the fact that he thinks I make a little too much that he just wants to redistribute it to other people. Some of them might need it, but at the same time, it's not their discretion to do it - it's mine."
In Toledo, Mr. Obama tried to reassure the skeptical plumber by saying, "It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody that is behind you, that they have a chance for success too." Obama also advised Mr. Wurzelbacher that it is "better for everybody if we spread the wealth around."
Mr. Wurzelbacher's reaction was not favorable to the notion of wealth re-distribution. When Ms. Meister asked him how he felt about Obama's answer, he said,
"...he contradicted himself. He doesn't want to 'punish' me, but - when you use the word 'but,' you pretty much negate everything you just said prior to that. So he does want to punish me, he does want to punish me for working harder to - you know, my big thing is the American Dream. I work hard. You know, I was poor; my mom raised me and my brother by herself for a very long time until my dad came along. So I know what it's like to suffer. It's not like I was born with a silver spoon. Usually it was a wooden spoon and it was on my butt. It was just a contradiction of terms, what he said: he doesn't want to punish me but he wants to redistribute my wealth. And what I mean when I say my wealth, I mean the collective."
Mr. Wurzelbacher seems to get it. Wealth distribution does punish the hard work of those who are taxed more. Last night, the two candidates also made a play for Joe's support on their health care proposals. Joe seems worried about Mr. Obama's plans there as well, saying,
"So yeah, it goes down the socialist [road] - His healthcare plan scares me. You know, I don't like people going without healthcare, but it's not my job to pay for everyone else's healthcare. It's hard enough paying for my own."
Ms. Meister asked if Mr. Wurzelbacher wanted John McCain to raise the issues of "spreading the wealth around" in Wednesday's debate. The policy analyst plumber answered,
"There's a lot of things I wish McCain would say. As far as this, yes, I would like him to speak. Not so much about small businesses, but just people in general that make this money. It's not up to them to help America, I mean - let me rephrase that. It's not - they shouldn't be taxed more because they've succeeded. That's envy and jealousy."
Mr. Wurzelbacher got his wish Wednesday. Mr. McCain did bring up small business, making Joe the plumber famous in the process. While I do not know for sure who Joe will favor on November 4, it doesn't appear that Mr. Obama closed the deal with him. In Wednesday's debate, Mr. McCain made a strong appeal to small business owners which made the differences between the free market McCain and the wealth distributing Obama quite clear.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is a Fellow of Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. He blogs on Crosswalk.com.