I Am Joe

Posted: October 18, 2008 in 2008 Elections, John McCain, Media
Tags: , ,

Republicans have organized an online petition and movement to defend Joe the Plumber. They argue that Joe has been treated unfairly by the Democrats and, by extension, the media who put his life under the microscope.

Let me make one thing clear – the Joe the Plumber story would have been a one-day story if McCain had not pounced on him and made nearly two dozen references to him during the last presidential debate. But according to this account in the Politico, the McCain people simply didn’t do their homework on Joe before they embraced him.

NEW YORK – John McCain hung his final presidential debate performance on an Ohio plumber who campaign aides never vetted.

A day after making Joseph Wurzelbacher famous, referencing him in the debate almost two dozen times as someone who would pay higher taxes under Barack Obama, McCain learned the fine print Thursday on the plumber’s not-so-tidy personal story: He owes back taxes. He is not a licensed plumber. And it turns out that Wurzelbacher makes less than $250,000 a year, which means he would receive a tax cut if Obama were elected president.

McCain likes to say that he isn’t George W. Bush – and in this case of bungled public relations, it is clear he is not. The famously disciplined Bush campaign operation would likely have found the perfect anonymous citizen to illustrate a policy proposal, rather than spontaneously wrap itself around an unknown entity with so many asterisks.

While the arc of Wurzelbacher’s breakneck trip through the news cycle – from private citizen to insta-celebrity to political target – offers a curious insight into the political media culture, it also appears to offer a glimpse into the McCain campaign’s on-the-fly decision-making style.

A McCain source said Thursday that the campaign read about Wurzelbacher on the Drudge Report, while another campaign aide confirmed that he was not vetted. Senior McCain adviser Matt McDonald told Politico after the debate that Wurzelbacher was not aware that he would become central to the candidates’ third and final showdown, although Wurzelbacher told reporters Thursday that the McCain campaign contacted him earlier in the week to ask him to appear with the candidate at a Toledo rally scheduled for Sunday. (He may not make it, now that he’s scheduled to be in New York for TV interviews.)

By doing so, they brought the intense interest and scrutiny of the press and Democratic opposition researchers on Joe, who clearly had no idea what was about to hit him. They found out that he wasn’t a licensed plumber and that he hadn’t paid more than $1,000 in taxes, all from public records.

Was Joe asking Obama a legitimate question? Yes. Has the media coverage of him been obsessive to the point of ridicule? Yes. But the sad reality is that by drawing attention to him, the McCain campaign put him in this situation. If the situation were reversed and it were the Obama campaign embracing Joe, it would be Republican operatives and the media who would be vetting him after the fact.

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