by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber,” passed away from pancreatic cancer this week. For those too old [sic] to remember him, Wurzelbacher, 49, became a minor political celebrity during the 2008 presidential race when he confronted Barack Obama, surely the most coddled candidate until that time, about his far-left economics.
Wurzelbacher, who worked at a small plumbing company near Toledo, believed that Obama’s redistributive policies would hurt small businesses. It was clear enough that the Democratic Party’s candidate was intent on instituting as much top-down federally managed economic control as possible. This was obvious.
Wurzelbacher’s question sparked plenty of ginned-up indignation from the left. As Byron York noted at the time, if Joe the Plumber had any unsavory events in his past, we were probably going to find out soon enough. Indeed, the same press that had allowed Obama to fabricate much of his life story jumped into action. ABC News reported that Wurzelbacher owed $1,200 in taxes, The New York Times reported that he wasn’t actually a licensed plumber, and so on.
Obama would answer Wurzelbacher’s accusation over the next couple of weeks with a torrent of platitudes and strawmen. It was clear the soon-to-be president believed we were a nation awash in breathtaking greed, inequality, and exploitation. By 2011, in a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, Obama dropped the pretense and made a progressive case against markets, which he called a “simple” ideology that “speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. … And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work.” Today, regrettably, this kind of statist rhetoric runs the partisan gamut.