Joe the Plumber is an American story which could grow into an American legend. It might be told in coming years as an example that a common man can make a difference in America, even today.
It could be one of those stories that wipes away cynicism -the kind children like to hear. One of those stories that let us know that if we’re strong and brave that good things might still happen in this country.
The story will start invariably with a man named Joe standing out on his lawn playing football with his son. A perfect beginning which has the advantage of truth. Enter stage left the candidate with the double digit lead in the polls walking down the street with the press in tow. You see, the campaign with just weeks left before voting day decided to avoid possible mistakes, go into planned photo-ops and pre-scripted events. Nobody planned on Joe.
The legend will go: The smooth talking candidate walked up on Joe’s lawn and everything changed.
I wonder if we’ll soon see books written by the candidate’s political consultants that will say they knew how huge it was, that they alone recognized the moment for what it was. They’ll say things like the candidate walked confidently up onto Joe’s lawn and a few minutes later the campaign staggered off.
It was a moment nobody was prepared for. You see, believe it or not, the media hadn’t asked the candidate a tough question in months so he was unprepared for Joe’s simple little question, “Why are you going to raise my taxes?” The candidate perhaps was a little too glib. The candidate, in fact, may have been a little too honest. He told the truth, something all political consultants advise against.
And the legend will continue that somewhere, a few states away another presidential campaign which had seemed moribund just moments before rose without even knowing it. All they had to do was latch onto the truth of that moment. You see, for months this moribund candidate had been angling for just the right thing to say. He’d been through dozens of messages but still he slipped in the polls. And then he heard that one man had asked a question and the truth had surprised everyone. And the candidate latched onto our hero Joe the Plumber in a televised debate. He mentioned him not once but over a dozen times in a nationally televised debate.
Soon, the media descended with unflattering stories about Joe. They meant to destroy him with stories that he was an unlicensed plumber or that he had a tax lien against him. But the people weren’t shocked by Joe. Instead, they were shocked that the media attacked Joe. Soon, hundreds of people were wearing shirts saying “I am Joe the Plumber.” Men waving plungers showed up at rallies. There were commercials and television appearances.
And the legend grew.
If Obama wins, Joe the Plumber will be forgotten. He’ll be a punchline for a while until he becomes a name we can’t quite place like Kato Kaelin.
If McCain wins Joe the Plumber will become a legend. An allegory of all that is good in America. He’ll be invited to the inauguration. He’ll be interviewed. He’ll probably become Joe the congressional candidate or something like that but I hope not. A man like Joe is of more use to us as a legend than a candidate. His service to America is best as a story about how a man standing on his lawn changed the course of a country. It’s a story that I’d like to hear over and over.