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Hindsight blog

Muse on participatory democracy and the roles of all citizens including students, artists, the media, and of course, politicians. Presented by the Weisman Art Museum with the exhibition "Hindsight is Always 20/20".

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Speaking of plumbers...

I started my Weisman blogging with the Lionel Trilling observation that it is now life, not art, that requires the willing suspension of disbelief. Lately there is nothing that reinforces this more than the current presidential campaign. In recent weeks I’ve too-often rubbed my eyes in disbelief or gasped, “Did s/he really say that?!??

And so it was last Wednesday watching the Presidential debate. After about two dozen references to “Joe the Plumber? I wanted to know more about this mystery man who’d sidled up to Barack Obama with a YouTube-ready question about Obama’s tax plan. In case you’ve not heard the exact query, Joe the Plumber, a.k.a. Samuel “Joe? Wurzelbacher, asked Senator Obama, “I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year; your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it??

Mr. Wurzelbacher hopes to purchase the plumbing business where he works. His comments gave me pause as I have a friend, Todd Landon, who owns a successful small plumbing business. In an amusing bit of synchronicity Landon calls his business ‘Todd the Plumber’.


Landon’s business is nearly identical to the one Wurzelbacher hopes to purchase: small, usually two to three employees, including the owner. I asked Todd if his business’ net income usually exceeds $250,000+ per year and in his singular wry/dry style he informed me it does not. Indeed, the average Ohio plumber earns $47,930.* Landon, as a business owner, likely earns more than that, but he’s not clearing a quarter mil – not even close.

As news junkies know by now it’s been discovered that Mr. Wurzelbacher is not, unfortunately for his employer and his clients, a licensed plumber. (Toledo, where Wurzelbacher lives and works, requires a license of all plumbing contractors.)

Mr. Wurzelbacher’s exchange with Senator Obama, and Senator McCain’s decision to position Joe-the-not-really-a-plumber as the American everyman, has temporarily drained my reservoir of available disbelief. Everything about this episode felt awkward and stilted – and if life is a stage I’m giving this performance a really bad review.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about Joe the Plumber, and why I’m bothering to review bad political theater. It’s at least in part because I know a plumber and felt a swell of righteous indignation when hardworking plumbers everywhere were besmirched by this debacle.

However that’s not the only reason. The political season brings to mind another of my favorite quotes, this one from former President John F. Kennedy: “If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live.?**

I share President Kennedy’s sentiment. I believe that poets, writers, musicians and artists of all stripes do our country a great service by observing, recording, making art about and in all ways participating in our public life. Even when it means writing a blog post about a faux plumber who just enjoyed his 15 minutes of Warholian notoriety.

P.S. I’ll be back later this week to respond to comments re: my earlier post inquiring about the art that’s inspired you. A shout out to Mark, Sam, and Carol for their eloquent posts on the topic.

*According to the May 2007 occupational earnings report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
**Kennedy address at Harvard University, 1956


I know a few plumbers. Joe Wurzelbacher is not a plumber. Plumbers are hardworking tradespeople, they pay their taxes and hold proper licenses. Joe apparently doesn't feel he needs to do either of these things.

Meanwhile, to coin a paraphrase, I think it's time to send in the poets.

I don't understand why people can't tell the difference between what a business earns and what an individual earns. That's the whole point. Joe the plumber may be discredited, but the point still stands. BUSINESS taxes for small businesses taking in more than 250K would increase under Obama. That means the BUISNESS has less money to pay salaries and cannot hire more workers, as the money they would use is now going to taxes. If people want to support Obama, that's fine with me, but I think that we need to be clear about the facts, so an informed choice can be made by all.

I know Todd...he did some work at my house too. He chats a lot while working, so I know he is not short of opinions, and certainly cannot be pigeon holed on ideology. He is very thoughtful about his work and how it intersects with local and state policies. I was very disappointed to learn that Joe "the (un)plumber" specifically showed up at the event not to make a genuine inquiry, but to corner Obama. In any case, poor ol' John McCain should stick to campaigning on ideas and stay away from efforts to inject drama and theater (can anyone say "campaign suspension").

I have been around long enough to remember the last time Republicans got involved with "plumbers" At 8Pm on election day I suggest that we all flush the loo as a symbol of their passing.


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