Woodbridge, Va. — Tito Munoz was ready to rock when John McCain showed here up at the Connaughton Community Plaza in Woodbridge, Virginia Saturday afternoon. Dressed in a yellow hard hat covered with McCain-Palin stickers, wearing an orange high-visibility vest, Munoz carried a hand-lettered sign that said CONSTRUCTION WORKER FOR McCAIN. He got a coveted spot in the bleachers directly behind McCain, where he could be seen in the camera shot along with the guy holding the sign that said PHIL THE BRICK LAYER and the woman with the ROSE THE TEACHER banner. He cheered a lot.
Munoz and the others cheering.
Everybody was playing on the Joe-the-Plumber theme. McCain spent a lot of time on it in his stump speech, using the now-famous Joe Wurzelbacher of Toledo, Ohio, as a stand-in for “small businessmen and women all over America [who] want to keep their earnings and not give it to the government.” McCain added that Obama’s response to Wurzelbacher — the assertion that it would be best to “spread the wealth around” — made Joe the Plumber “the only person to get a real answer out of Sen. Obama.”
The crowd laughed and cheered. But for them, Joe the Plumber is much more than a zinger in McCain’s stump speech. In recent days, the Joe the Plumber phenomenon has taken on a deeper meaning for McCain’s audiences, for two reasons. First, he is a symbol of their belief that Barack Obama is going to raise their taxes, regardless of what Obama says about hitting up only those taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year. They know Wurzelbacher doesn’t make that much, and they know they don’t make that much. And they’re not suspicious because they believe that someday they will make $250,000, and thus face higher taxes. No, they just don’t believe Obama right now. If he’s elected, they say, he’ll eventually come looking for taxpayers who make well below a quarter-million dollars, and that will include them.
The second reason Joe the Plumber resonates with the crowds is what his experience says about the media. Everybody here seems acutely aware of the once-over Wurzelbacher received from the press after his chance encounter with Obama was reported, first on Fox News, and then mentioned by McCain at last week’s presidential debate. Wurzelbacher found himself splashed across newspapers and cable shows, many of which reported that he didn’t have a plumber’s license, that he wasn’t a member of the plumbers’ union, that he had a lien against him for $1,182 in state taxes, and that he failed to comprehend what many commentators apparently felt was the indisputable fact that Barack Obama would lower his taxes, not raise them. As the people here in Woodbridge saw it, Joe was a guy who asked Barack Obama an inconvenient question — and for his troubles suddenly found himself under investigation by the media.
In the audience Saturday, there were plenty of people who were mad about it. There was real anger at this rally, but it wasn’t, as some erroneous press reports from other McCain rallies have suggested, aimed at Obama. It was aimed at the press. And that’s where Tito Munoz came in.