The Corner

John Needs Joe, Now More than Ever

Our friends at Family Security Matters seem to have already transcribed a long and fascinating interview with today’s American everyman — Joe Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the plumber.” It is worth reading for several reasons. Foremost among them, Joe, who is, as you know, a plumber, not a candidate for high office, or even, probably, a college graduate, is much clearer about the economy and how job creation actually works in a real life, micro-economic way than either man who might be president. John McCain understands what Joe expresses, but cannot articulate it. Barack Obama has no clue that there is an economically and socially valuable stratum of our society that is comprised of millions of guys (and women) like Joe, who didn’t need a handout to get started; were willing to work hard for their piece of the pie; will “redistribute” their earings far more effectively by expanding their businesses and hiring new employees than by handing over money to the state to give to the non-productive.

Or maybe Obama understands the argument, but holds the usual Marxist contempt for the “petite bourgeois,” of whom Joe is surely one. Last week, on Geraldo Rivera’s weekend show, I had the pleasure of debating with a professor of law at Temple University, which has become a great bastion of ambient academic Marxism. The professor, an educated, urban black man who did not think it was offensive to refer to Sarah Palin’s supporters and the crowds that came out to hear her as “trailer trash,” (though he was highly offended by their clear and obvious racism), began to make the tired old argument that these benighted, none too well off white people “had voted against their economic self-interest” (i.e. suffered from the Marxian condition of “false consciousness”), for decades, and now would be led to see the error of their ways by the new Obamain order.

To be sure, if you believe, as the professor, and, perhaps Barack Obama, do, that one’s short term economic interest — i.e. — how much disposable income do I have today, from any possible source — is the most important measure of well being, well, forgoing government hand-outs might be dumb. Luckily for most of us that old work ethic, and the sturdy yeoman independence that has been part of the cultural fabric of America since the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock, hasn’t been utterly eradicated yet.

Joe, for instance, is pretty clear about it. He is also clear about the temptation of taking the money, when you are younger and haven’t yet reaped the rewards of your work. Joe explains, beautifully, that for most of us there is a natural economic trajectory, in which you start off earning little, your salary rises over time, and if you are resourceful, in middle age you are at your economic peak and maybe in a position to buy the business. This combination of effort and personal choice, exercised by millions of Americans of their own volition, created the great economy we have all known (until the government pushed the bankers to distort the rules . . .) 

Now President Obama is sorry that he will have to “punish” (his word) the hard workers, in particular the successful ones, but the wealth must be spread around.

It was only a decade ago that this country did away with “welfare as we knew it,” because it had become all too evident that it functioned more as a trap than as a safety net. The group of “spreading the wealth” policies known as the Great Society should have demonstrated conclusively, for all time, that if you could make poor people rich just by giving them money, they would all be comfortable enough. Did we not learn that welfare undermines the kind of ambition, personal discipline, and habits of mind needed to expend the effort to educate oneself, earn money, save, invest, and accomplish things? The most enduring legacy of “welfare as we knew it” was the destruction of marriage as the fundamental institution for raising children in most of this country’s black community, and among a large chunk of low income whites, as the nation’s continuing crisis level out-of-wedlock childbearing rates demonstrate. 

There are a many sayings along the lines of Santayana’s “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” I always imagined that the history in question referred to events more than a couple of decades old. Or maybe old George simply forgot to tell us that knowing it does not necessarily absolve us from being prey to making the same mistakes, in service of a new leader’s ambitions. Actually, if this nation elects someone who is promising (or lying about his intentions) to socialize much of the economy, it will merely verify what Hegel had to say on the subject: “What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.”

Except, of course, Joe and the rest of us who believe those old, free market, small government, individual liberty principles. In an election campaign that might come straight from the pages of an Alan Drury novel, (or Fletcher Knebel, my early favorite), Joe the plumber may well become John McCain’s most effective surrogate.


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