The Rise and Fall of Joe the Plumber

I would like to mention that a couple days ago Senator Obama was out in Ohio and he had an encounter with a guy who’s a plumber, his name is Joe Wurzelbacher…Joe, I want to tell you, I’ll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and be able — and I’ll keep your taxes low and I’ll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees.

John McCain, Presidential Debate, 10-15-2008

Turns out that “Joe the Plumber”…may run a plumbing business but he is not a licensed plumber. His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes a bit in back taxes.

NY Times, 10-16-2008

Has there been a figure in our politics that’s burned out faster than the rise and fall of Joe the Plumber?

What’s interesting is Joe didn’t really “rise” during the last Presidential debate, but had been bubbling up in the right wing blogs, and on Fox News, for 5 days before he was unveiled by McCain to a national audience. Indeed, much of the reaction on TV after was, to paraphrase, “Who the heck is this Joe the plumber?”

One unscientific but somewhat interesting way of measuring how this story went from a chance meeting by Obama on a street in Ohio to a major talking point in a national debate is to track the number of blogs talking about it. A quick search of google blogs for “spread the wealth” obama plumber shows:

10/11-10/12: 5 stories returned

10/12-10/13: 234 stories

10/13-10/14: 392 stories

10/14-10/15: 1614 stories

And, again, unscientifically, if I had to pick one factor that moved this along, it would be the story Fox News ran on 10/13 about Obama’s meeting with Joe. The key graf:

“It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too,” Obama responded. “My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Of course, there’s a world of difference found in an ellipsis. This, from the ABC news article on 10/14:

Obama said, “My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off if you’re gonna be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”


In any case, once Joe hit the spotlight, he apparently couldn’t get enough, and appeared on several morning news shows today. The Daily Kos bloggers dug in at 8:20AM this morning, and by this afternoon, the Times had their headline.

Not suggesting, of course, the kossacks were alone in uncovering everything about Joe, or causing his once-shining star to burn out.

This is all very unscientific, you know.


One response

  1. […] Sifry on YouTube politics, and The NY Times on the copyright problems of YouTube. Finally read this short piece by Carlo (who talked with our class) and the the article it […]

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