‘Joe the Liar’

by Michael O. Allen on October 16, 2008

(Photo: Jim Young/Reuters) Wurzelbacher speaking to Sen. Barack Obama about taxes while the candidate campaigned near Toledo, Ohio, last week.

And so “Joe the Plumber” dies a swift, ignominious death.

In so doing, he enters the pantheon of fictitious Republican agitprop–such as Reagan’s apocryphal Cadillac-driving welfare queens–that have no basis in reality.

“Joe the Plumber,” you will remember, is the close-minded gentleman who stopped Sen. Barack Obama on the campaign trail in Ohio last week to ask about his taxes.

“I am getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year,” ‘Joe the Plumber’ asked. “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”

The candidate patiently explained his tax plan. But it did not stop newspaper headline writers from  demonizing Sen. Obama. And John McCain, the Republican nominee, then made sure Joe the Plumber would live on in infamy by bringing up the encounter during Wednesday night’s final presidential debate.

He flogged Mr. Obama with the plumber with some success, about the only argument with which he gained some traction all night.

But that was yesterday. This is today. The New York Times followed up and, it turns out, “Joe the Plumber” is not all he claimed to be:

Turns out that ‘Joe the Plumber,’ as he became nationally known when Senator John McCain made him a theme at Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, 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.

The premise of his question to Mr. Obama about taxes may also be flawed, according to tax analysts.

The local plumber’s union said Mr. Wurzelbacher does not hold a license either as a plumber or as a contractor.

“He’s basically playing games with the world,” Thomas Joseph, the local’s business manager, told the Times in an interview on Thursday.

Wurzelbacher was interviewed on the Fox News Channel and conservative groups. They seized on these set of words by Mr. Obama:

“I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

McCain came alive during the debate, taunting Obama repeatedly with wanting to take Wurzelbacher’s money and spread it around. After the debate, CBS anchor Katie Couric came calling. She even laughed when Wurzelbacher compared Sen. Obama with the entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., encouraging him to see a job with “Meet the Press.”

“You know, I’ve always wanted to ask one of these guys a question and really corner them and get them to answer a question,” Wurzelbacher told Ms. Couric, “for once instead of tap dancing around it, and unfortunately I asked the question, but I still got a tap dance . . .  almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr.”

Wurzelbacher was nowhere to be found when the New York Times came calling on Thursday. He did not answer messages left on his home phone and there was no answer at his plumbing business.

“All contractors are licensed, and he does not have a license, either as a contractor or a plumber,” Mr. Joseph, the union official, told the Times, citing a search of government records. “I can’t find that he’s ever even applied for any kind of apprenticeship, and he has never belonged to local 189 in Columbus, which is what he claims on his Facebook page.”

According to public records, Mr. Wurzelbacher has been subject to two liens, each over $1,000, one of which –a personal tax lien–is still outstanding.

And his question to Mr. Obama about paying taxes? According to some tax analysts, if Mr. Wurzelbacher’s gross receipts from his business is $250,000–and not his taxable income–then he would not have to pay higher taxes under Mr. Obama’s plan, and probably would be eligible for a tax cut.

The only thing I came away with from watching his encounter with Mr. Obama was how patiently the candidate answer his questions and how close-minded Wurzelbacher seemed. Meanwhile, someone ought to tell Mr. McCain that his poster boy is not what he seems because, as the Times reports, he’s still banging that drum loudly on the campaign trail.

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