Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the plumber, senator, independent/democrat, etc

Joe the plumber is starting to irritate me. It's not because he is a real guy, or that he turns out to be something of a real fraud, but because he is being described and is still being described as a symbol. Joe says the business he works for makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year, he says he would like to buy the business, and he asks why Obama is against the "American Dream". By the way, I have not watched, nor do I want to watch, the YouTube video of the back and forth between Joe and Obama. But I have watched what other people are saying about Joe, how he is now an important symbol. On the show Off Q, the two Republicans were arguing fiercely that Obama's (unfortunate and yet accurate for Joe) comment to Joe that we need to share the wealth. The Republican's were asking why would you tell people you were taking their money away for other people who don't work as hard as you do. On Washington Week, Doyle McManus was saying it didn't matter what Joe's actual circumstances are, what is important is his role as a symbol.

So apparently Joe was misrepresenting himself to the world. He was characterized as undecided and independent, when in fact he is apparently a long time Republican. I have heard the plumbing company does not make nearly as much as was claimed, and/or that if two men are sharing the revenue, then the 280,000 becomes less, maybe 230,000 and 50,000 or a more equal number. Either way, the owner of the company is not making the quarter of a million dollars that Joe apparently claimed he was anticipating. Based on what I know personally about taxes, it is possible that an individual could be set up as an individual corporation or some kind of partnership. But if you fill out a schedule C in your income tax, you are supposed to claim those expenses like supplies, equipment and depreciation, advertising, health insurance for yourself and any employees, etc, these things reduce your income for tax purposes. So Joe's whole problem is a red herring. Seeing him as a symbol of blue collar ambition is a lie. Plus he looks like a Republican plant, or at the very least, an opportunist. And he owes the State back taxes and is not currently a registered plumber and may be penalized for the attention that has been drawn to him.

So the symbol is a fraud. And that is really, really important. Why? Because incomes between the people at the top (say the top ten percent) and people at the bottom (the lower 90% or so) are showing an increasing gap for the last fifty years or so (with maybe some time off during Democratic administration). The "American Dream" is that anyone can work hard and succeed and have a pretty comfortable life or maybe even get wealthy, like Joe was saying he wanted to do. And Joe was asking Obama why he wanted to ruin Joe's dream (with the extra 4% of taxes). Joe's point is that electing Obama will end the American Dream for all of us.

But it's not true. We need to look seriously at what Obama's tax policy will do for us, what "spreading the wealth around" means. It would mean for poorer people, they will have a few more dollars back when they file their taxes (a few will cannily adjust their with-holding to take advantage of the new tax policy, but most will just save with Uncle Sam). They will also have incentive with a higher tax credit for education to get more or perhaps any training or education. And the people who provide some of the money to do all this will be the richer among us, the professionals who did work hard for their money like lawyers, doctors and businessmen. They do work hard and apparently many of them don't like giving their money to people who didn't have to work for it. But we should note that despite the few but prominent rags to riches stories we hear about, most wealthy people come from wealthy households with the advantages that come with knowing the right people. Further, I resent the idea that it is somehow harder to sit behind a desk and do work on a computer, or work in an operating theatre, or research and argue before a judge and jury, than to clean floors for eight hours, or take care of either the very old or the very young. I would agree that both types are hard, but if pay is based on how hard work is, then at worst everybody would be paid the same. As people keep asking, when did it become patriotic to avoid paying taxes. But that is what the wealthy have gotten away with for these many years. And it is the wealthy who can best afford to help the less fortunate, and part of the reason they are so wealthy is because of past policies, so it only appropriate that they take their turn paying their share.

Meanwhile, we need to think more critically about Joe, and what he really symbolizes.

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