Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber Won the Debate

Democratic Obama and Republican McCain met in the final presidential campaign debate and the clear winner was...Joe the Plumber.

Ohio resident Joe Wurzelbacher (later identified by Associated Press), or "Joe the Plumber," was mentioned over a dozen times in the debate. He was introduced by McCain who claimed the plumber told Obama (pictured here) that his economic plan would keep him from buying the business he worked for. This must mean that Joe makes more than $250,000 a year, confirming most people's suspicion that plumbers clean up. "I'll help you buy that business, Joe," McCain promised. "I'll keep your taxes low." Obama said Joe's concerns about his tax policies were misplaced. "He's been watching some ads of Sen. McCain." Then he patiently tried to explain that most small business owners made less than his cut-off for tax relief, and that his plan would help them, not the Exxons and Mobils of the corporate world. Joe, who told the AP that his name being mentioned in the campaign is "pretty surreal," did not reveal who he would vote for.

McCain used the encounter to argue that his opponent wanted to promote class warfare and "spread the wealth." The feisty former POW was in full-on attack mode and besides tarring Obama as a typical tax and spend liberal, likened him to Herbert Hoover (a real stretch) for policies that would restrict trade and raise taxes. At one point he slipped and called the Democrat "Senator Government" before claiming that Obama wants government to take on every job, "too much government" for the Reagan ("my hero," he said in the last debate) Republican. He even cried: "Why do we always have to spend more?" while apparently forgetting that he'd just supported a $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street.

But this is an odd thing to say when both candidates agree that government must take control of the financial system to stave off a global economic meltdown. I've just finished reading last week's Newsweek with its cover story on "The Future of Capitalism." All of the writers conclude that laissez faire, unregulated capitalism, the darling of Reagan Republicans for years, is dead. But what will emerge from the mess? Environmental socialist Mike Davis, in a wonderful article for, writes that, "Although I've been studying Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I'd actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide. Or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent 'systemic meltdown.' The economy is Obama's Grand Canyon, Davis says, explaining that the first Europeans to discover the great gorge were too awed to see it clearly. "Like the Grand Canyon's first explorers," Davis writes, "we are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall." He isn't sure Obama is up to the task of seeing clearly.

Davis concludes by bringing up Obama's me-too'ism foreign policy from the first two debates:
It is bitterly ironic, but, I suppose, historically predictable that a presidential campaign millions of voters have supported for its promise to end the war in Iraq has now mortgaged itself to a "tougher than McCain" escalation of a hopeless conflict in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal frontier. In the best of outcomes, the Democrats will merely trade one brutal, losing war for another. In the worst case, their failed policies may set the stage for the return of Cheney and Rove, or their even more sinister avatars.
I found the debate another bore, although the post-debate polls pundits were united in seeing Obama as the clear "winner," whatever that means. Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS asked some excellent questions of the two seated debaters, and both did their best to ignore the nuances, choosing to emphasize familiar talking points instead. Neither said whether they were willing or not to try and control medical costs, or whether the other's veep candidate was less qualified. Both ignored the possibility of reducing energy needs rather than fulfilling them through nuclear power and offshore drilling. Although the stock market had plunged once again that day, and markets were reacting negatively all around the world, the economic crisis seemed little more than a blip on their campaign rhetoric radar. They refused to answer Schieffer pointed questions (as they did in the last two debates) about what effect the huge trade deficits and Wall Street bailouts would have on their health care and education proposals.

McCain was nastier, bringing up wild charges about 60's radical Bill Ayers and the community organization group ACORN that have become central to his negative smear campaign. Claiming to be "a federalist," preferring state over federal intervention, the Republican gave a spirited defense of his anti-abortion position, but contradicted himself by advocating federal aid for troubled schools, "the civil rights issue of the 21st century" (clearly an attempt to mention and trump race in the same statement). Both advocate more charter schools, but do not reveal what competition would do to our under-funded public schools and the underpaid teachers. Obama was heavy on specifics, using a professorial tone to emphasize core issues of importance to the middle class (no one speaks for the poorer classes any more). He was cool and upbeat, certain about "what the American people want," and optimistic: "We can disagree without being disagreeable," and "Our brightest days are still ahead." Deeper questions, the bigger picture, were studiously avoided by both men. The Republicans, from Reagan to Bush, have trashed America and Obama neglected to deliver the criticism this disaster demands.

Joe the Plumber, first cousin to Palin's pal, Joe Six-Pack, is a sorry symbol of America's future.

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