An interview with Joe the Plumber
Published: Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 07:11
Every presidential election has distinct images and words that come to people's minds when they reminisce. In 1960, it was the New Frontier. In 1980, it was Morning Again in America. In 2008, it was Joe the Plumber.
On a warm October afternoon, Joe asked Sen. Obama if his tax plan would cost him more and whether it would conflict with the American dream. Obama responded, "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." Joe quickly became a hero among conservatives for his courage and his honesty. In the third presidential debate, Joe the Plumber was mentioned 26 times, while the economy was mentioned 16 times and Iraq just 6 times. For the remainder of the campaign, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin represented themselves as the party of average people like Joe the Plumber. I shared a very nice phone conversation with Joe, during which he elaborated on his opinions.
Question: There has been some confusion amongst the media with regards to your name and occupation. Could you provide some clarification?
Answer: All right. Well, my name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. I go by [my] middle name Joseph and shorten it to Joe and have gone by that since I was born and have always been called Joe. With regards to my occupation, I was a plumber in the military for the United States Air Force. I used to teach plumbing in the military. A lot of times the licenses that are obtained in the military world do not transfer over into the civilian world.
There is also a little bit more to the story. I have a son who is 13 and have made sure that he was my number-one priority. Wherever my ex-wife traveled, I moved in order to be closer to my son. On my last move, I moved with my ex-wife from the state of Arizona to Ohio so my son and I could be together. I attended [plumbing] school for three-and-a-half years when the school went out of business. I had enough on-the-job training as far as time and service to master as a plumber … So I am a plumber. Am I licensed in the state of Ohio as a plumber? Absolutely not. I have tried to clear that up on a lot of radio and television stations.
Q: Could you please explain and elaborate on your encounter with Sen. Obama?
A: My son and I were playing football in the streets. All of a sudden, a crowd rushed by on the street. This was weird because usually you do not see that in the neighborhood. My son and his friend went to see what was going on and exclaimed that Barack Obama was here. I thought to myself that that was kind of cool. I had my mind made up for the most part [on] who I was voting for, but I still thought it was pretty amazing that Sen. Obama would come door to door talking to people.
As he started getting closer and closer to our house, I went over to my neighbor's house to hear him. I heard some of the questions being asked. I am thinking that the questions being asked were quite silly. I thought what me and my friends had talked about actually asking a politician, and making him answer straightly; usually they have a problem with doing so. A week prior to this happening, my boss and I talked about me taking over the business, and what it would require for me to make that happen. Essentially, that is why that question was at the forefront of my mind. I went up to him and yelled, "Barack." He looked and acknowledged me, and the crowd quickly parted for me. Immediately, I questioned him.
Q: Why do you and so many other Americans find the words "spread the wealth around" so troubling?
A: Well, I am fairly well read and have read Karl Marx's work, and spread the wealth around is something that he mentions quite often. If you look up the word [socialism] in [Webster's] Dictionary, the definition may not mention "spread the wealth," but community work and sharing of goods all plays into it. Obama's health-care plan is a very socialist experiment. [Obama's plans] all revolve around socialism, and that's what scares me about it.
Q: How did you feel when you became such an important factor in the final presidential debate and the campaign as a whole?
A: Initially, I thought it was completely absurd. I was glad that I could be used as a focal point to possibly bandy around some ideas, and maybe people would open their eyes to Obama's socialist ideology. However, there were so many important issues to be discussed other than the "Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber." [The debate] was absolutely ridiculous. After a while, I actually got tired of it. Not so much the "Joe the Plumber" I am tired of, but there are other issues that need to be discussed.
Q: To many Americans, you have become a symbol. What is it that you think that you represent?
A: Until I started receiving letters and phone calls, I did not try to represent anything. I am a lower-middle-class average guy who happens to have some common sense and wants a straight answer once in a while instead of a dissertation for an answer that when you're done listening to it you're wondering what the first word was. People identify with the fact that I give straight answers and ask for straight answers.
Q: You had the opportunity to campaign with Sen. John McCain in different areas of Ohio. What is your opinion with regards to Mr. McCain?
A: This is a tough question. [The McCain campaign] is trying to throw Sarah Palin under the bus. They are trying to allude to the fact that she is the reason that John McCain might have lost this election. That does not sit well with me. John McCain has not come out and said that Sarah Palin is an honorable woman and has not protected her. In terms of my opinion, he has my respect for being a war hero, and I told him that personally, but you got to get along to go along or go along to get along. Washington has been ingrained with that mentality.