27 October 2008

Cliff the Plumber and Others

Senator McCain has affected distress that Democrats and liberals have questioned the opinions and credentials of "Joe the Plumber," and it does seem like going out of one's way to refute the man's views, but since he's confessed that he put his questions to Senator Obama in the spirit of a provocateur, I guess he should be considered fair game. Two letter writers to the Albany Times Union definitely think so.

"Let me tell you about 'Cliff the plumber,'" writes Cliff Dunworth of Poestenkill, "I've been a union plumber for more than 40 years, and have been a licensed contractor for a number of those years. I always thought I made a decent living, but, never, even in my most lucrative times, did I ever make anywhere near $250,000 a year.
"Senator McCain, if you are attempting to identify yourself or your party with the average wage earner, you are missing the point by many thousands of dollars."

There's an implicit reproach of Joe here, as if the plumber is aspiring above his station and is thus unworthy of McCain's attention. But Dunworth may have missed McCain's point. John McCain is a Republican. That means he identifies with entrepreneurs, not wage earners. As a supply-side ideologue, he believes that government must cater to the entrepreneurs if wage earners are even to earn a wage. His message to wage earners is that they should show gratitude and not "envy" toward ambitious fellows like Joe.

Cliff the Plumber's attitude toward Joe is mild compared with that of Bill Baker of Averill Park.

"We all know someone like Joe the Plumber," he writes, "He's the unlicensed guy who wants you to pay in cash so he doesn't have to claim the income on his taxes, doesn't vote but 'loves the USA,' and wraps himself in the flag.
"Why should Joe have to get a plumbers' license," Baker asks sarcastically, "Government intrusion, right? Wrong. It's the law. You gotta pay taxes and get the license required by law. The United States is a nation of laws. By thumbing your nose and paying your taxes, and not getting the proper license to do plumbing work as required by law, Joe seems to be the very person I find most reprehensible. Those who wrap themselves in our great flag with no idea of what it stands for."

I wasn't aware that Joe had griped about the license requirement, but I suspect that he'd think of Bill Baker as a docile slave for his willingness to be taxed. But citizenship is always about sacrificing personal interests to a public good. It seems well short of asking people to die, and it's therefore much more reasonable, to ask them to contribute to the general welfare, which may not be exactly what the Founders meant by the term, but is always for the people to determine today. If that is "socialism," then those who denounce it are simply "anti-social" and should be recognized as such.

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