The Poor Man's Accountant

Let me tell you the truth behind Joe the Plumber...

One day Joe was in his front yard playing football with his son, when he suddenly found himself standing in front of the soon-to-be president of the United States. Surrounded, with the camera rolling, he tried to do what we all would have tried, say something intelligent. Unfortunately, he ended up spilling out the first thing that popped into his head. For most, speaking before thinking usually ends with pulling your foot out of your mouth. But for Joe, his ship just landed.

If Joe had studied his income tax, he would have known that Obama's tax plan only meant tax cuts for him. Even if his long-shot hope of taking over the plumbing business came true, Obama's plan would have saved him money.

But Joe didn't do his homework, instead he decides to play devil's advocate pretending he's about to hit it big and is scared Obama's tax increase will punish his great success. All he knows of Obama's plan is the $250,000 limit and from there on he's winging it. I have worked with many just like him, and I have played the role myself. Mr. Know-it-all, always trying to win the argument, a self-proclaimed expert on everything. Normally harmless, meaningless sparring between mates, except the whole thing got video-taped and took on a life of its own.

Reporters soon discovered that Joe was flat broke, didn't even have a plumber's license, and was a long way from "getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year." Right here the story should have died, but the media couldn't leave Obama's "spread the wealth around" alone. It was a hot potato they couldn't drop, even if one of the protagonists was making things up.

Now let's look at Joe's predicament. Once his dire financial condition became public knowledge, Joe was either forced to admit to the world he was just spinning a tale, or else try to sell the story that he lives in hope and doesn't want a tax break for himself if that means more taxes for those above him. Either his 15-minutes of fame was all a sad mistake and he should come clean. Or, try to keep a straight face and tell the world we need those wonderful rich guys. They keep the economy going and they deserve every penny they get. The oldest myth in capitalism! But who would believe that from a guy who has lived on welfare and currently owes $1,182 in Ohio state income taxes? The guys on the construction site wouldn't have let him get away with it!

But the drive-by-media neither thinks nor argues. They probably didn't even give him a chance to fess up. Hanging on Joe's every word, lobbing in softball questions, leading him into temptation. With all that attention, how could he not succumb to singing from the Rush Limbaugh songbook.

And look how easily Joe defended his case, evoking the greatest myth in income tax: Taxing the rich takes us "one step closer to socialism," and puts us "on a slippery slope" that inevitably ends in taxing the poor. The only way to prevent taxes on the poor is to prevent taxes on the rich. What could be fairer or simpler than that?

Then Joe himself became the story: a symbolic Joe-average, content with his lot in life, selflessly toiling at his station, a true believer in the economic pyramid and all the justifications that keep the money flowing to the top. Up on the stage with John McCain, a teachable-moment for all who aspire to the American Dream. Vote for the party of the rich, and all will get rich. Joe didn't want to take "somebody else's money who worked hard for it." Joe has bought the dream, why not you?

Joe should be a lesson to us all. He had nothing but faith in capitalism and capitalism didn't let him down. He now has a publicist who talks of "a possible record deal with a major label, personal appearances and corporate sponsorships." He even played war correspondent in the Holy Land — looking at Israel's side of the war (from one myth to another, like a moth to a flame). And let's not forget his new book: Joe the Plumber — Fighting for the American Dream. Some have greatness thrust upon them!

From a simple fumbling moment to celebrity status. Ironically, if he had actually known something about income tax and had said something relevant, or merely wished Obama good luck, we would have long forgotten about Joe the Plumber. Yet it is because he asked one irrelevant, stupid question that all the dominoes start falling. Who would have thought being income-tax illiterate could pay so handsomely?

The final irony may well be that Joe's fame will land him into a tax bracket that Obama's plan does end up taking a bite out of him. His irrelevant question will no longer be irrelevant.

How can you not believe in the American Dream after a fairy tale like that!



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