Jonah Goldberg: The media vs. Joe the Plumber





At a John McCain rally in Virginia on Saturday, Tito Munoz had come to face the enemy: the news media, which had declared war on Joe Wurzelbacher.

"Why the hell are you going after Joe the Plumber?" he yelled at a group of reporters, including my National Review colleague, Byron York. "Joe the Plumber has an idea. He has a future. He wants to be something else. Why is that wrong? Everything is possible in America. I made it. Joe the Plumber could make it even better than me. ... I was born in Colombia, but I was made in the U.S.A."

Who knows what it will do for McCain in the end, but the Joe the Plumber phenomenon is real. At the rally, supporters carried handmade signs reading "Phil the Brick Layer" and banners proclaiming "Rose the Teacher." Wurzelbacher symbolizes an optimistic, individualistic vision of America sorely lacking -- until recently -- in McCain's rhetoric.

Barack Obama, in contrast, has offered the most rhetorically eloquent defense of collectivism since Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his biographical video at the Democratic convention, he proclaimed that in America, "one person's struggle is all of our struggles." In his acceptance speech, he artfully replaced the idea of the American dream with the century-old progressive nostrum of "America's promise."

But the two visions are in opposition: the former individualistic, the latter collectivist. We each have our own idea of the American dream. Joe the Plumber's is to own a small plumbing company; yours might be something else entirely. In America, that's fine, because the pursuit of happiness is an individual, not a collective, right.

Obama's "America's promise," meanwhile, harkens back a century to the writings of such progressives as Herbert Croly (author of "The Promise of American Life"), who demonized individualism while sanctifying collective action overseen by the state. Obama also often articulates a vision of government inspired by the biblical injunction to be our brother's keeper. Few would dispute the moral message, but many disagree that such religious imperatives are best translated into tax or economic policy. (Where are the separation of church and state fetishists when you need them?) But individualists haven't had much of a voice in McCain, at least not until last week.

So we've listened to Joe Biden question the patriotism -- and, at times, piety -- of those who don't share Obama's economic vision. We've listened to Michelle Obama promise that her husband will make Americans "work" in his effort to fix our "broken souls." We've heard the candidate himself say that we should agree to higher taxes in the name of "neighborliness," and that he'd raise the capital gains tax -- even if it demonstrably lowered revenues -- "for the purposes of fairness." His "tax cut" for 95% of Americans is in large part a middle-class dole. He will cut checks to millions who pay no income tax at all and call it a tax cut.

In short, Obama's explanation to Joe the Plumber that we need to "spread the wealth around" is a sincere and significant expression of his worldview, with roots stretching back to his church and his days as a community organizer. ...



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