16 October 2008

The Politics of Joe

I was not in the least surprised by the constant invocations of “Joe the Plumber” in last night’s debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. This is because I lived in France during a referendum on a proposed Constitution for the European Union, during which time a fictitious “Polish plumber” became a central figure in almost every discourse. This character was going to drive across the unguarded border in his shabby little Chayka or Trabi and steal the jobs of hardworking French people by repairing their sinks. Or something like that. The fact was that by the time the debate started, it was already legal for Polish people to work in France, and they’d been doing so for a couple of years. Le plombier polonais was so much discussed that some clever folks went out and found a real Pole and made a pin-up calendar of him. (See photo.)

Of greater interest to me was the proliferation of Irish men and women who were opening up “Irish pubs” across the length and breadth of France, yet in the normal give-and-take of French politics, I’ve yet to hear a single complaint about le bar-man irlandais. This despite the significant ramifications: consi- der, for example, that American tourists are now guaranteed at least one spot in every major French city where English will be spoken with native fluency. The effect on international relations, and on France’s sense of its snooty self, has yet to be calculated.

So it’s a step forward for American politics, or at least a step toward France, that the Senators last night took a real man, who lives in Ohio under the name of Wurzelbacher, and projected onto him every manner of jeopardy and aspiration, making of him a kind of real-life straw man to build up or tear down in argument, a cudgel with which to whack one’s opponent. It’s now possible to see that Senator McCain continues to espouse “trickle-down” economic policies that (have we paid attention the past 28 years?) don’t work, because he is thinking of leaky faucets.

In today’s Europe, debating can be fun!

Neither of the candidates bothered to point out that, even in a major recession, a plumber’s lot is relatively secure: our pipes will back up whether we have jobs or not, and the rescuing plumber will charge us whatever he can get away with, just as he always has. Neither of the candidates talked about Joe the Teacher, Joe the Environmental Scientist, Joe the Solar-Energy Entrepreneur, who might actually help this country. Neither candidate talked about the Joes who resemble the rest of us, Joe the Unemployed, Joe the Uninsured, and Joe the Foreclosed. A little variety would have been nice, instead of hearing only about a plumber, but then, time was limited.

And what of Joe the Shrubber?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I love the way you write. Great sense of the absurd. If this economy in the US maintains this downturn, I might just have to join you in France!