October 21st, 2008


"Joe The Plumber"

So the McCain/Palin campaign is all "Waah! Waah! The Democrats are attacking Joe the Plumber! They held him at gunpoint and made him ask Obama questions on TV! Now they're being mean to the honest working man! Waah!"

There's a difference between attacking and fact-checking.

There are lots of folks who use their middle names rather than their first names. I'm intimately familiar with this; it complicates maintaing employment and directory data. Other than its annoying impact on my professional life, I so don't care.

I do care about his lies.

Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher told Obama that he's been a plumber for 15 years.

Now there's the technicality of his not being registered or licensed as necessary where he's working as a plumber. "But Ohio doesn't license plumbers!" Tell that to The Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board. Tell that to Lucas County Building Regulations. Tell that to the Toledo Division of Building Inspection. It's a technicality, but a substantive one for his business prospects (more on that later).

The "15 years" is a clear and utter fabrication, though. Wurzelbacher was hired by A & W Newell Corp (or Newell Plumbing & Heating, depending on how you look at the business) 6 years ago. In November of 2003 he registered for an apprenticeship with the Ohio State Apprenticeship Council (hardly 15 years ago). The Ohio State Apprenticeship Council reports that he should have completed his apprenticeship last year, but they have no record that he completed it.

Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher told Obama that he was getting ready to buy a Toledo plumbing company that made something over $250k/year and was worried about the tax impact.

There are so many levels on which this is a fabrication it's not funny.

"Getting ready to buy" apparently translates to Al Newell having mentioned during Wurzelbacher's interview the possibility of his buying the company some day. Wurzelbacher admitted he has no plans to buy A & W Newell anytime soon. Investigative reporting uncovered that his annual income is around $40k/year, hardly means to buy such a successful company. And, of course, he has no contractors licenses, which kind of kills that plan.

There's also the question of the success of the business. Is A & W Newell, the firm he was "getting ready to buy" a $250k/year firm? Public records show that Newell grosses a little over $100k/year. That's well under the ceiling for Obama's tax breaks. It's also gross; the taxable income of A & W Newell is going to be much lower if Newell's accountant is any good.

Finally, in from the McCain/Palin Campaign, Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher didn't ask for any of this attention.

While it's true that Obama made a quickie campaign stop in Wurzelbacher's neighborhood, it's stretching things to say Obama came up to Wurzelbacher's house.

Wurzelbacher admitted he chose to approach Obama with his question. He could have kept his mouth shut and continued to live in obscurity, a face in the crowd. Instead, he tried to catch Obama with a loaded "gotcha!"

Rather than frame his question as a hypothetical situation (which would have been fine) he turned it into a fabricated personal narrative. Now you can't fact-check a hypothetical question. It's not a real situation, it's a construct. You can fact-check a personal narrative, it's not supposed to be a construct. Wurzelbacher did, in fact, ask for this attention.

Another comment that I've decided deserves top-level position...

I may be cynical in accepting the idea that all politicians lie, and lie about substantive matters. It turns into calculus then.

How much is the politician lying?

Is the politician lying about things that are important to me?

To that end, I review Annenberg Political Fact Check (sponsored by a prominent Republican family's non-partisan non-profit foundation) and The St. Petersburg Times PolitFact (The St. Petersburg Times has a surprisingly good investigative reporting group; they broke the Robert Irvine Dinner Impossible fraudulent CV scandal--fluff, I know, but good work) services on a regular basis.

Candidates from both parties lie. Big surprise.

Republican candidates, though, lie more, keep repeating lies that have been debunked, lie about the character of their opponents and their own characters. If the Republican lies aren't coming in at least 3-for-1 compared to Democratic lies I'm surprised.

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