Joe The Plumber

If we are interested in such things, we can read in Wikipedia the following text about one of America’s “heroes.”

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known by the nickname “Joe the Plumber“, is an American conservative activist and commentator. He gained national attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential election when, during a videotaped campaign stop in Ohio by then Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, Wurzelbacher asked Obama about his small business tax policy. Obama’s response included the statement, “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” Obama’s response was seized upon by conservative media, as well as by Obama’s rival, Republican nominee Senator John McCain, as an indication that Obama was interested in the redistribution of wealth and had a socialist view of the economy. Wurzelbacher is a member of the Republican Party.

Since he expressed to then Senator Obama that he was interested in purchasing a small plumbing business,Wurzelbacher was given the moniker “Joe the Plumber” by the McCain–Palin campaign. The campaign subsequently took him to make several appearances in campaign events in Ohio and McCain often referenced “Joe the Plumber” in campaign speeches and in the final presidential debate, as a metaphor for middle-class Americans.

Wurzelbacher became a conservative activist, commentator, author and motivational speaker. In 2012, he ran on the Republican ticket to represent Ohio’s 9th congressional district in the House of Representatives, losing to Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur.

And, so I have heard, he became the darling of Fox News. He’s supposed to represent your typical American as embraced by the Republican Party and represented by ordinary folks like Mitt Romney. The reason one might be interested in recalling this name is because it is again in the news; the man has opened his mouth again and showed us that there is really nothing between his ears. After the shooting deaths of three students and the injuring of thirteen others in a Santa Barbara Community College earlier this month, Joe declared that “As harsh as it sounds — your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” There are two things about this inane comment that are disturbing.

To begin with, of course, is the crass self-assertion that rubs salt in the wounds of the parents of those who have lost their children to another senseless shooting in a country where such things are becoming alarmingly commonplace. I couldn’t possibly write a better response than did Erica Lafferty, the daughter of one of the women slain in the Sandy Hook shootings in December of 2012. Her comments can be read in their entirety here. But the second point has to do with this man’s typical misreading of the U.S. Constitution. I have held forth a number of times on this topic and will not repeat here what I have said in previous blog posts, except to say that retired Supreme Court Judge John Paul Stevens has expounded on a point I have made in those posts, to wit, that the second amendment to the Constitution does not guarantee people like Joe the Plumber’s so-called “rights” to keep and bear arms. It guarantees the rights of members of the militia to keep and bear arms.

This point cannot be made emphatically enough, since the widespread misunderstanding of the Constitution has led to the irrational attempts to justify the presumed rights of every American of every age and political persuasion to own automatic weapons that are designed to kill human beings on the grounds that they have a Constitutional right to own such weapons. The usual argument is that once such weapons are banned then “they” will take away our hunting rifles, though I have never heard anyone claim that hunting weapons should be taken away from people. Those who argue for some sort of calm and reasonable approach to gun control simply want to help remove those automatic weapons that are clearly designed for killing human beings and are readily available from the sporting goods department at Walmart, among other places.

In other words, folks like Joe the plumber who reveal their arrogant self-righteousness about their presumed “rights” and the determination of “liberals” to take away their shotguns and 22’s are guilty of what logicians call a “red herring.” There is no such movement. Second Amendment aside, no one wants to take hunting weapons away from Americans.  But the attempt  by folks on both the political left and right to bring light to an issue where there is at present so much heat  is thwarted at every turn by the immensely powerful gun lobby whose only goal is to keep producing and selling expensive weapons of all descriptions behind their appeal to a Constitutional amendment that was never written to guarantee them such a right in the first place. And the N.R.A. has shown repeatedly that they have enough politicians in their pocket to keep any sort of meaningful gun control issue from even being raised in Congress.

But, that’s the issue, isn’t it? How does one shine a light on such darkness where greed, irrationality, hatred, and fear dominate and reason can find no purchase?



9 thoughts on “Joe The Plumber

  1. that was a very insensitive and arrogant comment that he made. yow. it’s so sad to see the worst in mankind, though there are some who wear masks, and we have no idea how really cold nd cruel they might be.

    we are also blessed by good people, yes, thank goodness for the good ones, so that we don’t lose faith in mankind! thanks, hugh, for setting a standard and mentoring so many.


  2. Hugh, terrific post and Erica Lafferty’s letter is an excellent retort. I keep waiting for us to get to a “Bridge Too Far” but we never do. When will the tipping point get here where action is demanded and their voices must be heeded. How many dead kids will be enough? How many dead parents will be enough? How many drive by shootings will be enough? How many 4 year old found a loaded gun and killed his six year old brother stories will be enough?

    I live in a state (NC) where our “legislators” passed a law saying it is OK to take a loaded gun into a bar, on a playground or to college provided its in your trunk. This is inane. There are many gun owners who do not belong to the NRA and support gun law changes to better govern something designed to kill. Plus, our constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness trumps the right for Joe the Plumber to own a gun, especially since he is not in a militia. The rights of those dead Sandy Hook kids and adults he speaks about died with them.

    I think we should build off your theme and ask that question of people who say they have the 2nd amendment right – are you in the militia? Otherwise, the constitution does not give you that right.

    Well done on a beyond frustrating topic. BTG

    • Thanks, BTG. The key is the right of those in the militia to bear arms. That
      is clear from the wording of the second amendment. That needs to be said repeatedly. And then repeated!

  3. ” your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights” [Joe the Plumber]

    “… the crass self-assertion that rubs salt in the wounds of the parents of those who have lost their children to another senseless shooting in a country where such things are becoming alarmingly commonplace.”

    I think Joe the Plumber was replying to Richard Martinez’s rant about the crass politicians and the NRA. We can understand that Martinez was still in the throes of grief, but I am sure he didn’t come to his view of the NRA that day, but was expressing a long held hatred and bigotry.

    I read that Martinez is a defense attorney. So perhaps he defends criminal scum bags in court but objects to the NRA defending the right of ordinary citizens to have the means to defend themselves? That sounds a little bit hypocritical to me.

    “Second Amendment aside, no one wants to take hunting weapons away from Americans.”

    The Second Amendment has never been about hunting. If you read some of the writings and debates of the Founders it will become abundantly clear that what was intended was a means of resisting tyrannical government. Federalist #46 by James Madison is very clear on that.

    Now I won’t get into an argument about whether that is practical today, given the weaponry available to the government now, but no educated person familiar with the history of the U.S. Constitution could honestly believe that the Second Amendment had any relation to hunting weapons. It was meant to protect the right to own military weapons.

    “There is no such movement. [to take away their shotguns and 22′s]” …. “[that is] what logicians call a ‘red herring.'”

    Actually there are anti-gunners who pretty much do want to take everything away. The rest seem to be focused on creating the deception that they just want “reasonable” restrictions, like banning all semi-automatic weapons.

    It is kind of like the supposed “logic” of many anti-gunners who always characterize the NRA as wanting to let absolutely anyone own a gun.The fact is that the NRA has always supported the position that _only_ law abiding and people without dangerous mental illness should be able to own or possess a firearm.

    “the N.R.A. has shown repeatedly that they have enough politicians in their pocket to keep any sort of meaningful gun control issue from even being raised in Congress.”

    I certainly do hope that the NRA, its members, and the millions of non-members who support its views do keep many politicians aware that in this democracy their career in many places will be on the line if they support attacking the legitimate right of Americans to have weapons for self defense.



    • Thank you for taking the time to reflect and respond. I have blogged about this endlessly so I will simply say that the Constitution guarantees the right of the militia to carry weapons, and no one else.

  4. The Plumber. I often think of Nixon’s robbers with that term, too… Another of our founding documents talks about another right that Joe the Plumber seems to forget in his weak and crass justification. “Life, [along with liberty and the pursuit of happiness],” from the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson labeled an “unalienable right,” which people are endowed with from birth. Pretty hard for a questionable gun-right to trump that.

    • I get the feeling that folks like Joe can’t comprehend the notion that others have rights. They just go on and on about their “rights” which usually translate into the things they want to do!

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