Categorized | Politics

Candidates Appeal to Joe the Plumber in Last Debate


In the last presidential debate of the 2008 election, both presidential candidates spent much of their time Wednesday night jockeying for the approval of middle-class Americans.

Barack Obama and John McCain’s comments included repeated references to Joe the Plumber, a previously unknown Ohio resident who had spoken with Obama on the campaign trail earlier in the week. The candidates used Joe as a stand-in for working-class American citizens to explain the differences between their economic policies.

They missed the mark with some viewers, like El Cerrito resident Steve Bowles, who was offended by the generalization of character.

“I’m a Joe the Plumber, and I thought that was a silly McCain tactic,” said Bowles.

The last debate’s focus was on domestic policy, and the candidates at times sought to reassure Americans that they understood their woes, financial and otherwise.

Bob Schieffer of CBS News moderated the debate, which took place at Hofstra University in New York.

“[Today was] another very bad day on Wall Street, as both of you know,” Schieffer began. Schieffer then presented a brief outline of both candidates’ proposed economic plans and inquired of McCain why his plan was better than Obama’s.

McCain said the country needed to “put homeowners first” and proposed a government-buy-up of home mortgages to the tune of $300 billion, out of the recently allocated $750 billion to deal with the economic crisis.

In response, Obama sought to convince middle class Americans that he was on their side, proposing focusing on job creation, a middle-class tax cut, and fixing the health-care and education system.

“I think everybody understands at this point that we are experiencing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” said Obama.

McCain followed this with his first reference to Joe the Plumber, a Joe Wurzelbacher from Ohio. He accused his opponent of raising taxes on people like Joe with his tax proposals.

“What you want to do to Joe the Plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business,” McCain said.

Obama responded by saying that McCain’s goal was to provide tax breaks to “some of the wealthiest corporations in America,” while his proposal was focused on helping the middle class, claiming again that 95 percent of Americans would receive a tax cut.

“What I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn’t yet have money, I want to give them a tax break now,” Obama said.

Obama also resurrected a metaphor he mentioned during the previous debate, referring to McCain’s across-the-board spending freeze proposal.

“An across-the-board spending freeze is a hatchet, and we do need a scalpel, because there are some programs that don’t work at all. There are some programs that are underfunded. And I want to make sure that we are focused on those programs that work,” Obama said.

McCain responded in kind.

“Senator Obama talks about voting for budgets,” he said. “He voted twice for a budget resolution that increases the taxes on individuals making $42,000 a year. Of course, we can take a hatchet and a scalpel to this budget. It’s completely out of control.”

As the candidates addressed questions about leadership in a campaign that had “turned very nasty,” according to Schieffer, viewers at the Sky Lounge in El Cerrito weighed in on their performances.

Corinne Duwe of El Cerrito was not impressed with McCain.

“McCain is doing all right – I think he has a huge disconnect from what the real issues are,” she said. “Obama’s done really well at not attacking back.”

However, Duwe was concerned with both candidate’s fiscal policy proposals.

“I think our candidates need to be more realistic about where the money is going to come from,” she said. “That’s one of my concerns.”

Bobby Poole, a business-owner from West Virginia who was visiting El Cerrito, agreed that money was an issue.
“The economy’s real bad right now,” he said. “It’s real bad back home.”

He thought Obama and McCain both came off as “strong” in the debate, but he was still more critical of the Republican candidate.

“McCain just turns me off…every time he blinks his eyes I think he’s lying,” said Poole.
“I hope Obama wins because he’s making sense.”

Bowles thought that the verbal attacks were less personal than those of prior debates, due to the closer physical proximity of the candidates. Both candidates and the moderator were seated around a table.

“It’s always easier to demonize your opponent when you’re across the room,” Bowles said.

He did not appreciate McCain’s attempts to characterize middle-class Americans, however.

“I’m just a regular guy. I’m a Joe Sixpack – but I’m not a conservative radical white guy,” said Bowles. “I just hate being pigeon-holed.”

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