Books for the News, Politics and Current Events

Kathleen Hall Jamieson on “Joe the plumber”

jacket imageAn unlikely new media celebrity is flitting across the political stage. When Joe Wurzelbacher stopped presidential candidate Barack Obama on a campaign trip to Ohio last week, he probably didn’t anticipate becoming the centerpiece of a nationally televised debate on tax policy. But during last Wednesday’s presidential debate, both candidates made frequent references Wurzelbacher and his encounter with Obama, at times addressing him directly to frame their arguments, and propelling “Joe the plumber” to at least fifteen minutes of political fame.
Last night Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on the subject of political rhetoric and co-author of Presidents Creating the Presidency: Deeds Done in Words, was on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer to discuss style and rhetoric in the ’08 campaign, and deliver some insight on the significance of “Joe the plumber” in Wednesday’s debate. From the News Hour:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson: Joe the plumber helped Sen. McCain control part of the agenda of the debate, but Joe the plumber also set up a very concrete example that both campaigns could now play through in the following days.
And what we’re going to find out—as the fact-checkers sort the world out—is that, if Joe the plumber only makes $40,000 a year, he, in fact, benefits more from Sen. Obama’s plan than he does from Sen. McCain’s.
If, however, he founds his business and he makes more than $250,000, well, you know, he’s going to see a tax increase from Sen. Obama.
And on the health care plan, we found an area of real confusion, because Sen. Obama hasn’t specified when people are going to be paying a fine, how many people have to be in a business to call it a small business, how much dollar amount does the business have to have to be classified small business.
So when Sen. Obama says, “Well, small businesses are exempted, Joe, don’t worry.” The fact-checkers and news people are now saying, “But, Sen. Obama, you haven’t specified what constitutes a small business.” That may actually advance this dialogue.
So Joe has made concrete very abstract proposals. And as a result, I think he’s advanced this process very importantly.

You can view video and a transcript of the rest of the discussion on the News Hour website, or find out more about Jamieson’s book.