Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Fighting for the American Dream

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, May 17, 2009

“Today, I must be the most famous unemployed person in America.”

Joe the Plumber writes about his experiences at the center of one of the most vicious smear campaigns in recent memory.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
AuthorSamuel Joseph Wurzelbacher
Length180 pages
Book Rating6

When it comes to real-life events, we don’t always have the luxury of a Hunter S. Thompson or a Mike Royko at ground zero. In 2008, then-candidate Senator Barack Obama visited Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher’s neighborhood. As the result of Obama’s embarrassing response to Wurzelbacher’s question, Wurzelbacher found himself at the center of a vicious smear campaign. He ended up on the bus with John McCain, investigated by a media that doesn’t understand middle names, and illegally attacked by Ohio state politicians.

Imagine yourself spending a Sunday with your family… you do some yard work, watch a game, and then head outside to toss a football around with your son. There’s a crowd down the street. A big one. A major presidential candidate is making an unannounced stop in your neighborhood—on your street! You join the crowd, yell out a question, and he answers it. It turns into a short discussion; you don’t like his answers, but you respect that he came out to your neighborhood.

The candidate returns to his bus and you go back to playing catch with your son.

The media doesn’t pick up on it, but the blogs do. Turns out other people don’t like his answers either. The candidate said he wants to tax people at 40% “at least”. He said he wants to “spread the wealth around”. Fair enough, maybe that is newsworthy. But then the media picks up on the blogs—and runs a smear job on you for asking the question and giving the blogs something to talk about.

The news media went crazy this election. Two people completely uninvolved in politics—at the time—were hounded from their jobs. Wurzelbacher was lied about, and his private state records illegally searched. He doesn’t mention it in the book, but now that just about everyone the President appoints ends up having real tax problems, his $1,000 lien seems even less egregious than it did at the time.

“I am just like you, and if you can imagine how uncomfortable and unnerving it would be to have every aspect of your life’s history examined beneath the microscope, then you have just begun to understand my new reality.”

What is it like to get caught up in your fifteen minutes? Read his descriptions of trying to work as his cell phone kept ringing with unfamiliar area codes. Or the explosion in calls after McCain and Obama traded his name during the third debate. By the end of the night, he felt as if “a train left the station and the real Joe the Plumber was on it. He left me at the station holding the bag.”

It was becoming obvious that the plumber mattered, and that the media favorite was starting to founder. Joe’s fifteen minutes of fame turned into several weeks of infamy.

I don’t follow the media much; so some of the lies spread about Joe the Plumber made no sense. How could he have been a McCain plant sent to an Obama rally? He was a guy who happened to live in the neighborhood while Obama was doing a meet-and-greet. But that was too normal for the media; they had to report that he’d been “sent by the McCain campaign to an Obama rally.”

I tried to politely explain to this newspaper guy that if this were his family, or job, or livelihood that was being messed with, he would show some discretion, or at least some restraint.

They also came after my employer’s plumbing company, harassed our customers and went out of their way to stir up claims of plumbing malpractice. Fact was, we were among the best. We lived by referral and stood tall and proud upon the quality and professionalism of our work. I don’t mind saying that when my boss told me he had to close up shop, I had an identity crisis. The world knew me as Joe The Plumber, but in reality, I was Joe the Unemployed.

He writes like the electricians I know talk, the Democrats in the Union, some Republicans out of the Navy. This also means that when he writes it down, he sounds corny.

The greatness of our nation can more easily be undone than you might expect. Many great nations in history have unraveled before and it will happen again. What I witnessed only reinforced my view of how fragile our freedom is.

His description of meeting Senator John McCain is a much shorter version of the kind of fuckups Hunter Thompson occasionally wrote about. He sees McCain’s political problems as emblematic of the corruptive influence of power, though he doesn’t word it that way.

…his moral virtue was likely never challenged so much as it has been during his service in the United States Senate. How can you go out and speak against something with such conviction, only to vote it into law a moment later? Ask any senator, congressman or president in the last fifty years and they will all tell you exactly how it is done on Capitol Hill. Whether Democrat or Republican, they all play the same game to conduct the people’s business. They call it politics.

Wurzelbacher wrote this book to provide a foundation for SecureOurDream.com.

When someone asks an elected official a simple question and hence becomes the subject of countless personal attacks and untoward investigative scrutiny by various media and political operatives, something has gone very wrong in our country. When Free Speech has ceased to stand as an inalienable right, unless it is acceptable to the political correctness police, then something has got to change.

The first project for SecureOurDream is a Fair Tax to downsize the IRS. “I bet we could all find some replacement jobs in the private sector for those nicer folks that work for the IRS. I suppose we can find some jobs for the jerks too. Being a plumber, many qualifying positions come to mind for those especially deserving individuals.” And then he goes on to add “Does the Federal Government have any business being the single largest employer in the United States?”

Well, I hope not. I think that’s one of the biggest threats to individual rights in the U.S. today.

Wurzelbacher is worried about the U.S. turning socialist, “spreading the wealth around”. He quotes the dictionary definition of socialism twice. A few months ago I would have laughed if I’d read what he wrote about the President “seizing the means of production”. But reading it now, after the Chrysler bailout threats and the banking bailout threats, it’s no longer funny.

It’s a short book, 180 pages with large text. Throughout, he describes what happened to him simply, and provides just enough of his biography to put it into context. If you’re interested in a different perspective on the political game from someone who had no plans of getting that perspective, you’ll find Wurzelbacher’s account interesting. He has something he wants to say, and he says it. I disagree with him in several places, but I was fascinated by his account of what happened to him—and often appalled at how it happened.

Fighting for the American Dream

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

If you enjoyed Fighting for the American Dream…

For more about Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, you might also be interested in The Helter Skelter Media.

For more about journalism, you might also be interested in Kolchak: The Night Stalker (TV Series), All the President’s Men, Call Northside 777, The President’s freelancers, Confirmation journalism and the death penalty, Mike Royko: A Life in Print, The World of Mike Royko, Fit to Print: A.M. Rosenthal and His Times, A Reporter’s Life, Deadlines & Monkeyshines: The Fabled World of Chicago Journalism, Inside the Beltway: A Guide to Washington Reporting, Letters to a Young Journalist, The Elements of Journalism, All the President’s Men, The First Casualty, Scoop, Release: The Dream of Poor Bazin, and Are these stories true?.

For more about presidential elections, you might also be interested in Vote on performance, not promises, McCain sees the light: campaign finance reform dead, A horse chestnut or a newspaper or a news show?, Big lizards give advice to John McCain, Big Lizards stomp media misdirection, Blaming the financial crisis on the reformers, Branchflower’s misleading headlines, Don’t wait—capitulate, Fred Thompson vs. Barack Obama, Super-president, What voters want, Fred Thompson’s decision to withdraw, Hillary Clinton’s qualifications for president, Lord, thy will is hard, McCain’s success is not surprising, Moving on to John McCain, Nobody Likes the Electoral System, Obama campaign skirts campaign finance law, A proven reformer, Substantive answers cause misquotes, Televised debates discourage intelligent discussion, The Helter Skelter Media, These are the lessons that we learn, If I were running for president…, Nothing to fear but a brokered convention, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972.