Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream

Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas.
– Lord Acton

The greatness of our nation can more easily be undone than you might expect. What I witnessed . . . only reinforced my view of how fragile our freedom is.
– Samuel J. Wurzelbacher

Not since the publication of God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley, Jr.’s seminal book, has there been a more thorough re-evaluation of the tenets of modern conservative thought. Samuel J. Wurzelbacher’s initial work, Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream, picks up the mantle of Buckley’s unassailable philosophy. Wurzelbacher posits “[t]he greatness of our nation can more easily be undone than you might expect” and “[m]any great nations in history have unraveled before and it will happen again.” (p. 47) This prescient analysis, so simple in its delivery yet so profound in its implications, clearly builds on the work of Buckley, F. A. Hayek, Leo Strauss, Milton Friedman, and Norman Podhoretz.

Wurzelbacher revises and updates modern conservatism and carves out his place among the pantheon of living conservative intellectuals. These infallible thinkers, like Wurzelbacher, have produced treatises in recent years that are sure to stand the test of time. Stephen Moore’s Bullish on Bush: How George W. Bush’s Ownership Society Will Make America Stronger (2004) and Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America: Competition and Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future (2004), have now been joined by Wurzelbacher’s masterpiece.

Wurzelbacher synthesizes strains of conservative thought elucidating a conceptual framework that fuses the exceptionalism of American culture with a sanguine and levelheaded view of America’s role in international affairs. Like Wurzelbacher, David Brooks outlines in Bobos in Paradise (2001) and in On Paradise Drive (2004) a flawless analysis of exceptional American cultural attributes. Additionally, Norman Podhoretz identifies the gravest external threat to the United States and emphasizes what must be the central organizing principle of American foreign policy in World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (2007). Like Brooks and Podhoretz, Wurzelbacher demonstrates his mastery, as only an unassuming workingman could, over the unpredictable and complex cultural and international conflicts that have come to define and challenge modern America.

Wurzelbacher consciously expands on the work of F.A. Hayek, one of the leading conservative intellectuals of the twentieth century, by examining the fragility of civil society in the face of contending expressions of “socialism.” “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.” (p. 47) This Wurzelbacherian historicism is replete with layers of multifaceted and revelatory observations that only someone elbow deep in the work of a humble plumber could contemplate.

Wurzelbacher, ever cognizant of the pedigree of conservative thought that informs his study, elaborates on the time-tested and indomitably wise precepts of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Leo Strauss’s The City and Man and Natural Right and History. Wurzelbacher’s deep understanding of the intellectual umbilical cords that anchor modern conservatism is why the two leading lights of the conservative intelligentsia, Mike Gallagher and Sean Hannity, have offered their high praise of his work: “Joe’s story is the iconic American tale,” writes Gallagher, while Hannity sums it up this way: “He is truly a great American.”

Like other contemporary conservative authors such as Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, and Bill O’Reilly, Wurzelbacher quietly toils in obscurity compiling his ideas far outside the limelight of “liberal” media attention. “I am not special,” he writes, “nor do I believe I have a calling or that I have some self-image of greatness to protect.” Wurzelbacher continues: “Some have claimed whether Conservative or Liberal, that I crave the media spotlight and that I live for the attention. . . . I am a private kind of guy — more private than most. . . . No, I surely do not like anything about the supposed limelight in the slightest.” (p. 46) Hence, like Coulter, Morris, O’Reilly and other low-key, sincere, and understated conservative intellectuals, Wurzelbacher cares not about receiving accolades or financial compensation, his only desire is to impart his insights for the benefit of future generations and the nation.

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The lasting wisdom of Wurzelbacherism cannot be denied or ignored. Why else would the response from his detractors be so strident? Wurzelbacher is in good company; Alan Bloom, Leo Strauss, William F. Buckley, Jr., and even Margaret Thatcher were all forced to endure similar attacks after they presented in writing, and unapologetically, their innovative and foolproof conservative principles. “The minions of the Democrat political machine mobilized a successful campaign against me, a private citizen,” Wurzelbacher reminds his readers, “which stirred up hatred you cannot believe.” (p. 45) Wurzelbacher was taken aback by the senseless attacks from “the Internet trash machines of the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos and others.” “I just couldn’t understand,” he laments, “why a plumber was so dang important amidst the most important election of our lifetime.” [Italics in Original] (p. 42) Surely, Bloom, Strauss, Buckley, and Thatcher would be able to relate to the kind of politically motivated persecution that Wurzelbacher has faced.

Drawing on the time-tested and proven monetarism of Milton Friedman and the supply-side economics of Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffer, Wurzelbacher rejects the concept of a graduated income tax and other redistributive government policies as typical Democratic social engineering. The liberal establishment, Wurzelbacher points out, cannot grasp “why a guy like me, a bona fide member of the middle class and all, wouldn’t embrace Robin Hooding my neighbor who has a few more bucks than I do.” [Italics in Original] (p. 44) Elsewhere in his masterful exegesis, Wurzelbacher lucidly delineates this point: “I am hard-pressed to believe [President Barack Obama] won’t wind up taxing us all to pay for his enormously expensive government entitlement programs in one way, shape or form. Moreover, I find it distasteful and morally reprehensible to take money away from someone who has worked harder than I have, been at it longer, or has had better breaks.” (p. 26) There exists in English no superior or more succinct encapsulation of the thesis contained in Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom than the one Wurzelbacher enunciates in this remarkable book.

joseph-palmero.gifReaders should be reminded that it was not Wurzelbacher who thrust himself into the center of the American political debate of 2008, nor was he just a pawn that the McCain campaign cynically used for crass political gain, nor is he a pitiful contrivance designed to deceive working people into voting against their own class interests — I daresay no! The Honorable Samuel J. Wurzelbacher is in fact a humble American workingman who wants nothing more than to unclog toilets and chase turds in obscurity.

by Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Published by the LA Progressive on March 3, 2009
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).

Comments

  1. Ray Bishop says:

    When a person is hired to do a job it is important that the person has the intellect and qualifications to do what is required. An elected official is required to represent the majority of those who elected him or her and use the knowledge that comes with the position to do what is best for the planet.
    It also takes intelligence to select the right person as a voter. This worries me considering our past history. We need better information on the policies and qualifications of our leaders. We need an informed electorate.

  2. Joe is neither a Plumber or named “Joe.” He is a 37 year old that looks like he’s 50, who has limited intelligence, and is trying to capitalize on being on the right place at the right time three years ago when President Obama came to his crappy midwestern town. Now he is running for Congress!!! What a joke.
    He stands for nothing and is just another right wing, confused, talking head, trying to cash in on his 15 minutes of fame. If he gets elected, we are truly doomed.

    I saw him on Lawrence O’Donnells show last night endorsing Cains’ 999 plan, which has been debunked by anybody with a brain. He couldn’t make one point on why he supports it.

    Don’t buy his book, because his message is unclear. He left the GOP party out of frustration and now he’s back bc the DEMS don’t want him around either. Im pretty sure he didn’t write it anyway: Since he seems illiterate.

    HE is a Joke!!!!! just like Boehner and the other lame cronies in OHIO

    • Clayton is a one of the people who love to look down their nose a at the average Joe. No “Joe” is not the slick average politician. Thank God because those people we have elected have put us in such a deep hole we may never come out of it. He is not a public speaker and may have a hard time getting his point across,but,I put as much trust in him as I do those weasels we have in office at this time. They have padded their nest and voted themselves automatic pay raises and cost of living raises.Most of them care little about the people they are supposed to represent. I feel bad for my grandkids that we are leaving our great country in such a mess.

  3. Gwazdos says:

    his only desire is to impart his insights for the benefit of future generations and the nation.

    If this is what we have to rely on for insights we are in a sad state of affairs. The only guy worst that Joe the Dummy is Rush “THE FAT ONE” Limbaugh. This country is surely in trouble when people of this sort are given media coverage.

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