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.
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.
Readers 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.