History repeats itself, someone now taboo once said. The first time it is tragedy; the second time, farce. More than eight years ago, I sat in a gymnasium in South Carolina watching John McCain speak to a crowd of students just days before that state's primary election.
George Bush the lesser's slimy forces were slithering all over the state, smearing McCain with robocalls; hinting that he had fathered a black child (he has an adopted girl from Bangladesh). Incredibly, they were telling voters that the tortured war hero wasn't as tough as the pampered draft dodger, and enough of the idiots believed it.
McCain stood tall that afternoon I saw him; brought his wife and all his children on the stage behind him.
He looked and acted like a statesman, and it didn't work. Bush crushed McCain in that primary, and the better man's campaign spiraled downward and never really recovered.
John McCain learned something from that experience, or thought he did. Unfortunately, the lesson he seems to have taken away from it was this: If you want to be president, you need to forget about integrity and sell your soul.
This year, he has appealed to the ignorant, the repellent, the incompetent and the racist. He picked a vice presidential candidate who virtually every thinking conservative from George Will to David Brooks now says has no business being on any national ticket.
He has engaged in character assassination, put forward a dishonest and badly distorted economic plan that has no relation to reality, and lies cheerfully about his opponent and the issues. He has failed to repudiate creatures like Liz Trotta, a right-wing journalist who appeared to call for the Democratic candidate's assassination on Fox "news" in May, and then laughed about it.
Nor has McCain denounced Michele Bachmann, a whack job U.S. Representative from Minnesota who last week said she thought Obama had "anti-American views." Worse, she called for a return to the worst excesses of McCarthyism, saying the media should "take a look ... at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-American or anti-American." (The irony is that her statement proves she is as thoroughly anti-American as anyone can be.)
Yet the delicious irony of it all is that it isn't working. McCain has lost every shred of who he once was and what he stood for, and as a result, the American people increasingly dislike him. Polls after the presidential debates showed that the public now sees him not as a witty and ironic gutsy maverick. They no longer like him. He comes across today as Grumpy McNasty, a crabby old man whose main pleasure in life is telling little kids to get off his lawn.
The supporters he is left with are mostly other nasty old men, who are screaming and hollering that Barack Obama would inflict "socialism" on the American people. (They somehow seem to have missed the fact that McCain, flailing around for an economic policy, has at times sounded like a charter member of the Black Panther Party, saying that the government should assume all the bad mortgages, and perhaps take over the banks as well.)
Besides the bad prostate set, he has Sarah Palin, the reckless and ruthless hockey mom from hell, who has little education and no experience at much of anything except giving birth, but who can barely disguise her eagerness to run for president on her own.
And, of course, he has Joe the Plumber.
The saga of Joe the plumber (who isn't named Joe and really isn't a plumber, but, hey) illustrates everything you need to know about what's wrong with McCain, and to a great extent, the media. The story has now become so distorted that it is worthwhile examining what actually happened.
On Oct. 12, campaigning door-to-door in a suburb of Toledo, Obama was challenged by a guy who said he was a plumber, that he wanted to buy a small business that would make maybe $250,000 a year, and that he was concerned he would have to pay more taxes under Obama's plan. The Democratic nominee said, "It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody that is behind you, that they have a chance for success too. I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
Actually, independent analysts say that under the tax plan Barack Obama is advocating, a guy like Joe with a business like his would actually pay less. But that didn't stop the Rush Limbaughs of this world from jumping on this, lionizing "Joe the Plumber" and charging that the conversation proved Obama was a socialist.
Joe the Plumber's bald head started to swell, and he began having press conferences. It was clear he was a McCain supporter all along, with no real interest in finding out which candidate's plans were more in his best interest. He seemed to like publicity.
Then, of course, the Toledo Blade checked out Joe. It is an excellent newspaper that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism in 2004. (Full disclosure: I am paid by that newspaper to be its ombudsman and writing coach.) Turns out Joe's real name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, and he isn't a licensed plumber, or a registered plumber, or a member of the plumbers' union. If he is doing plumbing work in Toledo, he is apparently doing so illegally.
"This individual has got no schooling, no licenses, he's never been to a training program, union or nonunion, in the United States of America," snorted a real plumber. One named Joseph, as a matter of fact. Tom Joseph. He's the head of the local plumbers' union, which has endorsed Barack Obama.
Wurzelbacher is 34, a registered Republican, a supporter of a flat tax, and adores Sarah Palin. However, he wouldn't seem to have to waste much time worrying about how much tax he'll have to pay when he becomes a business owner with a six-figure income. Wurzelbacher's income two years ago was $40,000, according to a divorce filing, and he has a little problem paying his taxes now, it seems. He owes the county at least $1,183 in personal property taxes.
Once the truth started coming out about Joe the Plumber, you might have thought McCain would have dropped him like an overripe Tony Packo hot dog. But no, as I write this, McCain is flailing away on the stump, mentioning "Joe the Plumber" about every two or three minutes, giving him mythical status. Meanwhile, some specimen named Derek Khanna has launched a web site touting Joe the Plumber for Congress in 2010. They have a slogan: "I am Joe." "It represents so much," Khanna said.
Detroit's perpetual mayoral race: You can't just worry about one election at a time, can you? Last week, 18 — count 'em: 18 — candidates filed for the first of four mayoral elections the city will hold next year, starting in February. In case you can't sleep and have to start thinking about this now, only four of these candidates deserve serious consideration, starting with acting Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., who so far has pleasantly surprised folks.
There are also Freman Hendrix, who narrowly lost last time; Nicholas Hood III, who should have been elected in 2001, and Dave Bing, basketball player turned businessman. Much more on this later.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]