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Joe the Plumber: Metapundit

March 1st, 2009 · 18 Comments

warholjoeReading Patrick Ruffini’s jeremiad against “the Joe-the-Plumberization of the GOP,” it suddenly struck me that Joe may well be the first full-fledged metapundit.

Here’s what I mean.  It’s hardly new to see political advocates whose non-ideological identities are as important to their public role as the substance of what they’re saying—but there’s traditionally been some sort of link between the two. That is, it matters that Ward Connerly is a black man arguing against affirmative action, and that Cindy Sheehan is a dead soldier’s mother arguing against the war in Iraq, because who they are is seen as lending some kind of special credence to what they say.  Joe the Plumber started out in that familiar mold: Here was  a working class guy with entrepreneurial aspirations challenging Barack Obama’s tax policy.

But JtP soon branched out, becoming a war correspondent for Pajamas TV and an all-purpose media critic, sitting on a panel about media bias at last week’s “Conservatism 2.0” subconference at CPAC. (Tellingly, while lots of folks lined up for JtP’s book signing, the room that had been packed for a panel of conservative media strategists cleared out substantially for Joe’s panel, despite his being billed as a star attraction.)  What’s interesting to me is that even most conservatives don’t seem to think Joe has any special insight, expertise, or moral authority on these topics. In fact, it seems as though that’s the whole point. Joe symbolizes conservative faith in the common-sensical wisdom of the ordinary man as superior to the pronouncements of Washington wonks and pointy headed elites.

Of course, more or less by definition, that means there’s no good reason to actually watch his webcasts or read his book, because his take is no more informed or illuminating than your own. (Indeed, it’s almost certainly substantially less so.)  What Joe actually has to say is irrelevant; what matters is that conservatives purport to care, and give him a high-profile forum in which to say it. The last semblance of a link between the message and the identity of the messenger finally drops out completely: Joe’s entire significance lies in the decision to give him a microphone—and to give him a microphone not despite the fact that he’s not especially worth listening to, but because he’s not especially worth listening to. In that sense, he comes pretty close to the Platonic ideal of the “celebrity” as someone who’s “famous for being famous”: His stardom in the conservative movement is, paradoxically, its own lone rationale. Conservatives, self-declared foes of postmodernism, have finally produced the ultimate postmodern icon.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Sexual Politics



18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Greg N. // Mar 1, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    He wrote a fucking book? I didn’t know that, and I’m certain I was happier for it. I hate JTP.

    That said, I would have loved the guy if he’d published a book about plumbing. Would have been awesome.

  • 2 The Postmodern Plumber | Heretical Ideas Blog // Mar 2, 2009 at 1:29 am

    […] Sanchez explains the symbolic significance of Joe the Plumber. What’s interesting to me is that even most conservatives don’t seem to think Joe has any […]

  • 3 Bill // Mar 2, 2009 at 6:57 am

    This guy is unreal. Which is not surprising given the unreality of the entire PJTV ish. Reeeediculous.

  • 4 Idiots Should Be USEFUL § Unqualified Offerings // Mar 2, 2009 at 9:54 am

    […] like the ingenuity of Julian’s argument that “His stardom in the conservative movement is, paradoxically, its own lone rationale. […]

  • 5 Elvis Elvisberg // Mar 2, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    The entire GOP can only be understood as postmodernist performance art.

    “There is no such thing as truth or science! My emotional perspective is every bit as valid as anyone’s opinion, regardless of their hierarchical truth claims! The opinions that global warming is made up, and that cutting taxes always increases revenues, regardless of any charges of ‘truth’ or ‘falsity,’ have great purchase for many oppressed Christian-Americans.” Etc.

  • 6 Memo to CPAC Organizers « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC // Mar 2, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    […] *What is the significance of Joe the Plumber as a spokesperson for conservatives? (ANSWER: He’s the world’s first postmodern conservative icon) […]

  • 7 Joe the Plumber: Celebrity at its Purest « Club 105 // Mar 2, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    […] 2, 2009 · No Comments From Julian Sanchez: Joe’s entire significance lies in the decision to give him a microphone—and to give him a […]

  • 8 Erstwhile // Mar 2, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    The whole JtP thing turned to pure farce when they sent the dude to Gaza. I mean, WTF?

    The original premise–a real life “forgotten man” who just wanted to keep a little more of his paycheck and maybe get the chance to start his own business–was not a bad one.

    And let’s not forget the vicious and illegal assault that the media and government, respectively, immediately launched against him. Although he is now remembered for touting entrepreneurialism and buffoonery, JtP’s real symbolism may be as a posterboy for the need to be secure in one’s personal data.

  • 9 links for 2009-03-02 « Ned Resnikoff // Mar 2, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    […] Joe the Plumber: Metapundit […]

  • 10 Jesse Walker // Mar 2, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    I’m not so sure that he’s that different from Sheehan, who after a while was offering pronouncements on all sorts of topics unrelated to Iraq. (Venezuela, for example.) Indeed, for a couple months now I’ve been thinking of JtP as the Cindy Sheehan of the right: Both evolved from sympathetic spontaneous grassroots voices into increasingly grotesque media figures, sinking deeper into self-parody the more they lost their original reason for speaking out and embraced their celebrity role.

    In a perverse way, it reminds me of the end of Waiting for Guffman.

  • 11 Julian // Mar 3, 2009 at 1:01 am

    I disagree that here’s anything fundamentally new about his experience with the limelight. Sometimes in the middle of a football game you hand the mascot a megaphone; does anyone really care what he says, or how he says it? The important hing is that there is a person, a symbol, that represents the identity of the team and its supporters out there yelling, cartwheeling, bravely acting the fool to show you aren’t out just yet. That’s what Joe the Plumber is; a Mascot showing that the Republican party still “gets” the common man.

    Of course, having a mascot doesn’t make the message true…

  • 12 Julian // Mar 3, 2009 at 1:02 am

    grr. “That there’s” and “The important thing” My apologies for such faulty proof-reading.

  • 13 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Mar 3, 2009 at 4:15 am

    The problem, Jesse, is that Wurzelbacher didn’t even represent the right mascot at the start. He *said* he might be hurt by Obama’s planned tax increases on small businesses, but the reality was he was nowhere close to earning $250,000 himself and never gave any realistic sign he planned to buy out his employer or that his employer even brings in $250,000 in *profit* annually that would be hit by the higher marginal rate. It’s not just that he’s subsequently been pawned off as a subpar metapundit; his original burst of fame was due to his either misunderstanding or misrepresenting how Obama’s tax plan would affect his average Joeness. None of the above, of course, should be taken as defense of Obama’s planned tax increases, budget plan, the stimulus package, etc.

  • 14 Joe The Plumber and Cindy Sheehan // Mar 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    […] Julian Sanchez and Jesse Walker draw a great connection that would never have occurred to me:  Joe Wurzelbacker as the Republican Cindy Sheehan. They’re at odds as to the relation. […]

  • 15 JJ // Mar 3, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Joe is the reductio ad absurdum of the conservative new New Class. Country and Western Marxism out of control. Even David Frum knows this, and has for a while.

  • 16 Suddenly CPAC « Around Teh Table // Mar 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    […] Article:  A brief reflection from Julian Sanchez about the absurdity of Joe the Plumber’s continued […]

  • 17 Matt Schiavenza // Mar 7, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Actually, wasn’t Joe’s fame due simply to luck? Nothing he said was particularly noteworthy, but he happened to be present when Obama uttered a gaffe that the flailing McCain campaign pounced on. Had Obama phrased “spread the wealth” a little more carefully, I doubt anyone would have ever heard about Joe the Plumber.

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