Culture, Politics

The Aspirations of Joe the Plumber

When Joe the Plumber emerged as the everyman railing against Obama’s “one-step-closer-to-socialist” tax program, progressives were quick to jump. We jumped on him because he wasn’t really a plumber, he wasn’t anywhere near buying a plumbing business, and that in the life he actully lived, Obama’s tax plan would be better for him than McCain’s. We thought it was just another case of the working class voting against their own self interest.


What we failed to grasp is that Joe the Plumber wasn’t talking from who he was, but from who he would like to be. We all have internal narratives in which we locate ourselves, and in Joe’s narrative, he wasn’t an unliscenced plumber, but a man on the verge of becoming a small business owner. The fact that Republicans have been consistently better than Democrats at speaking to people’s narratives, to their aspirations to be wealthy is no small part of why they have been so successful the past 30 years (though hopefully not next week!)


The legal philosopher Robert Cover talked about law as the bridge that connects where we are to where we see ourselves. Thankfully, Obama is a democratic candidate who undstands that and has buildt a campaign around it. Hopefully the rest of us who want to effect progressive social and religious change will be able to do the same.

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