11/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Plumber Can't Fix the Leaks

If Joe the Plumber can't save the leaking McCain-Palin campaign from sinking, he may also take to the bottom the appeal of trickle down politics.

Senator McCain and Governor Palin are out on the campaign trail holding up a caricature--Joe the Slogan--as a great American. Instead, they should be calling him the worst kind of shirker, someone so un-American maybe Congresswoman Bachmann should be investigating him.
A truly straight-talking, put-country-first John McCain would have said to Samuel J. Wurzelbacher a/k/a Joe the Plumber something like this:

"Young man, every generation of Americans faces a challenge. When that challenge arrives, some serve, and some look out for themselves. Service comes in many forms -- not just by joining the military, or by working in a factory, but also by offering America whatever is needed, whatever serves the common cause.

In World War II, high income earners paid high tax rates. Americans saved materials, everyone had ration cards, recycled essential materials, and pitched in. Families rich and poor sent their sons and daughters off to war.

From Korea through Vietnam, America's elites not only paid high taxes, their children again served their country. In the all-male Princeton University class of 1956, 450 out of 750 graduating seniors went into military service during a period of the draft. At Princeton today, only 9 students out of 1,108 Class of 2006 graduates joined the military.

So Joe, here we are in 2008. America is fighting in 2 countries. Unemployment is up, and we are facing the worst national economic situation since the great Depression.

Look, Joe, we've lived beyond our means, run up enormous debt, and are challenged globally by terrorism and economic threats. Hundreds of millions of American families are totally strapped, earning under $60,000 per year, and can't afford another dime. So I am just asking you to pay the same tax rate that every other American earning $250,000 and up paid on January 20, 2001 -- the day George W. Bush took office. Joe, can you help us?"

But, of course, that's not even close to what you are hearing. In the McCain-Palin mythology, Joe is a "small business owner" who will create jobs if only he can take home earnings over $250,000 without paying higher taxes. (Forget the real Joe, who apparently would earn only maybe $50,000 in taxable income after expenses.) In dollar terms, when Joe's income goes up from $250,000 to $350,000, the Obama plan asks him to pay an extra $3500 in taxes by letting the Bush tax cuts simply expire. Exactly what hundreds of thousands of small business owners and others top earners paid under Clinton during the 1990s, a time of enormous economic growth.

Joe the Slogan sees that under Obama's tax plan, he might have to pay a little bit higher taxes, decides he won't bother buying the business, and supposedly jobs are lost. This is what a candidate for President holds up as a hero?

America provides Joe every platform for success --- a great educational system, a stable economic environment, good roads, robust markets, a respected legal system for collecting debts, and a thousand other benefits that Joe would not trade in a heartbeat for a plumbing business anywhere else in the world. Bless our country, a guy like Joe can aspire to buy a business and get rich.

McCain-Palin are clinging to one last appeal to trickle down messages that have worked in the past: Cut taxes for the top, or you won't have a job. Every time they praise Joe, they tell Americans: When you achieve success, your attitude should be - I don't give a hoot about the rest of you, I've got mine. Is that honor? Is that country first? Is that thanking God for the blessings of being born in the USA?

It is looking like not even Joe can save John and Sarah. If that happens, maybe we will stop hearing the trickle down mantra intoned so loudly by conservative candidates. And at least we will stop hearing candidates talking any more about Joe, "a real American." Real Americans are in it together. But not Joe the Slogan. He's a slacker.

David M. Abromowitz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress,, and a partner in the law firm Goulston & Storrs,