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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

Posted April 19, 2009 | 10:03 PM (EST)

Joe the Plumber in Michigan: Pass the Tea, Drink the Kool-Aid


Hailing Joe the Plumber as an authority on tax policy is kind of like appointing the puffy-shirted FreeCreditReport.com guys expertise on the Somali pirate situation.

Of course, that's what the assorted anti-tax and right-wing groups did when they breathlessly begged the man formerly known as Samuel Wurzelbacher to headline their Tea Party protest in Lansing.

And that is precisely why it's hard to take them seriously.

"Let me give you another extremist view, 'In God We Trust,'" Headliner Joe told a crowd of 5,000 on Wednesday. "You say that too loud, you get shot somewhere in America. Isn't that just terrible?"

Really, Joe. Where, praytell?

That over-the-top gibberish would be less incredible if a guy hadn't just blown away three Pittsburgh police officers. Richard Poplawski popped off, not because the cops said "under God" during the "Pledge of Allegiance," but because he feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon," according to his friend.

It's worth noting that mingled with signs like "Bring our troops home, send the Democrats" and "Spread my work ethic, not my wealth" (carried by a surly-lipped chick ditching work, natch) were a fair number of firearm-happy posters like "Let your gun be your companion." One dude held up a placard proclaiming himself as an "acrimonious white small business owner" who was busy "fighting socialism" and "buying guns." Of course, there were the usual virulent anti-Obama placards like "Hitler gave good speeches too."

Right now, conservatives are split if these are just a few bad apples or the future of the Republican Party. It's a staggeringly stupid debate. The GOP already suffered deep losses in '08 with their all Sarah Palin, all the time strategy to appeal to Know Nothings and their borderline bigotry.

Gallup found there are now only five states -- Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Alaska -- that have a significant plurality of Republican voters, versus a jaw-dropping 35 for Democrats.

But evidently, you don't mess with failure.

So Republicans have made a specimen like Joe the Plumber their spokesman. The right-wing Pajamas Media even deployed him to report on the conflict in Israel, a country Sammy couldn't find on the map. He proceeded to file nonsensical dispatches and berate the media for failing to have the integrity of pro-war propaganda films like "when you'd go to the theater" during World Wars I and II.

As an encore, after receiving thunderous applause at the Media Research Council's DisHonors Awards, the Plumber declared, "God, all this love and everything in the room - I'm horny."

It makes sense for Michigan Taxpayers Alliance head Leon Drolet to team up with a character like Joe. Carnival barkers always want to make a buck off the four-legged girl or bearded lady - and now Leon's got some great photos for his state Senate campaign.

But no thinking conservative can laud J the P's childish "money for nothing and your chicks for free" anti-tax shtick as sage political philosophy. Even Joe doesn't believe it, as he admitted in Lansing that he was "just regurgitating" crap people have e-mailed him.

Look, protests are supposed to be loud and gleefully free of nuance. But they don't have to be celebrations of willful ignorance. That's why it's baffling that any politician, much less reasonable ones like U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, and former state Rep. Lorence Wenke, R-Richland, would not only go, but fail to have the courage to call B.S. when they see it.

Taxes are bad, sayeth folks whose rally was protected by publicly financed police. They drove there on publicly funded roads, after eating breakfast inspected for disease by publicly financed agencies and flushing their waste down toilets connected to publicly funded sewer systems. Too bad the dang gov'ment won't get out of the way, right?

And pay no attention to that federal tax credit in the paychecks of 95 percent of Americans, courtesy of the stimulus. That's what Republicans want, of course, having voted against that massive $282 billion tax cut.

Ideological backflips aside, what's most disturbing is the protesters' historical illiteracy. The original Boston Tea Party of 1773 wasn't a protest of high taxes. Some colonists were steamed over the British taxing them without giving them representation in Parliament and merchants were riled that new, lower taxes favored importers.

Right now, the only folks who can legitimately gripe that there's taxation without representation are those living in Washington, D.C. We have a full-time Legislature in Michigan. We elected Gov. Jennifer Granholm by a 14-point margin in 2006 and gave President Barack Obama a 16-point victory last year.

What most Tea Partiers are doing is throwing a tantrum that we elected the wrong people in their opinion, i.e. Democrats.

That's fine. The left wandered in the wilderness for years. And they threw some rockin' rallies, especially against the Iraq wars, that make the Fox News-sponsored bashes Wednesday look like, well, tea parties. There's no doubt that there are millions of angry people out there. Losing is tough.

But the thousands who showed up on Tax Day are in deep denial of their minority status. Obama is still popular, as are his policies. Mr. The Plumber wasn't having any of it, irately waving around USA Today's story on Gallup polling that most Americans are OK with big government. That can't be true, he decided to big cheers, because nobody at the rally believes it.

Yeah, forget tea. The GOP is still drinking the Kool-Aid.

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