Friday, October 24, 2008

Bill Fletcher: New Messages, New Threats

There are 88 days until Jan. 20, 2009.


New Messages, New Threats


The African World


By Bill Fletcher, Jr.Executive Editor


October 23, 2008 - Issue 296,


The 'Joe the Plumber' story has unraveled, yet Senator McCain

continues to make reference to what is, in fact, a mythical

character. Sure, there is a Joe, but he is not what he

described himself to be. This has been exposed. Yet, McCain

continues to reference 'Joe the Plumber' as if to lend

credibility to his story.


It would be easy enough to laugh off the story of a white man

who would like to believe that he will, someday, be the

person that he presented himself to be, but the story tells

us as much about the consciousness of many middle income and

working class whites as it tells us about the propaganda

strategy of the political Right.


It is not just that Joe the Plumber, aka Joe Wurzelbacher,

aka Sam J. Wurzelbacher, is not the person that Senator Obama

believed him to be. Wurzelbacher, to paraphrase Frank

Sinatra, seems to have 'high hopes,' that is, he is prepared

to ignore his current situation of being a low to moderate

income, working class, single parent who would benefit from

Senator Obama's tax plan. Instead, he has embraced an

identity that makes it easier for him to identify with the

politics of McCain/Palin.


This incident highlights the desperate attempts by a section

of the white working class to find some means to identify

with a candidate who has a platform and approach contrary to

their short and long-term economic interests. There are only

three ways to pull that off, and Joe the Plumber found one:

invent a new identity. A second way is to focus on issues

that have little to do with one's living standard, i.e., so-

called cultural issues. The third way is to simply

acknowledge that one cannot vote for a Black man.


Yet the Joe the Plumber incident also tells us something

about the messages being advanced by the Right, and

specifically, by the McCain/Palin campaign. In a fit of

desperation, the McCain/Palin campaign is suggesting that it

does not matter whether or not Joe the Plumber is a myth. In

fact, the McCain/Palin campaign has refused to acknowledge

that the story is just this side of a hoax. Rather, they

continue to reference this man as if his story is completely

credible. In doing this, they raise, once again, the

irrationalist side of their right-wing politics. In effect,

the McCain/Palin campaign is saying that facts are irrelevant.


Wurzelbacher's aspirations speak to the dream of climbing the

ladder of success and upward mobility, a dream that has

proved to be a myth for many; a myth that has been preached

to all citizens and residents of the USA, but absorbed

largely by the white population. It is a myth that says if

you work hard, you advance; if you are dedicated to your job,

your living standard improves; and if you work hard and prove

your value to the company (and to society) the living

standard of your children will always be better than your own.


So, the question that arises is simple but profound: what

happens when one finds out that this story line is true for

only small numbers of people? There seem to be 2-3 answers.

One can get angry and recognize that one has been hood-winked

by the system and, as a result, turn on the system, i.e.,

move to the Left. In the alternative, one can feel betrayed

and turn on those who one perceives to have been the source

of the betrayal. Or, one can engage in fantasy, and pretend

that one's current circumstances are only temporary, to soon

be replaced by something a lot better.


Wurzelbacher is currently fantasizing, but this fantasy can

easily morph into option #2, or the right-wing populism about

which I and others have been warning. In either case, options

#2 and #3 correspond to the message that sections of the

political Right wish to advance. They say, in essence, that

the only reason that you - the white worker or white small

business person - are not succeeding has little to do with

the system, but has to do with the 'other.' In the case of

the current economic crisis, the problem for McCain and the

Right is not the system, but a few greedy individuals. This

is the sort of message that Wurzelbacher wants to hear. The

message goes: there is nothing wrong with the system; there

is nothing that should really stop him from becoming the

person he wants to believe he can be; the only obstacles are

some greedy, shady individuals, and, quite possibly, the tax

plan of a Black man that allegedly might take money away from

him…money that he does not currently possess.


The myth that surrounds Joe the Plumber is a powerful one. It

is a myth that many people insist on believing despite a

great deal of evidence that it is largely a fraud. Although

whites have always had a relative advantage over people of

color, this has never meant that whites automatically succeed

or rise to the upper crust. Nevertheless, in challenging the

myth, one is calling into question a belief system that so

many people, particularly within white America, have grown to accept.


Senator Obama has described the current economic crisis as

being far more than a crisis created by some individuals. He

has pointed to the results of thirty years of deregulation.

This is an important contrast with Senator McCain. Yet it is

not enough. Wurzelbacher/Joe the Plumber, and others like

him, deeply wish to believe the myth with which they have

grown up. The myth in its entirety must be shattered. That

can only happen by confronting the truth that the current

economic crisis and the thirty plus year decline in the

living standards of the average working person are not the

result of some 'other', e.g., Jews, Blacks, minorities,

immigrants, but, as I raised in my last commentary, are the

result of a very amoral economic system.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the Executive Editor of, a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of the book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice  (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.


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