Politics & Media
Oct 17, 2008, 05:59AM

McCain's Chaucer Obsession Finally Acknowledged

With his sudden focus on Joe the Plumber, ye olde Republican nominee shows himself to be a maverick of Canterbury Tales scholarship, as well.

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The pundits and the American people have reached a clear consensus: the winner of the third and final presidential debate wasn’t Sens. Obama or McCain—it was the drain-clearing dark horse from Ohio, Joe the Plumber. But while Joe’s victory remains uncontested, one question still remains: who is the real Joe the Plumber?  

By now, it’s well known that Joe the Plumber is the man who, at a recent Obama rally, challenged the Illinois Senator’s tax policy. Joe wanted to know how, after working 15 long years as a plumber, Sen. Obama would help him purchase the company he worked for when he only made $250,000 a year. As Joe fell into the category of families who would see a tax increase under an Obama administration, Sen. Obama skirted the question. McCain seized on Joe’s predicament and the rest is history.

But since the debate, questions have been raised about Joe’s true identity. To begin with, it turns out that Joe is not actually a licensed plumber. Secondly, his name isn’t even Joe—it’s Sam. So, if the man at the Obama rally is neither Joe nor a plumber then who is he? More importantly, who is this character that John McCain has apotheosized?

A little research into the subject reveals that Joe the Plumber is one of the forgotten pilgrims from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Recent Chaucerian scholarship has turned up several missing pages from the Ellesmere manuscript, the most important of which belong to Joe the Plumber’s tale and his introduction in the General Prologue.

The discovery of Joe the Plumber places him in an exclusive group that is known today by scholars as the forgotten pilgrims. These forgotten pilgrims are characters from the Canterbury Tales who have only just been found by critics in the field. Other characters that join Joe the Plumber on the list of forgotten pilgrims include Bob the Builder, Dorah the Explorer, Steve the Service Representative, and Heidi the Passive Aggressive Call Girl.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “How would John McCain know about these recent developments in medieval literary scholarship?” and “Why would John McCain even care?” Again, let me speak directly to these questions.

An examination of McCain’s academic transcript from the Naval Academy reveals a strong interest in comparative literature and English. In fact, the first college class McCain ever took was a survey course entitled Maverick Pilgrims in Medieval Literature. McCain further went on to express his commitment to arts and letters in his first memoir, writing “I’ve been tortured enough to say that I truly learned the values of sacrifice and service through reading The Canterbury Tales.”

It then comes as no surprise that when the literary world was rocked by the discovery of Joe the Plumber, McCain’s campaign strategy was shaken up as well. After reading Joe the Plumber’s introduction in the General Prologue and tale, McCain knew that he had to bring him up in the debate. When campaign manager Rick Davis advised McCain to bring up the Reverend Wright instead, Senator McCain refused, stating “No. It’s time that the American people heard about Joe.”

But Americans never really learned the truth about Joe the Plumber. Due to McCain’s stammering and blinking explanation of Joe’s life, coupled with the liberal media’s anti-Chaucer bias, the American people were deprived of learning who this great man is.

That is until now. To clear up any confusion surrounding the identity of Joe the Plummer, I offer you his introduction from the Canterbury Tales' General Prologue:

In that Aprille Joe the Plummer rode
Through towne on his golden commode.
He broughte with him his dreeme
Of owning hys own drain companie.
Tho riche he was, he had noe way
Of parting with hys money that daye.
It was not hys fault, but the Southwark elite’s
Who ignored his plight and dranke his mead.
He hadde to do somethinge so donned a costume
Of Carhartt overalls and acted a foole.
Looke at me, he cride, I love the poore and Im ther king
I can even pretend to lyke mule racing.
It doesnt mattere if Ive never laid a bricke
Im the original Maverick.
Lend me yer ears and Ill cleene out yer pipes
Let me tell you aboute real sacrifice.

Truly moving stuff.  The narrative of a common man riding through town on a toilet shouting about sacrifice is a tale that should have really resonated with undecided voters.  But McCain failed to deliver. His convoluted attempts to somehow relate the biography of Joe the Plummer to his economic policies were a misstep worthy of the eye rolling and sighing that ensued. In short, by failing to let the story of Joe speak for itself, McCain lost his chance to produce a game changer.

With election day creeping closer, McCain has very few opportunities left to connect with voters and prove that he is the man to lead this country. I would suggest bringing Joe the Plummer’s actual tale to the American people, but the whole thing is pretty erratic and incoherent—even for Middle English.

  • Hah. This is awesome. And I'm impressed by your Middle English -- some of it even scans.

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  • Absolutely fantastic -- as an English geek, I am humbled. And I knew there had to be a reasonable explanation for this guy showing up in the debate 25 times.

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  • Ha! Though in reference to the end, I think maybe Joe the Plumber will resonate with some voters (even though I believe he had to acknowledge that his personal taxes would not be raised under Obama...though to be honest either candidate will likely have to raise taxes), and I suppose not with women.

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  • Joe the Plumber will wind up with more votes than Ralph Nader or Bob Barr, all write-ins.

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