Politics & Media
Oct 20, 2008, 05:35AM

The GOPs Brainwashing Tactics

"Joe the Plumber" is just the most recent example of a working-class guy who's been brainwashed by the right to see a hammer and sickle whenever liberals talk about taxes.

A4s joeplumber10170 42321c.jpeg.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1


The saga of Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher has become a terrific metaphor for the far-right-wing political strategy: brainwash the working class into opposing a policy that will actually help them.

I agree with John McCain when he states that Wurzelbacher is a victim in this whole escapade; however, his victimization is a result of the above-referenced brainwashing.  Let’s not forget how far-right conservatives brainwashed many people into thinking that Iraq was connected to 9/11. That charge has always been refuted, but as usual, the media didn’t do its job in helping Americans understand the truth. By the time the media really mounted its assault on this lie, it was too late—the damage had been done. The war in Iraq has been a massive detriment to lower income individuals but an economic boon for many of our country’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. And now, the far-right conservatives are brainwashing working-class people into believing that Barack Obama is going to raise their taxes.

The now infamous encounter between Joe the Plumber and Obama went something like this: Wurzelbacher told Obama that he had been a plumber for 15 years and was getting ready to buy a company that would make about $280,000.00 a year. Under Obama’s tax plan, his business would be taxed higher. If Obama was as snide and sarcastic as me, he could have responded by saying, “Yeah, and your point is…?” Joe the Plumber and advocates of his sentiment seem to believe that this plan tramples on the American Dream. Of course! I mean, we all can imagine the type of deterrent effect that this will have on business growth:  

“So, aren’t you going to try to grow your small business?”

“Are you kidding! If I make more money, then I’ll have to pay more taxes. No thank you, sir!”

“But, won’t you still make more money than you do now even after taxes are deducted?”

“That’s besides the point. I can’t stand the thought that the money I make might be helping the government or somebody in a lower economic position than me. Who do you think I am? Jesus Christ?”

Now, there has been a lot of unnecessary character assassination of Wurzelbacher. For example, the revelation that he’s not a licensed plumber, or the claim that he’s nowhere near financially fit to purchase the company he talked about. The truth is that you would be amazed at how many people in this country are not properly licensed for their trade. Joe has been plumbing for 15 years: he’s a fucking plumber. I’m not advocating improper licensing, but hell, in some courts failing to properly license might not even hurt your case. Unfortunately, claims like these have allowed the McCain campaign to make a frowny face and say that the liberal elite media is being mean to Joe the Plumber. I guess McCain is in no way culpable despite mentioning “Joe the Plumber” 15-some times in a nationally televised presidential debate. Regardless, this ends up overshadowing the fact that there are a couple of problems with the assertions Joe made to Sen. Obama.

First of all, Joe appears to have mistaken company income with company value. While he might be correct that the company he hoped to purchase was worth $280,000, the actual income that the company pulls in annually is under $250,000. Consequently, this company would not see a tax increase under Obama’s plan. Joe the Plumber even admitted this fact recently to a reporter.

However, there is minimal utility in discounting Joe’s claims simply because of factual discrepancies. Let’s say hypothetically that Joe really was planning on purchasing a company that made $280,000. The Tax Foundation did an analysis revealing that, in such a scenario, Joe the Financially Sound Company Owner would pay $773 more in taxes under the Obama plan than under the McCain plan. I got out my abacus and chart of logarithms to do the math: it’s a move from $280,000 to $279,227. Gosh, how will he feed his family, pay his bills and fuel his jetski?

But Obama did a terrible, terrible thing in his response to Wurzelbacher: he uttered the phrase “spread the wealth around.” Sacre bleu! Joe later admitted in an interview with Fox News Radio that it sounded like socialism to him. I agree with him, but to me it sounds like Democratic Socialism. We could argue about whether that’s what Obama wants to do and whether it would be a bad thing, but I just want to show that this is another example of brainwashing. The Rush Limbaughs of the world hear that off-the-cuff phrase, and to them it sounds like “WORKING MEN OF THE WORLD UNITE!”  Barack Obama = Stalin. Case closed. But this is like looking into the Louvre through a peephole, and saying, “Yup, I get it now.” Never mind that historically Marxist regimes have consistently been ignorant distortions of what Karl Marx actually preached.

So that’s the latest brainwashing scheme by the far right: they’ve dusted off the ol’ “Red Scare.” But I think that their tactic is going to fall on deaf ears this time around. When the average American is struggling to take care of his or her family while AIG executives are drinking milk from a golden titty, a generic phrase like “spread the wealth around” actually sounds pretty enticing. But honestly, do you believe that Obama could get away with (or even attempt to) establish America as a communist nation? If you do, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ve been brainwashed.

I recently saw a commentator on TV who summed up the point I’ve been trying to make here very nicely:

“If you don’t go out and find out… your own information, then you can’t really sit there and give a good argument. I mean, you can’t express your own opinion. That’s what makes it your own opinion: you went out, you read about it, you learned about it, and then you have your own opinion. Your opinion is not given to you… You really gotta find out facts.”

The man who said that was Joe the Plumber. I could not agree with him more, and I wish he had given this advice to Joe the… Oops.

  • Seems like you're throwing around the word "brainwash" fairly promiscuously. Given today's bleak economic climate, it's reasonable to assume that Obama will have to tax more heavily, and dip below his $250,000 cut-off. McCain would too, but no one wants to hear any of this.

    Responses to this comment
  • That may be true, but at this point that's still just speculation. Neither candidate has changed their plans yet. I feel that I'm using "brain-washing" fairly conservatively (no pun intended) by emphasizing that it's the members of the far-right who are manipulating the working class. I don't believe it applies to the majority of Republicans. The problem is that this minority has a very strong (or maybe just loud) voice.

    Responses to this comment
  • I think "loud" is the operative word, and that would apply to far-left equivalents like Keith Olbermann as well. Maybe the tax hikes by either candidate is "speculation," but considering the credit meltdown, it's not wild speculation. When was the last time, in recent memory, that a presidential candidate didn't retreat from his campaign rhetoric once he became president?

    Responses to this comment
  • i agree with your point, but i think at the beginning of the article you place the blame on a lot of faceless entities, like "the media" and "far-right conservatives." i would have liked to see analysis of who these agents are. i did like the part when you calculated his taxes though.

    Responses to this comment
  • Keith Olbermann is loud, but I think you're giving too much credit to his political influence if you think that he is manipulating the working class in the same way that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are. As for candidates retreating from campaign rhetoric, I believe you've made this argument before on this site, and while I still agree with you, I just don't see the value in it. Candidates promise to do certain things if elected, and so we elect them on that basis. If they don't follow through, then we put the other party in control of the Congress in 2 years. If you always assume that the candidate won't follow through on his or her promises, then the only logical conclusion is to not vote. Otherwise, you're casting a meaningless and cynical vote.

    Responses to this comment
  • Thanks, Rebecca. I didn't originally think about this, but perhaps I'm making an unfair assumption that Mr. Wurzelbacher actually listens to people like Limbaugh or Hannity. But I feel like there's no way he would have thought that he would pay higher taxes under Obama unless he had been listening to people who were feeding him a line of crap.

    Responses to this comment
  • Yes, I take your point on midterm elections, as was demonstrated in '94. But I don't think a vote is cynical even if you don't believe the candidate will follow through on pledges. You're making a choice--sometimes the lesser of two evils, sometimes not--and hoping that the person you vote for will be a reasonable facsimile of the candidate.

  • Exactly. We may be burned time and time again, but we can at least hope that this time will be different.

    Responses to this comment
  • Although I agree it is always nice to put a face or a name to certain claims and accusations, (who doesn't love all of those O'Reilly clips when he interrupts his guests), I think it is too late for that. We are at the end of campaigning so having to go back and put a specific face to the idea of brainwashing would be very difficult. I think at this point in time all you can do is point it out. For example, I recently was told by a far-far-far right person, after hearing Powell officially and publicly endorse Obama, that Powell was wrong. No reason; no claims. Just, "He's wrong." And he went on to compare him to Hitler from the 1930s. Now, I would love to be able to pinpoint what he heard and where he heard that, but it is impossible. So, the only thing you can be certain of is that these are claims that start from the Republican base/campaign and are fostered by the media. Just today, on that joke of a show on CNN with Rick Sanchez, he had some young, conservative radio talk show host saying, "Obama's plan is socialism." When people hear that enough through the media, it doesn't matter if it's true or not, or where it came from; it's out there now.

    Responses to this comment
  • Joe is NOT a victim!! 1. He chose to ask a question knowingly being recorded by the press. 2. He chose too misrepresent himself on several fronts. 3. He chose to conduct press conferenceS on his driveway with his son all morning. 4. He got an all paid trip to NYC for the weekend to conduct interviews. 5. The company he works for has received increased calls for work. 6. He is a "hero" to all his friends. How does this make him a victim??? As for brainwashing, it is not brainwashing if you can change the channel. It is called choice. Whatever happened to personal responsibilty? Who is the bigger fool? The fool, or the people who follow the fool? P.S. Phil, licensing is quite important actually. The owner can be liable leagally and risk insurance coverage, if the plumber hired in not licensed.

    Responses to this comment
  • Landlord, the problem with your argument is that it is based on the assumption that the working class people who listen to Limbaugh or Hannity are aware that they are listening to biased opinions. I think that through fear tactics, the far-right has been able to grab the ear of the working class far better than anyone on the left. To use your analogy, these "people who follow the fool" don't realize that they are following a fool, and that's what I mean by brain-washing. As for the licensing issue, as I stated in the article I'm not advocating failing to properly license. But additionally, most jurisdictions do have a good faith exception with regard to this issue. That's what I meant when I said that it might not hurt you in a court of law.

    Responses to this comment
  • Phil, your definition is wrong! Brain-washing requires coercion and by any generally accepted definition involves the individual being removed from normal social influences. A few more appropriate terms that refer too your point are persuassion, influence, or opinion. As for your good faith defense, it rarely works since ignorance is no excuse under the law. The "plumber" would have to go to much further lengths for that argument to carry water.

    Responses to this comment
  • Shit like Joe the Plumber makes me sick; hopefully he'll be forgotten and gone from the public conciousness by the end of the week. Then we can get back to the things that really matter, like making sure Obama wins on Nov. 4th.

    Responses to this comment
  • Landlord, I've been resisting saying this, but your spelling and grammar are terrible. As a result, they really undercut your points. As for "your good faith defense" (you say, as if I made it up), Virginia has a statute that specifically says you can't assert the defense of failure to license if substantial performance has been rendered.

    Responses to this comment
  • I'd much rather hear about Joe the Plumber than Bill Ayers (I'm voting for Obama with huge enthusiasm, but I do think he's fudged that connection; sure he was a kid when Ayers was blowing up things and people, but obviously he knew the guy's history), if only for comic relief. And, no Merkitmuffin, Joe the Plumber's going to be around for a long time (relatively speaking). No matter who wins on Nov. 4, most likely Obama, Joe and family will be at the first State of the Union.

    Responses to this comment
  • Brainwashing does not require coercion num-nuts.

    Responses to this comment
  • Dyslexia makes spelling quite a challenge for me. Thanks Phil for your herculean restraint. TIC2,it most certainly does. Look it up and please refrain from name calling. No one wants to read that.

    Responses to this comment
  • Webster's Dictionary: Brainwash;1.)a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas, 2.)persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship. I apologize for the name-calling.

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment