Plumber Joe & The Keatings: Cherry on Top of McCain Camp Media Debacles


The McCain campaign debacles are almost legendary at this point.  The latest: we’ve now learned that Joe The Plumber isn’t exactly Joe Six Pack.

Here’s part of what conservative blogger and analyst Martin Eisenstadt wrote last night:

John McCain did great tonight in the debate. But every time John mentioned “Joe the Plumber,” some of us in the campaign banged our heads against the wall. If Steve Schmidt had any hair left, I hear he would have been pulling it out tonight. He reportedly screamed at John’s debate prep team tonight (out of earshot of reporters, of course). “You idiots - he’s related to Charles Keating… of the Keating Five scandal!” They thought they had a real live Joe Six-Pack who’s spurned Barack Obama’s tax plan. But what they forgot to do was check on Joe Wurzelbacher’s background.

Turns out that Joe Wurzelbacher from the Toledo event is a close relative of Robert Wurzelbacher of Milford, Ohio. Who’s Robert Wurzelbacher? Only Charles Keating’s son-in-law and the former senior vice president of American Continental, the parent company of the infamous Lincoln Savings and Loan. The now retired elder Wurzelbacher is also a major contributor to Republican causes giving well over $10,000 in the last few years.

Per the NY Times:

An official at Local 50 of the plumber’s union, based in Toledo, said Mr. Wurzelbacher does not hold a license. He also has never served an apprenticeship and does not belong to the union….“All contractors are licensed, and he does not have a license, either as a contractor or a plumber,” the union official said, citing a search of government records. “I can’t find that he’s ever even applied for any kind of apprenticeship, and he has never belonged to local 189 in Columbus, which is what he claims on his Facebook page.”

The economic crisis is only party responsible for pushing voters into the Obama side of the equation.  But the story is really far more complex.  Joe The Plumber is yet another in a series of boneheaded media blunders by the McCain campaign, as well as a tale of doing what doesn’t work harder and a dangerous flirtation with American fascism.

The relentless unravelling started with the surreal lipstick-on-a pig controversy way back forever-a-go (it seems) in September.  In a transparent attempt to deflect criticism from Palin, the McCain camp blew an innocuous remark by Obama beyond all proportion. Overnight, they rallied mouthpieces ???? and ???? to cry sexism. 

McCain campaign senior advisor Steve Schmidt might have seemed a touch paranoid except the pig lipstick controversy was a cynically mapped-out media event.  (See more in my previous blog post.)

It was just a week before the big economic meltdown. A Charlie Rose panel of economic experts sounded the alarm but McCain operatives seemed singularly focused on diverting the press.  Around the same time, the campaign released a spot slamming Obama’s education record and hinting that the Illinois Senator was a child molestor.  Pundits decried the ad.  I called for networks to reject it.

Then came the stunt ride to the rescue into Washington to bailout the country accompanies by the suggestion that both campaigns suspend operation. The transparent ploy was explosed when McCain canceled his David Letterman appearance, ostensibly fly immediately to Washington, only to be caught red-handed in a CBS studio down the street prepping instead for a Katie Couric interview.

Letterman aired the live feed of CBS Evening news staff dabbing McCain McCain with make-up.  The incident handed Letterman no end of comedic fodder at McCain’s expense. 

Then the McCain campaign openly admitted they couldn’t win discussing issues and policies.  They had to drive up Obama’s negatives.  The campaign turned dark and ominous.  At rallies, Sarah Palin whipped up GOP crowds by saying Obama "palled around with terrorists." The campaign worked tirelessly tried to link Obama to William Ayers, the former weather underground activist.

The McCain camp deliberately and cynically played on poisoned ground stirred up bysome far-right Christian radio stations that have relentlessly promoted Obama as a Muslim and possibly the anti-Christ. (See Nicholas Kristof’s excellent "The Push to  ‘Otherize" Obama.")

Simultaneously, Fox News swung into action.  Sean Hannity aired a one hour smear about Obama’s so-called history of radicalism. Per the NY Times, "the program allowed Mr. Martin to assert falsely and without challenge that Mr. Obama had once trained to overthrow the government."

The problem - one of Hannity’s primary sources was the obsessive Andy Martin, a virulent anti-semite whose platform once called for the "extermination of Jew power."  

Martin is also the person responsible for preparing the ugly foundation upon which some of the more rabid Palin supporters stood - it was Martin who started the false rumors that Obama is a secret Muslim.

(In fact, Hannity’s smear is undone by Frontline’s measured look at Obama’s tenure at the Harvard Law Review which hardly shows him to be a "radical."  In fact  conservative Bradford Berenson, now working in the Bush administration, says Obama was respectful of their views.)

After the disastrous Palin-Couric interviews, the McCain campaign tried to shoot the messenger.  Rallies turned ugly.  Supporters turned on the press, hurling obscenities, shaking their thunder sticks and spouting racial epithets at a black cameraman.  or Salon’s  John Dickerson tweeted: "Crowd at mccain rally giving press bus the single finger salute. It’s true: one more month until election day."

Some screamed "kill him," at the mention of Obama’s name.  Or held signs saying "half-breed Muslin."[sic]

Analysts like David Gergen were expressing horror.  He called on the campaign to tamp down on the feelings and strongly recommended that the campaign return to addressing the campaign issues.

Almost ( but not quite) as perplexing: it was abundantly clear from watching post-debate #1 focus groups (both on Fox and CNN) that voters appreciated bi-partisan chatter and they were turned off by McCain’s sneering attitude toward Obama.

But during the second debate, McCain continued to do what doesn’t work harder.  He called Obama "that one."  His condescencion toward a black voter, implying that he’d never heard of  Fannie Mae, was utterly cringe-worthy.

But at this point, something was probably becoming quite clear to the American public: there is a fascist/racist wing of the GOP and the McCain campaign was tapping this virulent vein.

A majority of Americans rejected the negative advertising and the attacks, as the recent CBS/NY Times polls reveals.

The McCain campaign finally pulled back, and McCain called Obama "a decent family man" but it’s far too little and way too late.  The GOP hasn’t fully repudiated the tactics either. Years of relentless attacks by the far right have done a lot of damage to an honorable candidate.  Smears and innuendo have dangerously transformed fallacy to fact in the minds of a certain slice of voters.

But the smears and innuendo haven’t really stopped.  Just this week, 28 million DVD copies of "Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West" were distributed in inserts of 70 newspapers, primarily in critical swing states.   The DVD’s outraged Muslims.  According to CNN, "it was paid for by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit group established by the film’s Israeli producer with the goal of exposing what it calls the threat of radical Islam."

Per CNN: Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, called the film anti-Muslim and politically motivated. Holding up promotional material that came with the video, Awad pointed out, "It says clearly that, ‘It’s our responsibility to ensure that we can all make an informed vote in November.’ "

Just yesterday

Scenting extremism to the point of  fascism, Americans sought the middle. tapping a vein of American fascism.