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Hey, Joe, You're One Of the Gang

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2008

Oh, Joe, how we love you.

Joe the Plumber, of course, the Ohioan who became both candidates' best pal in Wednesday night's presidential debate.

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But all the Joes before you, too, who helped propel "Joe" from a simple name to Everyman hero, representing all things and people that are good and solid in this country.

Average Joe, naturally, that hypothetical bloke whose life is the composite of everyone else's existence.

But also Joe Blow, Joe Shmoe, Working Joe, G.I. Joe and the Joe we drink with cream and Splenda in the mornings. Joe College was the intellectual of the people beginning in 1961, says the Oxford English Dictionary, just as Joe Soap had been the populist's dunce back in 1943. Joe Cool was cool; Joe Camel was and then wasn't, and now probably has lung cancer.

Joe Biden isn't Shoeless, but still gets told to "say it ain't so," at least in vice presidential debates.

And Joe Six-Pack! Mustn't forget Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's buddy, who was also Bill Clinton's buddy a decade ago, and who first appeared in print in 1970 when a reporter at the Boston Globe decided to bring street vernacular to the page.

We hear "Joe," and we know that we are talking about salt of the Earth, and we know that we are talking about America, which is why some countries use it as general slang for "person from the United States."

It's an easy name to identify with here; in the 121 years of data the Social Security Administration has on the popularity of baby names, "Joseph" has never dipped past No. 16. Everyone knows a Joe.

So when John McCain looked into the camera Wednesday night and said, "Joe, I want to tell you that I'll . . . keep your taxes low and provide available and affordable health care," it didn't seem like he was talking just to Joe Wurzelbacher of Toledo. It seemed like he was talking to all of us.

Except, for what it's worth, Wurzelbacher's legal first name isn't Joe after all, according to the Toledo Blade. It's Samuel.


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