Joe the Author, Plumbing New Lows in Interest

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joe the Plumber (no longer a plumber; first name actually Samuel) popped into our town yesterday evening to sell his new book and to remind people that he's still a plain and simple guy. Mission accomplished, on at least one of his missions.

About 11 people wandered into the rows of seats set up hopefully in the basement of a downtown Border's bookstore to hear Joe speak. Joe addressed them from behind a lectern and with a microphone, but that seemed unnecessarily formal.

If you've already forgotten "Joe" Wurzelbacher, 35, of Toledo, Ohio, it just goes to show you how ephemeral the life of a plain-speaking, Republican Everyman is these days. Joe was the square-jawed guy briefly drafted by John McCain's campaign to be its Voice of Regular Folks. Joe got a couple of news cycles' worth of attention starting on Oct. 12 -- he remembers the date clearly -- when he was videotaped confronting Barack Obama about his small-business tax plans. He later called Obama's plans "socialism."

Now, only a few months later, he's kind of like a vestigial tail, a leftover artifact from a forgotten time. He's Clara Peller, Willie Horton or Gennifer Flowers -- names that are the questions in a "Jeopardy!" category called "Presidential Campaign Distractions." To his credit, Wurzelbacher is hip to the audacity of hype: "I get e-mails all the time from people asking me when my 15 minutes is going to expire," he grinned after his talk. "Sometimes they just write, '15 . . . 14:59 . . . 14:58 . . .' "

It's fair to say Joe's appearance at Borders at 18th and L streets wasn't eagerly anticipated. People just kind of shuffled over when Joe strode in with Thomas N. Tabback, the co-author of "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream." Annie Hickman, a young woman whom Wurzelbacher called "sweetie" during a brief Q&A, was browsing when the PA announced that Joe was in the house. "I'm missing pottery class for this," she said.

Lawyer Alana Hecht was curious. "I was upstairs reading 'Dreams From My Father,' " Obama's memoir. "It's just fate. Who could leave when this is happening?" She and Hickman laughed. Washington, such a weird town.

Joe had something to say about hard work and having good values; it's probably in his book, but he said it bluntly and plainly. He has presence; he's solidly built, with a shiny bullet head, and large, workingman's hands. "I'm just your average guy," he said several times.

He wore a gray long-sleeve undershirt and baggy jeans, and looked as if he just walked in from a construction site. Joe says he plans to work in construction (hello, stimulus package!) once his gig doing commentary for a conservative Web site runs out at the end of March. Plumbing? Not happening. "I show up on a plumbing job and the first thing someone's going to say is 'Joe the Plumber didn't do the job right,' " he said. "The next thing you know, it's on the national news. It would be naive to go back to it."

Wurzelbacher says he's still no fan of Obama, but confessed that he never liked McCain all that much, either. Nor has he cared for the politicians he's met on Capitol Hill. "Liars and thieves," he called them.

The only heat generated by Joe's appearance last night came when a young man named Jabari Zakiya recounted great moments in American racism (slavery, annihilation of Native Americans, segregation, etc.) and asked Wurzelbacher if the "hegemony" of the white man in America is "doomed" now that five states and the District of Columbia have majority minority populations.

Joe replied that he believes "our American heritage is being torn apart" by flag burners, critics of the military, and those who mock Christian values. He expressed his admiration for patriotic immigrants, and said he dislikes terms like African American and Asian American ("We're all Americans," he said). For some reason, he concluded by saying, "America has always been a kick-butt, take-names kind of country."

Wurzelbacher was scheduled to speak and sign books for three hours, but the Joe Show was over in 55 minutes. Total copies of "Joe the Plumber" sold: five.

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