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  • Words don't lie, part IV: Candidates debate role of plumbers in the White House

    Batman and the Penguin in televised debate

    Barack Obama and John McCain at the start of their third and final debate at Hofstra University  

    Although the candidates did occasionally discuss substantive issues like school vouchers, abortion, and the principles they might use in selecting Supreme Court justices, the most riveting part of last night's third and final presidential debate, held at Long Island's Hofstra University, came when John McCain looked straight into the camera and asked the American people, "Why can't you ever get a plumber when you need one?"

    Blinking rapidly, McCain pointed at Sen. Obama and said, "The answer, my friends, is that one."

    John McCain points to  

    McCain blames America's plumbing woes on "that one." Calling your opponent "that one" may have worked for Jack Kennedy, but John McCain is no Jack Kennedy.

    JFK points a finger at Nixon in debate 

    Showing a firm hand at the tiller, McCain told the sad story of Joe the Plumber, who has been working 10- and 12-hour days for years, and now he's saved up a little money and he wants to buy the business. Only he can't. The reason? Sen. Obama's soak-the-rich tax plan.

    Sen. Obama and Joe the Plumber 

    Joe the Plumber, whose skull cap seems to be slipping, tells Barack Obama that he doesn't want to buy health care for his employees 

    Sen. Obama patiently explained that his tax plan would mean tax cuts for most Americans, and that, if he becomes a small business owner, Joe won't have to buy his employees health care plans if he doesn't want to.

    Sen. Obama couldn't have known this – he was only eight years old at the time – but the government failed to bail out plumbers twice before.

    It was the early 1970s, and John McCain was languishing in a Vietnamese prison, so he couldn't have known, either. But McCain's advisors should have warned him about what happens when the government lets plumbers opt out of health care.

    The hard-hitting investigative reporters at PBS's "Electric Company" revealed to an unsuspecting public that under Richard Nixon's 1971 wage and price freeze, plumbers were also exempted from buying health care, an exemption that led to disastrous results:

    Parrot asks,  

    Plumber says,

    Frustrated that parrot doesn't understand him, plumber has heart attack. 

    Owner sees stricken plumber and asks,  

    and the parrot replies,  

    Not only that, but McCain should have remembered that just three years later, Nixon lost his job over the troubles caused by a bunch of plumbers he had hired to plug a leak. After Watergate, nobody who wants to live in the White House is ever going to be able to call a plumber again.

    News item on Nixon's  

    According to the Toledo Blade, Joe the Plumber has no license, is not allowed to work as a plumber without one, and doesn't actually make enough money to buy a plumbing shop any time soon. In fact, Joe, who was at one time affiliated with the Natural Law Party, a holistic and otherwise completely off-the-wall political party which draws its principles from the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is one of the people who would actually benefit from an Obama tax cut.

    But in the end, John McCain doesn't have to worry about what he promised to do for Joe the Plumber, since Americans have gotten used to plumbers who don't show up, just as they've gotten used to politicians who don't keep their promises.

    On Aug. 7, 1974, Nixon says he won't resign 

    But on Aug 9, he does resign

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