He's back. Just when I thought things could not get any more weird up on Capital Hill, Joe the Plumber showed up.
Yes, fresh of his recent adventures as an amateur news correspondent in Gaza, the Ohio handyman whom YouTube and Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign made famous is back.
As Congress debated President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package, Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher arrived to give his advice. In short, he wants to kill it.
He denounced the bill, according to an account by the New York Daily News, as "welfare" and just another example of "American government" -- Republicans and Democrats -- "kicking our butts left and right."
He's also considering a political career for himself in a few years, according to reports. Great. That's just what our government needs: more people who hate government.
It's time to blow the whistle on Joe. He's giving working-class blowhards from Ohio a bad name.
I know. I used to be a working-class blowhard from Ohio. Now, thanks to the Middletown, Ohio, public schools and the Buckeye State's fine university system, I've worked my way up. Now I am a college-educated blowhard from Ohio.
Good schools and good-paying jobs at the local steel mill, where I worked during the summers, enabled me to have opportunities that have since dried up in one Ohio factory town after another. The jobs have gone overseas. College costs have soared. Homes are being foreclosed. Kids have had to drop out of college, putting off the education that young people increasingly need to have an economic future.
Americans in all classes like the idea of government getting out of the way and letting our individual initiative work its magic. But a more thorough look at history would open young Joe's eyes to how often capitalism turns to what he calls "socialism" to rescue its chestnuts from the fire.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, came into office during the Great Depression calling for cuts in government spending, but soon changed his mind. The result was massive New Deal spending programs, of which Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke once wrote, "Only with the New Deal's rehabilitation of the financial system in 1933-35 did the economy begin its slow emergence."
Recession reoccurred in 1937, significantly after Roosevelt cut back on government spending. The Depression did not really end until the massive government spending that came with World War II. But that, too, offers yet another argument for more government spending, if we really want to see economic stimulus.
In fact, calling the economic stimulus package a "Put Americans Back to Work Act" would have framed the debate in more useful terms. Everything that creates jobs and educational opportunities and eases the anxieties of American families serves to help our economic growth in the short or long term.
House Republican Leader John Boehner, in whose Ohio district I grew up, echoed much of Joe the Plumber's lines as he led House Republicans to vote unanimously against Obama's stimulus plan. Boehner denounced it as too full of "pork," meaning money that won't go directly to jobs, and for not including enough tax cuts. Yet economists like Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, have stated that all of the government spending in the recovery package "provides some stimulative effect."
Besides, even the stimulus that does not take effect until 2011 or later would have a positive impact on our current economic situation, Elmendorf said. Investments, after all, are a bet on the future. Anything that rebuilds confidence in our economic future helps our current investment climate.
That was the idea behind the massive bank bailout that President Bush backed. That questionable move was only the latest example of Wall Street capitalists running to the government like a giant eraser for their colossal mistakes. Unfortunately, Congress and the Bush White House handed the money over with virtually no strings, regulation or oversight attached.
In fact, it was a lack of regulation and government oversight that led to the collapse of trust and confidence in international financial markets. We still need to know, for example, why financier Bernard Madoff's $50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme continued despite complaints and investigations by federal regulators -- until it finally collapsed.
Scandals like the Madoff ripoff give Joe the Plumber more to gripe about. But the scandal was not an argument against government. It is an argument for government to do the policing that what we, the people, have a right to expect it to do.
(E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.)