During the 2008 General Presidential election, candidates John McCain and Barack Obama used media technology to create compelling stories that would hopefully shift public opinion in their favor, especially among undecided voters. With this essay, I will be analyzing one of the more controversial stories that had been flung to the forefront of the election with the release of John McCain’s I am Joe the Plumber advertisement (Kurtz).
I will first show how the GOP campaign used the actual Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber constantly mentioned by the Republican nominee as the average American middle-class citizen, in this advertisement as a popular symbol in order to try to convince voters that the McCain/Palin ticket identified with the concerns of the average middle-class voter. In contrast to the populist rhetoric of the ad, I argue that this strategy in the end failed due to a shallow and false claim that Senator Obama was in support of a socialist tax agenda that would raise taxes on middle-class incomes under $250,000 (Bumiller).
The Joe the Plumber ad begins with an out of context clip of Mr. Obama saying “I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody. ” This quote came from a campaign stop in Ohio and is the basis for the entire ‘Joe the Plumber’ phenomenon that changed the way the American public imagined an average citizen. Mr. Wurzelbacher asked Mr. Obama if he would raise taxes on people in his income bracket and this was the off-the-cuff response Mr. Obama gave. The moment was caught on camera and the McCain campaign and tried to paint Mr. Obama as a socialist in their never ending strategy of trying to make Mr.
Obama appear like he is out of touch with the current state of politics. Immediately after the opening clip, the camera cuts to a succession of three close-up shots of middle-aged white women saying directly into the camera, “I am ‘Joe the Plumber’. ” Next, a female narrator rhetorically asks, “Spread the wealth? ” as the words themselves dissolve into the group of frowning people on screen. Next, a combined sentence of two men ensues asking, “I’m supposed to work harder just to pay more taxes? ” Then, a skeptical man rhetorically asks, “Obama wants my sweat to pay for his trillion dollars in new spending?
” followed by another woman stating, “I am Joe the Plumber. ” At this point the narrator comes back and says, “Barack Obama: Higher taxes, more spending, not ready. ” These words are bold and flash on-screen shown against a smirking picture of Obama. Of course, the commercial ends with a smiling picture of John McCain with his voiceover, “I am John McCain, and I approve this message. ” It is interesting to note that this campaign had largely been fought through the media. According to a study by the Campaign Media Analysis Group, John McCain’s campaign spent close to $120 million on broadcasting television ads (Election).
This figure is hard to believe and it forces the audience to think critically about how much importance the swaying of public opinion has played in this election. With this much campaign money being spent on image creation, it is obvious that every nuance to every advertisement is purposeful in its intention and message. With this in mind, I will describe how the ad changed the way I approached mediated politics. Initially, the ad made me identify with the claims presented, after all, who really wants to pay higher taxes in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression?
The people making these statements in the commercial appear to be average enough: they aren’t shown wearing expensive clothing or fancy jewelry, they talk directly into the camera, and they avoid hyperbole and demonstrate a genuine concern about these issues. Unfortunately for the McCain campaign these claims fall by the wayside upon closer inspection and research. As it turns out, the ‘real’ Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher “owed back taxes, did not have a plumbing license (he told the Associated Press he doesn’t need one because he works for someone else’s company), and may not have been registered to vote.
” In addition, he has since admitted that under Obama’s proposed plan, he would receive a tax break because he only makes $40,000 a year; not the $250,000 he originally claimed as a small business owner (Chipman). The ‘trillion dollars in new spending’ that the ad claimed also turned out to be based on false information. The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget calculated that Obama promised a total of $990 billion in new spending over his first four-year term but his proposed spending cuts come to around $989 billion.
This means that the net actually balances out (Dobbs). With all these false claims and the millions upon millions of dollars spent, I ultimately felt annoyed and cheated by this advertisement and the overall strategy employed by the Republican ticket. If the McCain campaign was going to continue to resort to attack ads based on false information then what would lead us, the average American public that they so repeatedly claim to identify with, to believe that they would tell the truth about important issues if they would have won the election?
Another problem I have, not only with this particular ad, but with the Republican advertising campaign in general is the haste with which they adopt these media symbols without doing very much background checking on them prior to using then them for their own agenda. ‘Joe the Plumber’ is the key example here, but an even more troubling example may be McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate. Both ‘Joe’ and Mrs.
Palin greatly motivated and energized the Republican side in the short term, but as time progressed and the media and public had the chance to learn more about these campaign catalyst symbols, they eventually turned out to counter-balance the initial jolt they provided. For instance, the media picked up on the story that Governor Palin spent over $150,000 dollars on her campaign wardrobe at extravagant retailers like Saks 5th Avenue (Bumiller). This image directly contradicts the ‘average hockey mom’ mythical portrait that the GOP had fought so hard to perpetuate in order to capture middle-class citizens, especially females.
Repeatedly, the Republican campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin resorted to negative attack ads based on faulty, if not completely false, premises. The ‘Joe the Plumber’ ad continued this troubling trend. In fact, it may be the iconic example that eventually turned the tide against the Republican nominee, especially after considering that the media outted the ‘real’ Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher as a fraud and liar willing to bend his story to fit an ideological narrative.
Despite this advertisement’s shaded attack against Barack Obama, in my opinion it actually did more harm to the Republican ticket due to the lack of honesty and the propagandist appeals to an imaginary middle-class whose interests are being manipulated and distorted through the media in order to sway public opinion to gain voter support. Works Cited Bumiller, Elisabeth, & Jeff Zeleny. “McCain and Obama Hurl Broadsides at Each Other Over Taxes and Jobs”. The New York Times. 25 Oct. 2008. http://www. nytimes. com/2008/10/24/us/politics/24campaign. html? ref=politics. Chipman, Kim, & Hans Nichols.
“Obama, McCain Pit Plumbers vs Hedge-Fund Managers in Tax Debate. ” Bloomberg Press. 23 Oct. 2008. http://www. bloomberg. com/apps/news? pid=20601087&sid. Dobbs, Michael. “Obama’s ‘Trillion Dollar’ Spending Plan”. The Washington Post. 1 Oct. 2008. http://voices. washingtonpost. com/fact-checker/2008/10/obamas. “Election 2008. ” The New York Times. 2 Nov. 2008. http://elections. nytimes. com/2008/president/advertising/index. html Kurtz, Howard. “McCain Ad: We Are All ‘Joe the Plumber’”. The Washington Post. 22 Oct. 2008. http://voices. washingtonpost. com/the-trail/2008/10/22/mccain.
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