Remember Joe the Plumber? During the 2008 presidential race, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a plumber from Holland, Ohio, vaulted himself into campaign history after telling then-candidate Barack Obama that his proposed tax plan would prevent him from buying a small business. During the presidential campaign debate that followed, John McCain latched on to Wurzelbacher's comments and held up "Joe the Plumber" as the American everyman, his livelihood threatened by Obama's tax plan. When he coined the moniker, McCain inadvertently created a new GOP personality with a penchant for assault weapons.
- Six years later, Joe the Plumber is still in the headlines. But he's moved way beyond protesting the president's tax plan. Following last weekend's tragic shooting rampage on the campus of the University of California-Santa Barbara, Wurzelbacher took it upon himself to pen an open letter to the victims' families, sensitively informing them that "as harsh as this sounds—your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights."
- Wurzelbacher's remarks appeared to be a response to an impassioned speech by one of the victims' fathers, who told reporters that his son died because of "craven, irresponsible politicians" and the NRA. "They talk about gun rights," he said. "What about Chris's right to live?"
- But this is far from the last time that Wurzelbacher's big mouth has gotten him in hot water. McCain may have regretted elevating Joe the Plumber to campaign-trail celebrity when, touring through Ohio, Wurzelbacher enthusiastically endorsed a supporter's claim that a vote for Obama was a vote "for the death of Israel."
- Then Wurzelbacher actually went to Israel (as a reporter for a conservative company called "Pajamas Media"), declaring that he had "no agenda but the truth." During his two-week truth-telling tour, he decided that journalists had no business in war zones. "I liked back in World War I and World War II, when you’d go to the theater and you’d see your troops on the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for them," he said. "Now everyone’s got an opinion and wants to down soldiers, our American soldiers, Israeli soldiers. I think media should be abolished from, you know, reporting."
- In 2010, Wurzelbacher bit the hand that beckoned him into the limelight, telling a radio host that McCain was "no public servant" and that Obama, while his ideology was "un-American," was one of the "more honest" politicians around.
- Two years later, Joe the Plumber decided to run for a congressional seat in Ohio, saying he was "not the kind of plumber who uses duct tape." During the campaign, he ran an ad that tied the Holocaust to—you guessed it—gun control. "In 1939 Germany established gun control; from 1939 to 1945, 6 million Jews, 7 million others, unable to defend themselves, were exterminated," he continued, before turning to the camera and announcing "I love America."
- When asked about his stance on undocumented immigrants at an event in Arizona later that summer, Wurzelbacher was, as usual, candid. "For years I’ve said, you know, put a damn fence on the border, going to Mexico and start shooting…that’s how I feel," he said. "I’m not going to hide it just because I’m running for office. I want the borders protected, and I’m very adamant about that."
- Following his defeat—and less than a month after the deadly shooting at a school in Newton, Connecticut—Wurzelbacher began to rail against gun control. Early in 2013, he launched a new conservative advocacy website dedicated to the preservation of assault weapons. To celebrate, he announced that he was giving away an AR-15 rifle. "Despite what national news commentators say, the AR-15 is NOT an 'assault weapon' or 'weapon of mass destruction," he wrote on the site.
It's quite clear that no catastrophe—however tragic—will stop Joe the Plumber from asserting his right to own the weapon of his choice.