Reason #20: Of Plumbers, Wealth, and Government

The other day a friend mentioned a conversation he had just had with his father. In a moment of somewhat spirited debate between them his dad sputtered out, “Well, If Obama was in office now, all of our money will be going to the poor people!”


What struck me about this comment was the visceral fear it unmasked. People are scared. They’re scared that “the government” will take their hard earned money, like a caped guy with RH on the back, coming in the dark of night. They’re scared that capitalism will turn into socialism.

Most of all, they’re scared that the American Dream – work hard and you’ll be duly rewarded – will sail away from them to some other promised shore.

Then, last night, we met Joe the Plumber. Perhaps he is cousin to Joe Six-Pack?

Joe is scared too, like my friend’s dad. His fear is even paralyzing him from deciding who to vote for this election. The problem, however, is that Joe is supposed to represent the “every-person” of this election. Your neighbors. Yourselves. We are supposed to identify with him because (a) his name is “Joe,” and (b) he’s a plumber. Not a lawyer or a banker or a doctor, but a regular guy (apparently, most of us have an antiquated view of plumbers…).

And of course, Joe is a man.  I wonder if John McCain would’ve put air quotes around Joe’s “health?”

But let’s just think about Joe’s hard earned wealth for a moment.

First off, as we’ve mentioned before, definitions of what is rich differ vastly. As we know, for Obama wealth is defined as earning more than $250,000 per year. McCain puts it at $5,000,000 per year (no, no, the zero key on my computer didn’t get stuck).

So yes, by Obama’s definition Joe, our dear plumber, is kind of a wealthy guy if he truly does earn more than $250,000 per year as a plumber (is anyone else predicting that there will be a run on applications for plumbing trade school this coming year?). And I’d suspect most of us would agree that $250,000 a year doing pretty well. As another friend said recently, if you’re making this much, why wouldn’t you want to spread it around a little?

Well folks (said in my best Palin accent), I’m urging you to pause amidst these debates on Joe and wealth to remember the reason we’re so fired up about this election. The point of this whole process is to decide what YOU want your government, and your money, to stand for.

Behind “the government” loom real people with real ideals, values, and, dare I say, even some expertise (I know, I know, despite the jokes about “government workers” and “good enough for government work”!)? As Bill Maher said on Larry King Live tonight when discrediting Palin’s qualifications for the Vice Presidency, it used to be that “you had to know things to be in the government!”

I encourage you to pause for a brief moment and reflect on what your ideal government would look like. This election is our chance to move, a little bit more, in this direction.

Think about who’s ideals and values and integrity you’re most aligned with.

Then think about privilege.

Think about whether, if you arrived at the $250,000 annual salary, perhaps it was because you landed on one of those squares in life that came with certain – random – privileges like class, race, education, upbringing, geography.

Then think about those “poor people” that my friend’s father is scared of. Is it just possible that they landed on another square in the game of life?

Is it even possible that we can have other definitions of what makes a person wealthy? Things like education, health…even service to others.

So as you lie down tonight, ponder the meaning of government. And dream about what makes you rich. I’m betting its about much more than money.

– Colleen, mother of three in Boulder who is rich in family and friends.


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