Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm Joe the Plumber

On a recent morning walk, my friend John Poltrack suggested that maybe I would have been a better icon to represent the proverbial small business man than the now world famous Joe the Plumber. John the Software Engineer owns his own business, employs people, and pays a good chunk of his business income in taxes. I think I pay too much in taxes, but of course everybody thinks that. I made the mistake one time of sitting down and calculating how much of Big Time Software’s income actually goes out in taxes of way form or another and the answer is a very discouraging 50%. That qualifies as too much in my opinion…and I still consider myself a patriot despite what Joe Biden might think. My business makes more money than Senator Obama seems to think I deserve to keep, so I can look forward to being in his crosshairs to pay even more should he be elected President.

I certainly don’t want to attract the scrutiny of the crack investigative media teams that have unearthed every skeleton in poor Joe’s closet, and I think this probably came as a surprise to Joe as well. It's somewhat unsettling to see this poor bastard's life laid bare before us.

We now all know Joe isn’t really a plumber because he doesn’t have a license. I’d be OK there since software engineers don’t need a license. Good thing since if our plumbing worked as well as most computer software we’d all be hip deep in poop.

We also all know Joe owes the government some money for back taxes. This is news? This guy was thrust into the spotlight because he complained he had to pay too much in taxes. In the interests of full disclosure let me just say here and now that in 2002 Big Time Software was audited by the IRS. I had two IRS employees in my office working full-time for two days pouring over my books. In the end they pointed out some mistakes I made in my accounting (actually it was QuickBooks that led me astray…please refer to the previous paragraph). I got a pretty extensive accounting lesson out of the deal, and owed $102 in additional taxes. This seemed like a real bargain to me, but also not a real efficient use of IRS manpower.

Of course, it goes on and on. We now all know about the details of Joe’s divorce, his personal finances, and his voting record. We know all this because Joe asked a pointed question of a political candidate that the candidate didn’t really want asked. Who among us would invite or survive this type of scrutiny in our personal lives?

The truth is most of us are Joe the Plumber. In fact, just about everybody I know is Joe the Plumber. We’re doing our best to make a living for our families, keep a roof over your head (maybe even heat it), try saving something to send our kids to college, possibly even socking away a little nest egg to be able to retire someday, and even begrudgingly paying our taxes. The truth is I expect very little from our government, but most of all I expect it to get the heck out my way. 

Spartacus is this great old movie starring Kirk Douglas about a slave who leads a revolt against the Roman Empire. You’ve probably seen it. At the end of the movie, the Romans capture the rebel slave army and demand the prisoners to identify the leader Spartacus. One by one, the captured soldiers step up and declare “I’m Spartacus!”. It’s a very moving moment. I think it would be great if the next time any of us met a political candidate, we began the conversation by introducing ourselves as Joe the Plumber. After all, Joe’s story is our story at some level. I’m proud to be Joe the Plumber.

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