To Have Gravitas and Have Not

Hey everybody, remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do, because ever since Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, OH – not a licensed plumber, actually – confronted candidate Barack Obama in October about the effect of his tax plan on small business, you haven’t been able to avoid him. His latest ploy to further elongate his allotted 15 minutes of fame is to get himself hired by Pajamas TV to go report on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

It’s really too juicy of a target for any self-respecting media commentator to refuse. Even Hans Hauert of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung can’t help but issue some remarks, in “Joe the Plumber” becomes war correspondent: A plumber in wartime.

You had thought the Germans could not do irony? Maybe you’ll pardon me an extended translation of Hauert’s first couple of paragraphs:

A war correspondent, as we know from Ernest Hemingway’s days, gains deep insight into the depths of the human soul. So deep that he often must labor for an entire lifetime to be able to cope with these impressions. But Hemingway’s problem was that he had not been optimally prepared for his job. If he had been a plumber earlier on, things would have been so much easier for him.

For a plumber is per se a war correspondent: He rides from early in the morning til late in the evening to customers and redeems them from material woes, sometimes with light tools and sometimes with heavy, all while they confess their souls to him. Later on he tells his wife or his buddies in the bar about it. And from talking to writing, from burst pipes to rocket-barrage, it is but a small step.

Pretty good, huh?, especially for a piece whose main purpose turns is simply letting German readers know about this latest curious personality that their own lack of exposure to the US media might have caused them otherwise to miss. Hauert acknowledges that the Americans have already given ol’ Joe a pretty good going-over, but still has a few more gibes of his own to add. In an on-line interview with his Pajamas TV boss Roger Simon (wanted to give you the link, but I would have to become “a member of Pajamas TV” – a no-go), Wurzelbacher seemed to think his lack of any formal journalistic qualifications somehow cleared the way for him to go retrieve and present the unvarnished facts “from the horse’s mouth.” Still, that is unlikely to gain him admission to the Gaza Strip for any on-the-scene reporting – Israel is allowing no news reporters there – and in fact his own “horse’s mouth” would also seem to disqualify him from any follow-on reporting about Iran, since that interview revealed that it cannot pronounce the name “Ahmadinejad” (Iran’s notorious president).

Anyway, as Hauert notes in his parting shot, Joe the Plumber is better prepared for his new duties than any Hemingway could have been not only through his plumbing experience, but also by his faith. “I’ll be well protected by God, I believe,” he declared on-camera. “That doesn’t mean that He will stop a mortar for me, but you have to take your chances.”

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