A Plumber Named Joe has Come to Teach Us How the Internet has Changed Power in Society

I tell you, this election is the best thing that could ever happen to a culture watcher in America.

I see signs of all kinds of changes that have already quietly happened.  And, I’m not talking about change “we can believe in” or that “is coming” or whatever.

This post is not about politics so much as it’s about the role of the internet in buffering the public from manipulation.

As I’m sure you’re already tired of hearing, during the final presidential candidates’ debate, John McCain introduced us to a caricature named “Joe the Plumber”, embodied in a real man named Joe.

I used to live in Joe’s neck of the woods.  I recognized his thoughts.  I think his question legitimately represents the view of countless people.  His question seems to highlight a long, slow shift over the last 150 years regarding the role of wealth in society.  But, I don’t know enough to talk about that.

I’m interested in Joe the Plumber because of what “he” says about the way that the internet has changed attempts to manipulate the public.  And I think that despite all the campaign-paid trolls and viral marketing, it’s a sum gain for the good.

What caught my attention is that while this guy seems great, and would have been spectacular in a pre-internet race, the McCain campaign never should have picked him in 2008.  It took reporters about 2 hours after the debate to prove that not only would Joe currently benefit more from Obama’s plan, but so would the company he currently works for and hopes to buy someday.  Not only that, but his father served prison time for involvement in McCain’s biggest scandal.  OMFG indeed.

The thing is, there are probably millions of people who’s situation is like Joe pretended his was, who will pay less tax under McCain’s plan.  Why didn’t they call one of those people?  Seriously?  I know they’re out there.

I think it’s because they failed to understand how information flows today.

And, if Joe wasn’t a plant, the McCain campaign should have vetted him before they opted to make him a centerpiece of their campaign – if only because the opposition will (and did).

Honestly, if Joe was not sent by the McCain campaign, I feel a little sorry for him now.  All of America now knows things about him that are really none of our business.  It may be nothing new in politics, but it’s worth letting Joe remind us that political campaigns will trash anyone.  No prisoners.

If he was in fact a willing participant in viral marketing, however, then let the arrows fly…

Funny enough, I thought, or speculated at least, that when President Bush gave his speech about impending doom and the need to assemble a bailout package, he was acknowledging how the information age has changed during his own tenure.  I think that he sees building public confidence as one of the President’s top priorities.  In keeping, over eight years he’s given a lot of speeches about bright and shiny futures.  However, it’s so easy to do research now, so easy to put data side by side, that he was often cast as overconfident or oblivious.  I think a big part of it was that the nature of inspiring the public changed under his nose.  (And, he made a lot of terrible decisions…)

Now, we can look back and see uncountable videos of John McCain contradicting himself all over the internet.  Self-contradiction, let it be said, is a tried and true staple of politics.  I’m sure John McCain has watched it work for all kinds of his colleagues.  Video and audio recording has been around for a while too.  But, what was the public going to do, order 1,000 hours of VHS tapes from C-Span, edit out their own short take, then mail copies to their whole town?

Stir in some meta data, online hosting, and a free video editor, however, and I hope that the entire public will fare much better in the balances of power we see in the future.

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