Hey, Joe!

>> Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yes. Yes, you know who this is about. It's about him, that guy. If you're not in a coma, you heard or saw or read about him last night or this morning. The guy. The one man who apparently will decide the 2008 presidential election, or at least that's what Senator John McCain thinks.

His name is Joe.

He's a plumber.

I have to make a confession: last night, I was listening to the debate, I couldn't help the mental image that formed every time Senator McCain or (ultimately, unable to resist the black hole of Joe--The Plumber's intense, obsession-inducing charisma) Senator Obama referred to Joe (The Plumber), I imagined that Joe "The Plumber" was a little Italian man longing for a princess and obsessed with a not-wholly-irrational loathing of apes. Here's the government, tossing flaming barrels at him which he leaps o'er or smashes to shreds with his hammer--and I'm sorry, Joe, your tax break is in another castle.

Well, he's not. He's a tall, bald dude who, it turns out, starts to look a little glassy-eyed three-and-a-half minutes after what he thought was a "gotcha" question turns into a discourse on tax brackets and alternative histories. No, seriously. You can watch Joe le plombier and his glazing eyes here at ABC News' website (no embedding, sorry; but there is a partial transcript for those of you who can't or don't watch streaming video).

Now, aside from the fact that Senator McCain kinda sorta, umm, slightly... er... inaccurately recalled Senator Obama's exchange with Joe l'idraulico, the other thing that's kinda awesome about the clip is that Senator Obama actually takes several minutes to explain himself to ol' Joe. I'm not saying his plan will work or even get passed or doesn't have holes in it, but I am saying that Senator Obama doesn't blow the dude off or give him a noncommittal reassurance of the sort we usually see from candidates--in fact you can actually see the moment about four minutes in (around -1:30, when Joe водопроводчик scratches his nose and says "yeah") where Joe has clearly received too much information and seems he's about to have a stack overflow.

That's the first thing that's awesome. The second thing is something that I think is awesome that most people probably won't appreciate or even will see as a sign of weakness. See, we lawyers have this unfortunate habit of refusing to commit--I don't mean in a weasel-mouthed, evade-the-issue sort of way. I mean in a "qualify everything you say in case of the unforeseen" sort of way. "Well, I don't think you'll go to prison," the lawyer says, confident his client isn't going to prison, but then adds (to his client's inevitable terror), "but there is the possibility the District Attorney will have a sentencing point I'm unaware of or the judge will make a finding that allows him to give you active time." Or the lawyer says, "Oh sure, that provisio in the will won't be a problem at all," only to suddenly remember reading the 1837 case of In re: Obscure And Forgotten in law school, and hastily adding, "although it is possible a party could challenge the fourth sentence, they would probably lose most of the time."

I mean, I'm sure there are exceptions, and I think we tend to get a little better at sort of lying to our clients by omitting the .000001% chance that spontaneous combustion will destroy a pleading that's been filed, on the grounds that that probably almost never hardly happens except in extremely unusual and somewhat improbable circumstances, but it's a hard habit to break. We spend years in law school reading about just those cases that involve somebody coincidentally being beaned in the head just moments after their wife died in a cattle-truck explosion, partly because those cases are interesting and partly because they tend to illustrate the extremes that bound the law (and remember, law is something that potentially applies to every single aspect of human interaction, which isn't an egotistcal "look how important lawyers are" statement so much as it's a scream from the no-visitors wing of the asylum, because it means the law is impossibly long and broad and impossible to take in at a look, there are times the impossible task of legal research feels like getting your tongue stuck to infinity on a double-dog dare). And part of it is those goddamn judges and juries and other lawyers and not-to-mention our clients keep surprising us with things we never thought anybody would ever do and still can't believe they ever did.

So there's this instinct to tag a caveat to the end of everything we say. Stop and ask a lawyer for directions, and if you're lucky he will suppress the instinct to tell you the other three routes you could take if your first two options are closed for unannounced utility work. Ask a lawyer to recommend a restaurant, and he will instinctively begin hypothesizing about what food allergies you might have. Non-lawyers think we're two-faced, jive-talking hucksters; well, some of us, maybe, but the rest of us are just trying to be thorough and accurate.

And this is why Senator Obama immediately qualifies his entire response to Joe der Klempner before he's barely finished it, and why I love him for it. "I'd have to look at your particular business," he says (at least twice), and it's the lawyer's answer: the non-lawyers out there are likely to see it as a dodge, but no--Obama just instinctively began going through all the possible alternatives, starting with common business structures and possibly ending with the possibility Joe's trucks are drawn by horses which somehow qualifies Joe for a farm subsidy.

(This is why so many of us drink, by the way.)

I can't help thinking this is the real reason Obama abruptly pulls away, using debate prep as an excuse. Had he spent one more minute out there, the Senator would have been pulling out a calculator and a notepad and asking to see ジョー鉛管工's 2005 receipts.

I'm loving Obama for that. Ironically, it's kind of a personal "just like me" moment, and I really don't want a President who's just like me (I want one who's vastly superior). But I see Obama being recognizably thorough when trying to give a five-minute answer to a guy he could have sort of blown off with a, "No, I won't raise your taxes, vote for me, 'bye!" and I love that, I recognize that. And that's one of the reasons I'll be voting for the guy. Because the guy who does that may not have all the answers, but he knows that, and that's why he starts turning over every single damn possibility he can imagine as it pops into his head.


Tania Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 2:18:00 PM EDT  

I know Janiece keeps trying to claim you, but I declared you (to the lurkers, who support me in email) as my internet crush first!

Why I'm drooling over you, again, is because you get it - simple answers don't work for complex situations.

And like I said in chat last night - if Joe has a business and he can't get his tax situation figured out better, he needs more skilled accountants.

Eric Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 2:32:00 PM EDT  

Thanks, Tania!

I forgot to mention the other other thing that impressed me about Obama's answer: he acknowledges, midway through, that Joe's taxes might be raised from the 36% to the 39% bracket. He could have ducked it or lied about it, but instead he basically says, yeah, your taxes might be raised, but here's how you should think about it....

In my book, that's a shockingly honest response from a politician. One that would be suicidal for most politicians in most situations.

Nathan Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 2:58:00 PM EDT  

While I, too, am impressed with your little treatise, I shall resist joining your growing ranks of fangirl lust.

Yours Truly,

Dr. Nathan G. PhD, MD, DVM, etc. etc.

mattw Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 2:59:00 PM EDT  

Yeah, you've gotta admire that in Obabma.

And remind me to never ask you for directions or a restaurant recommendation.

vince Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 3:16:00 PM EDT  

I'll avoid the crushy stuff, simply agree that in my opinion, that was a defining moment. Both candidates still had fact problems, but it was as honest and complete an answer as I have yet to hear, and even more impressive in a "debate" with limited time to respond.

And your multi-lingual words for "plumber" is quite impressive. Babelfish or Google Translate?

Eric Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 3:29:00 PM EDT  

Babelfish, because whatever it may lack in accuracy it makes up for in douglasadamsness. (That's a real world. Is too. Look it up.)

rbird Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 5:51:00 PM EDT  

ohhhh...who are these special ladies crushing on you big bro?

Random Michelle K Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 6:43:00 PM EDT  

Is it really a lawyer thing? Because I do that ALL THE TIME.

And I don't really understand people who give straightforward answers, because life isn't straightforward.

You have to be aware of all contingencies.

Eric Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 8:03:00 PM EDT  

Michelle: maybe the correlation is causal the other way--in which case maybe you should go to law school.

Preferably an accredited one. :-D

Eric Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 8:09:00 PM EDT  

Ummmm... Michelle, it occurred to me after I posted that last comment that I'd assumed you were talking about the "consider every option no matter how unlikely" thing.

When it's possible you were talking about the drinking thing....


Random Michelle K Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 8:56:00 PM EDT  

I was, in fact, talking about the consider every possibility options.

And I have considered law school multiple times. But that's because I find the law fascinating, not because I want to be a lawyer.

And if I do have a career switch, I think I'll become a teacher.

MWT Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 9:58:00 PM EDT  

Hahaha... that's an awesome explanation. :)

And it also explains some of how your Refugee comments read, with the weird little qualifiers at the ends of everything. To me they look like you're pulling your punches, which kills me, the one with the direct bludgeon type of approach to everything.

Eric Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 10:16:00 PM EDT  

Of course I was teasing, Michelle.

I still go back and forth on whether to advise anyone to go to law school. Was it a good choice or the dumbest thing I ever did? My answer tends to flip back and forth, frankly. But if you ever decide to do it, any experience or advice I have is yours.

Jeri Friday, October 17, 2008 at 4:12:00 PM EDT  

Just a side note - Eric, I have no Internet crush upon you. None. No polyandrous thoughts either.

Because being married to ONE FREAKING ATTORNEY is enough!

I do admire your writing though. :)

Jeri Friday, October 17, 2008 at 4:41:00 PM EDT  

Michelle, read the first comment in the thread. :)

Jeri Friday, October 17, 2008 at 6:16:00 PM EDT  

Ohhhh!!! Catching up on later comments, sorry, too quick on the post button...

Michelle, you *would* make a good attorney from a intellectual capabilities perspective. However, I would worry that the field would annoy you no end. I've read studies, I believe, that show that more than half of attorneys are unhappy with their choice of profession.

I'm glad Eric likes it. My hub only liked it after he switched to an in-house counsel role - and he practices on the civil law side of the fence, anyway.

Random Michelle K Friday, October 17, 2008 at 7:10:00 PM EDT  

A good friend (erin who comments on my site) got her law degree, passed the bar on the first try, and then decided she had absolutely no interest in practicing law.

I think my interest would be more like that. I want to know lots more about the law a an intellectual exercise, but I don't think I'd enjoy *being* a lawyer.

Eric Friday, October 17, 2008 at 7:18:00 PM EDT  

Jeri, it's a love-hate thing. A lot of days, I really do like what I do. But if I had the opportunity to quit, say to write full-time, I'd do it in a heartbeat. And one of the things I'm looking forward to with a passion I probably shouldn't feel is retiring and turning my ticket in (going to inactive status with the Bar), because I just cannot imagine being an old lawyer if I'm financially able to quit.

I think the nature of this blog--where I try not to talk about work--is such that when I do talk about it, it's usually about the things that I love about it or that I find interesting in a general kind of way. And that's not really dishonest: there are times I think I do love it. I guess it surprises me, though, when someone (you're not the first or only) observes that I love my work, because that really doesn't seem true, somehow; maybe it is and I just don't realize it.

Random Michelle K Friday, October 17, 2008 at 9:33:00 PM EDT  

Eric, you might want to occasionally check out one of the WV blogs on my list: http://not-my.blogspot.com/.

Assuming you can find a recent law post. :)

He's a public defender who (I think) specializes in Mental Health cases.

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