Saturday, November 1, 2008

Joe The Plumber's Friend

Joe the Plumber was a no-show at a McClain rally in Ohio. When the plumber’s friend called Joe’s name, nobody answered. Joe was out trying to trade his 15 minutes of fame for a recording contract as a country singer. Joe came to public attention when he engaged Barack Obama in a discussion of tax policy in front of network television cameras. “I just happened to be here and Barack Obama happened to show up,” Joe explained. Joe said he wanted to buy the plumbing company he worked for but would be prevented from doing it because of Obama’s tax plan. Ignore the fact that Joe did not have the down payment to buy the company even if he could find a sub-prime, no doc loan somewhere. “I asked the question but I still got a tap dance ...almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr.,” Joe said. Joe the Plumber was also mentioned prominently in the last Presidential debate between Obama and McCain. After the debate, Joe called Obama’s plans “one step closer to socialism.” He also supported the view that "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel." I think maybe it’s time to just move to a different bar stool.

In our democracy, people love to believe one person’s opinion is as good as another’s. However, the U.S. Constitution only guarantees your freedom to express your opinion and protection from government reprisals for that expression. Even if the media catapults you to national fame, because it did not have anything easier to do that day, your opinion may yet fall into that category of anatomical comparison that everybody has one, and they all stink.

Lester Maddox, governor of Georgia from 1967 to 1971, was the son of an Atlanta steelworker and followed his father in that job. Maddox eventually opened the Pickrick Cafeteria on Hemphill Ave., near the campus of Georgia Tech and not far from the Atlantic Steel Mill neighborhood where he was raised and next door to the less economically grounded neighborhood in which I grew up. Maddox, working side-by-side with his wife and children, made a success of the restaurant. For years, Maddox advertised his specialties, skillet-fried chicken, ax-handles, and segregationist politics, in double-wide columns entitled Pickrick Says in the Saturday Atlanta newspaper. During those days of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, many segregationists found refuge and comfort at the Pickrick Cafeteria and in the words Maddox published in the bought and paid for rants of his weekend newspaper advertisements. The ax-handles Maddox sold at Pickrick were widely known by the nickname “N…. Knockers.”

In September of 1963, four Sundy School children were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. I worked for The Atlanta Journal at the time as the most junior of young reporters. I helped put together the reaction story about the bombing, a collection of quotes from elected officials, business leaders, clergy, civil rights groups, anybody famous with something to say in response to a big news event. For the first, last, and only time in my life, I spoke to the chicken restauranteur who sold ax handles. What was his reaction? Did he condemn the domestic terrorists from the Klu Klux Klan who had murdered the four little girls? No. He blamed the victims, said they had “brought it on themselves.” With righteous indignation, I reported his remarks in the newspaper. Nonetheless, it still haunts me that uncritical and easy media publication of this sort of ignorance was what made Lester Maddox Governor of Georgia.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

In the Georgia capitol building a large portrait of Lester Maddox as Governor is hanging along with portraits of other Georgia notables of the past. I wonder how many people have noticed that this painting includes a rolled copy of the AJC with a fish's head sticking out one end and its tail. The AJC as fish-wrapper appears on the table behind Maddox. He managed to get in one last slap at the press in his "official portrait."

Paw Paw Bill said...

I have certainly seen the portrait of Lester Maddox at the Georgia Capitol. Alas, he is not the only racist ignoramus to have been there.

annette cotter said...

Maybe even the media can evolve. In 1961 I was a student at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, and was editor of my college newspaper, The Gargoyle. When the freedom riders were beaten by the KKK and were transported by black ministers to the only hospital who would have them, St. Jude's, myself and another student visited the injured civil rights workers there. I interviewed John Siegenthaler and a young black student whose name I know longer remember. I wrote an article for the college newspaper sympathetic to the freedom riders, which was picked up by the Montgomery Advertiser and printed to show what a hotbed of liberalism the local Methodist collge was. After the article was printed, I was disowned by my own father (Wallace delegate to Miami convention), and the father of my soon to be first husband. BUT HERE'S THE HAPPY ENDING: The other day The Montgomery Advertiser endorsed Barack Obama for president. We shall overcome > Yes we can.

tommy said...

Another great and powerful story.... that went nowhere.

I LOVE when you mix your stories of oldtime politics with events in the modern world, but they're still leaving me with a feeling of an unfinished thought....

Paw Paw Bill said...

I appreciate your faithful readership and comments, indeed even your
unsatisfied hunger, like Oliver Twist, for more, despite evidence to the
contrary. I try hard to avoid excess polemic, and you are not the first to
accuse me of succeeding beyond my wildest dreams. One of the great
advantages of writing for the computer world is that I can edit and re-write
after publication. I do this often. I have made clarifications to the end
of this blog posting, but I do not expect they will change your response. I
begin to sense that your criticism is not aimed at failure of accomplishment
but rather of goal. Again, thank you for your serious consideration

sarah in switzerland said...

That was a great article Bill and I loved Annette’s connected story.

You two should write a book together!


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