Joe the Plumber made it to prime time in last night’s debate. In fact, just about the only thing anyone will remember about the debate is the name Joe the Plumber.

Joe the Plumber first became known when he confronted Barack Obama during a campaign stop, complaining that Obama’s tax plan would make it harder for Joe to buy and successfully run a plumbing business.

The video is here: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2008/10/15/sot.obama.joe.the.plumber.cnn.

“Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” the plumber asked, complaining that he was being taxed “more and more for fulfilling the American dream.”

“It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too,” Obama responded. “My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Most commentators have focused on the “spread the wealth” language used in Obama’s response, arguing that Obama seeks to use the tax code to redistribute wealth. Fair enough, but that misses the point. The “spread the wealth” language is the symptom, not the disease.

The key wording in Obama’s response is “I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too.” The disease is that Obama sees the economy as a zero-sum game, where one person’s success deprives those “behind” him of success. The only way to ensure the success of those “behind” is taxation of those “ahead.”

Obama doesn’t seem to understand that Joe the Plumber’s success does not deprive anyone of anything. To the contrary, the success of Joe the Plumber helps the economy, helps his employees, helps his customers, and keeps all their families from seeking government handouts. Success is not a crime which needs to be punished, provided that the success is achieved lawfully.

Obama’s lack of understanding is evidenced by his repeated assertions that most small businesses will not receive tax increases because they don’t earn over $250,000 per year. So, let’s see if we understand. So long as a business is not successful, we won’t tax it heavily. But should the business start to grow, opening new stores and adding employees, we will punish the business owner. That sure is a prescription for growing the economy.

Joe the Plumber understands the stupidity of Obama’s view of the economy. See here (http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/?rn=4226712&cl;=10231382&src;=news) and here (http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/10/joe-the-plumber.html).

Unfortunately, if the polls are correct, most of us still don’t understand.