An open letter to Joe the Plumber

"This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change "¦ It can't happen without you."

— Barack Obama Nov. 4

"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together"¦"

— John McCainNov. 4

Dear Joe,

What an election, huh? You're probably saying "Yeah, tell me about it." I guess you came to think you were a pretty important guy. You were. More than that — and this is why I'm writing — you still are.

John McCain was talking straight to you in his authentically generous concession speech (the one that had people around me saying "Now, where was that guy all campaign?"). You know that. But you were right there in the other speech, too. When the president-elect talked about change that can't happen without us, he meant you as much as me. More.

See, I start out charged-up for his kind of change. The only question for people like me is whether we'll persist in serious citizenship when it's not especially fun. Your starting place, if I heard you right, is dark anxiety about creeping "socialism" and living under a president who's not the "real American" that John McCain is. So when I heard Rush Limbaugh this morning, fifteen hours after the polls closed, starting to formulate what he called the "battle plan" against the newly-elected enemy, I thought about you. There were two men calling out to you in the same way on Tuesday, and a third offering up something very different on Wednesday. They're fighting over you, Joe.

Who will you follow? Rush? He'll deploy you for four years of screaming so loud and long at Congress that they might forget you're a small minority. You can team up with the National Journal/Wall Street Journal wing of the mainstream media, the aggressively political wing of corporate America and the Fox news machine to reprise the relentless attacks that kept the Clintons off-balance and sputtering through the '90s. You can't stop change, but you might slow it to a crawl that crushes this fresh new hope and drives Obama from office.

And then you win! And here's what: the January 20, 2013 inauguration of a Republican who inherits every monster problem we have today, except four years deeper and more entrenched. Do you have kids, Joe?

There's another option, one that might sound a little risky. Try on the possibility that, the hosts on your radio dial notwithstanding, Barack Obama is not an agent of evil. That his plan to raise the marginal tax rate — the rate paid on just the highest increment of income — on the wealthiest Americans from 35 percent back up to 39 percent, where it was ten years ago and less than the top rate in almost every other democracy, doesn't qualify as raging socialism or class warfare. That his plan to withdraw gradually from Iraq in deliberate cooperation with Iraq's neighbors may not be surrendering to terrorism or trashing our national security. That a full-on plan to develop green energy won't send you and your family into a cold cave to eat roots and berries. That we'll have to step outside our comfort zones — yours, mine, everyone's — to deal effectively with what's coming.

Nobody's asking you to blindly jump onboard. But suppose you told Rush you're not quite ready to enlist, that you want to watch before you fight. Then watch. See who the new President picks for key positions. Ignore the labels tailor-made not to inform, but to inflame — "socialist," "real American," "pro-terrorist" — and fix your eye on what's actually being offered.

Once your eye's on the ball, keep it there; it's for you, not Rush, to decide if the new president means what he says, or is fronting some sinister plot. Decide from evidence instead of fear. It's pretty much what the guy who's probably your all-time favorite president used to say: "Trust, but verify."

The risk of trusting? I suppose you could be fooled a step or two down a road you really don't want America to go. But you know it won't go further than that if millions of people like you feel burned.

How about the reward? No guarantees. But what if the chance Obama mentioned is the chance to bust the hopeless cycle of manipulated polarization, so we start giving more of our energy to solutions and less to circling each other like starving dogs? Would you be up to the job?

It's a big job, Joe. That's why you're still important. Let's talk some more when you're done with all the interviews.

Your friend,

Jeff the Writer

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at

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