When I first heard the phrase "Joe the Plumber," I was at a North Beach comedy club watching the final presidential debate and sipping a panaché.* If I'd been even slightly more drunk, I wouldn't have believed my ears when the debate turned into all Joe-the-Plumber all the time: it was like both candidates had turned into parodies of themselves, bending over backwards to prove that they could appeal to "the common man." (Part of the reason for this is that I missed the very beginning of the debate and assumed that "Joe the Plumber" was a metaphor like "Joe Sixpack" or "John Q Public" rather than an actual guy that Obama had met.)
The resultant Joe-the-Plumber mania reminded me, as it did Roger Cohen, of the hysteria a few years ago in France over the "Polish plumber." Basically, French people feared that strengthening the European Union would make it easy for residents of poorer Eastern European nations to move to the West--thus the dreaded "Polish Plumber" would take away jobs from hardworking French plumbers.
Cohen's column left out the best part, however: the Polish tourism board heard about what was happening in France and prepared an ad featuring a Fabio-like male model dressed in a plumber's uniform, with the slogan "I'm staying in Poland... Come and visit."
Years later, it still makes me giggle every time I look at it.
*Panaché = A French drink, half lager beer, half lemonade. Yes, I know this makes me a San Francisco elitist.