Silvio the Plumber

Family’s Path to the Right: Silvio the Plumber

Long before Joe the Plumber was on the political scene, there was Silvio the Plumber, and were he alive he would be voting for Obama. (And if half of the ACORN voter registration fraud stories are true, he very well may be!)

Silvio the Plumber is the first character a reader meets in the 1996 Pulitzer Prize finalist non-fiction The Inheritance: How Three Families and the American Political Majority Moved from Left to Right by New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman.  (Simon & Schuster).    

The book traces the evolution of that group of Catholic ethnics the pundits called Reagan Democrats through the stories of three families over the course of three generations.  In it we are introduced to Silvio in his pre-plumber days, in 1918, when at the age of 15 he had to drop out of school to help support the family who had taken him in.  Silvio’s father, owner of a construction company, had committed suicide years before, when in the wake of the economic panic of 1907, he lost his youngest son, his life savings and his house.  The final straw was being unable to meet payroll.

By the time of the Great Depression, Silvio himself was a father of two of the four children he eventually had.  His daughter, Lorraine, the second child, was born just months before “the Crash.”  The depression notwithstanding, Silvio eschewed welfare (which he called “relief”) for his family, even when the power company turned off his lights for non-payment.  Silvio believed relief was for those less able-bodied than he.  For his part, WPA, the “workfare” of his day, was Silvio’s answer.  While “workfare” may be a Republican concept, Silvio the Plumber was not a Republican.  He was a proud life-long New Dealer, a union leader for whom the local union hall was named, and a man who could count on one finger the number of Republicans he voted for.  Not so, Lorraine.

As his daughter Lorraine the Telephone Operator, became Lorraine the Wife and Working-Mother, the Democrat (as she called it) party was changing too.  It was no longer the party who had her loyalty in her youth.  As was oft-said in the late sixties “she did not leave the Democratic party, the party left her.”   Lorraine was part of the first wave of what was to be called the Reagan Democrats.  Worse yet in the eyes of Silvio the Plumber, Lorraine’s first-born was a young non-com in the Reagan Revolutionary militia – a Republican enlistee.

So, what would Silvio the Plumber say about the 2008 Presidential election?  He would probably tell his grandson, “Your party blew it.  They came into power with promises of term limits, and family values, of smaller government and less spending.  They got drunk on the power – and they spent like drunks.  They grew the government, and grew in their conceit.  They believed the country needed them to stay beyond limited terms.  And now they are paying the price.”

And I would reply, “Grandpa, you’re right.  My party lost our Reagan roots, and thus the Reagan Democrats.  But if your party wins and then deludes itself into believing they have a mandate for their extreme left agenda, the Obama revolution won’t last more than two years.  With an extremist agenda he will not unite.”  My grandfather, Silvio the Plumber, would say something to the effect that “Frankie, look at all the money wasted on your education and you still don’t know what you are talking about.”

I would then say, “Grandpa, you’ve got it wrong.  John McCain has it right when he says, ‘Obama’s tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency.’ As he told Joe the Plumber, he wants to spread our wealth around.  He wants to raise taxes on some in order to give checks to others.  Look, I know how you refused relief, and you and I both understand that we must help people in need.  But Barack the Wealth-Spreader’s way of doing it is wrong.”

“Look, Joe the Plumber isn’t even a union member,” Silvio the Plumber, union leader, would snap.  “You’re ignoring the issue, Grandpa.” Frank the Reaganite would reply.  “‘Spreading the wealth around’ is like telling one of your great-grandchildren they need to go Trick-or-Treating next week, and then give half of the candy they work to get, to kids who didn’t bother to ring doorbells on Halloween.”

“Is that all you Republicans care about?  Taxes?” Silvio would retort.

“No Grandpa, look at Obama’s pro-abortion position.”

“You mean pro-choice.”

“No, pro-abortion.  As my friend, Princeton Professor Robbie George says, ‘Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate.  Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.’

“Robbie the Professor goes on to explain that Obama isn’t pro-choice.  He is Barack the pro-abortionist.  He does not want me or my wife, Suzi, to choose not to fund abortions.  And Grandpa, if his plans are adopted Suzi, the Nurse-Midwife, might not be able to object to aiding abortion procedures.  What kind of choice is that?  Come on, I’ll show you how to get to Professor George’s column in the Internet.”

Silvio the Plumber would wave off any attempt by me to get him NEAR a computer.  So, I would have to use my oral skills.  “And you know how Obama has voted on stem-cell research?  He votes for money to experiment on human embryos, but AGAINST funding non-embryo stem-cell research!  Where is the logic in that?  He wants to use my tax dollars to kill what I believe is a human but won’t let my tax dollars be used to research a non-human alternative that has shown so much promise.

“I’m telling you, Grandpa, Obama is EXTREME.  My cousins, your grandkids in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio and their neighbors are not extremists.  IF they vote for Obama, (and I know some of them aren’t) they are not endorsing an extremist agenda.  They are not voting for Barack the Extremist.  And if Obama’s ego leads him to believe otherwise, his ‘mandate’ will evaporate as quickly as it condenses.”

Silvio the Plumber, my grandfather, would probably groan, shake his head in disgust and walk away — sometime later thinking “Damn kid could be right.”  But, he would (regrettably) vote for Obama.