Why is the left—and Sen. Barack Obama himself—stripping a gear over Joe the Plumber? I thought hard-working middle America is who they are rooting for. I thought the modest, working-class neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio, where Joe Wurzelbacher had his now famous encounter with the Democratic presidential candidate was Obama territory? Isn’t that why Obama went there? So why instead of engaging the honest question raised by Joe is Obama ridiculing him and distorting what he said?

Yesterday at a New Hampshire apple farm Obama said of Sen. John McCain, “He’s trying to suggest that plumber is the guy he’s fighting for,” and after extended laughter from the crowd added, “How many plumbers you know making a quarter million dollars a year?” to more laughter and hoots.

Joe never said he made $250,000 a year. He said he was interested in buying a business (with three employees) that makes $250,000 a year. And as the McCain campaign has rightly pointed out, small businesses making more than $250,000 a year employ 16 million Americans. Sounds something like middle America to me. For comparison’s sake, the Labor Department reports that experienced plumbers charge anywhere from $35 to $150 per hour, depending on where they work, while median income for plumbers in 2002 stood at just over $25 an hour. Auto workers make on average $28 an hour with benefits.

But instead of using this stir to investigate Obama’s definition of middle America or the tax policies of both candidates, MSM decides to investigate Joe. Thanks to AP and The New York Times we know that Joe is not a licensed plumber, that he owes back taxes, and probably before too long we’ll know whether he’s a regular churchgoer and circumcised. As Ed Morrissey points out, “How much longer before a certain blogger at The Atlantic demands a paternity test to see if Joe the Plumber fathered Sarah Palin’s baby — or Bristol’s, for that matter?”

Leaving me with my original question: What’s Obama got against a plumber from Toledo, Ohio? If he’s not the middle-class America Obama says he wants to rescue, then who exactly is?

UPDATE: Read Sen. McCain’s comeback speech about Joe the Plumber in Miami today here.