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‘Mas Tom’ is Jamaica’s ‘Joe the Plumber’

Leaders of the two major political parties, Andrew Holness and Dr. Peter Phillips went head to head last night in a debate put on by the Jamaica Debates Commission.

Jamaicans listened keenly as both leaders aspiring to head Jamaica’s democracy,answered questions put forward by the nation’s most seasoned journalists, which included Dionne Jackson Miller, George Davis and Marjorie Gordon, as they sought to advance their position on how they would manage the country if elected on September 3.

The debate saw everything from plans to digitalize the economy to tackling the issue of corruption addressed by the respective leaders.

But how did we end up at ‘Mas Tom’ ? A name that has been on everyone’s lips following the debate.

Who is ‘Mas Tom’?

The Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) leader Andrew Holness introduced ‘Mas Tom’ during his opening statement when he shared with the audience that throughout his tenure as Prime Minister he had not taken for granted “the trust and confidence” placed in him by the voting public.

According to Holness, ‘Mas Tom’ was one of the voters he interacted with on Election Day in 2016, who he will never forget.

Holness went on to explain that, while leaving the polling station in 2016, ‘Mas Tom’ waved at him with his ink stained hand and said, “Andrew, do the right thing”.

While it is unclear if ‘Mas Tom’ is an actual person, Holness plugged his name twice in the debate, as he attempted to capture and espouse the sentiments of the ordinary man.

In the second instance, Holness uses ‘Mas Tom’ to point out some of the lofty promises put forward in the People’s National Party’s (PNP) manifesto.

“You know Dervan, Mas Tom called me before I came to the debate and he said he was reading Peter ‘Papa Tax’ Phillips’ manifesto,” Holness told the debate floor, as he responded to a question initially aimed at Phillips’ regarding promises made in his party’s manifesto.

“And in that manifesto he was caught by the promise of $48,000 per year per household and he said let me check that and that worked out to about 200 billion Jamaican Dollars, Mas Tom seh to me tell Papa Tax Phillips that me may poor but me nuh fool,” added Holness.

What is the significance of ‘Mas Tom’?

Holness is not the first politician to elevate an individual deemed to represent the thoughts of the average man on a political platform.

In 2008, then Republican candidate John McCain frequently plugged ‘Joe the plumber’; a name that has become synonymous with the average man.

Interestingly, Joe who was a Republican supporter who rose to national attention when he sparred with the then Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama over his tax policy.

‘Joe the Plumber’ whose real name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher was captured on video asking Obama about his tax plan.

Photo of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher aka ‘Joe the Plumber’

Wurzelbacher suggested that Obama’s tax plan would be at odds with “the American dream.”

He later became a staple of McCain’s campaign as the Republican nominee  made public a telephone conversation he had with Wurzelbacher and mercilessly plugged his name on the campaign trail.

According to political analysts, the  ‘Joe the Plumber’ plug was used by McCain to endear him to the nearly 5.6 million  small business owners in America, while pandering to swing voters weary of Obama’s policies.

The data on whether such a strategy works is mixed,  while it is good for attracting attention, that attention may  not translate in to support as it data suggests it can do more harm than good; with some voters noting that it creates a stereotype which may not necessarily be true.

What’s even more interesting is that despite ‘Joe the Plumber’ becoming a household name, it didn’t score many political points for McCain on the campaign trail,as the Plumber’s Union in 2008 ultimately endorsed Obama as later  it was discovered that Wurzelbacher wasn’t actually a plumber.

While it may not have scored political brownie points for McCain,  Wurzelbacher  certainly profited from being plugged, later dropping a book and securing other profitable deals.

What will ‘Mas Tom’ do for Holness’ campaign?

While the ‘Mas Tom’ plug didn’t resonate with younger voters, primarily those on Twitter who have begun to troll Holness over the existence of  the elderly man, others in the social media sphere got a good chuckle.

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