THE CATALYST…. John McCain told Sean Hannity last night that his campaign is on the upswing, and he knows precisely why: “This ‘Joe the Plumber’ event has really been a catalyst. It really has. You know we look back on political campaigns. ‘I paid for this microphone, Mr. Breen.’ Ed Muskie crying outside the Union Leader, or whatever it was, you know? There are moments when something happened, and clearly Senator Obama going to Joe the Plumber’s drive way, and him getting an answer that clearly he didn’t like.”

Now, for those who consider reality important, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Wurzelbacher can’t be a “catalyst” (or, more accurately, an exploited mascot) for McCain’s message since Wurzelbacher doesn’t actually prove McCain’s point.

As we talked about the other day, if Joe Wurzelbacher was a small businessman whose taxes would go up under an Obama administration, all of this would be very powerful. It’s about attaching a real-life person to a policy point the campaign wants to emphasize. In this case, McCain desperately wants regular folks to think Obama will raise their taxes, reality notwithstanding.

But since McCain’s “catalyst” would get a tax cut in an Obama administration — probably a bigger break than under McCain — the whole thing falls apart fairly quickly.

So, what’s the point? Last week, Atrios argued, persuasively, that McCain is exploiting this guy because “Joe The Plumber” is “a white guy who’s about to have his pocket picked by a black guy. It doesn’t have to be true.”

John Judis raises a similar argument today.

…McCain and Sarah Palin’s attack against Obama for advocating “spreading the wealth” and for “socialism” and for pronouncing the civil rights revolution a “tragedy” because it didn’t deal with the distribution of wealth is aimed ultimately at white working class undecided voters who would construe “spreading the wealth” as giving their money to blacks. It’s the latest version of Reagan’s “welfare queen” argument from 1980. It if it works, it won’t be because most white Americans actually oppose a progressive income tax, but because they fear that Obama will inordinately favor blacks over them.

I think that’s absolutely right. Pay particular attention to the way McCain phrases his ridiculous rhetoric: “That’s what change means for the Obama administration. They’re redistributing. It means taking your money and giving it to someone else.”

McCain doesn’t say who “someone else” is, but for the white working class undecided voters he’s targeting, he’s hoping he doesn’t have to.

I’ve simply never seen a more offensive, more nauseating, presidential campaign.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.