Brian the Auto Worker is a reluctant icon.
Brian Slagle is the star of an Obama campaign TV commercial airing in Ohio for the last two weeks.
Snippets of video show a pretty wife and Slagle throwing a ball with his young son.
While driving, Slagle, 32, ruminates that he was scared when he was laid off from his job when the Great Recession hit, but President Obama extended a hand and rescued the industry.
"He [Obama] wasn't going to let it die. I'm driving in this morning because of that," Brian is heard saying.
It's easy to imagine that the Obama campaign hoped Brian would be the liberal Joe the Plumber, like conservative Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher who is running for Congress.
Brian's not interested, though.
Slagle was picked by the Obama campaign because he was somebody in the United Auto Workers union who agreed to tell his story in an Obama commercial. The Obama campaign tells me he was not paid for his appearance in the commercial.
Slagle wants to return to anonymity. He even took down his FaceBook page.
We tried to reach Slagle for an interview. The only response we got was this email:
"Tom, I don't think I want to do anymore interviews. I'm just an ordinary guy and I'm not trying to be famous. There were thousands of people in the same boat I was. I just want to go back to my normal life. Thanks."
Unlike Slagle, Wurzelbacher, 38, of Springfield Township (same township where Brian Slagle works) welcomed the public spotlight, after he got used to it.
If fact, he has converted that fame into a career giving speeches to appreciative conservative groups and is now running as the Republican nominee for the Ohio 9th Congressional District against Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur (Toledo).
Like Wurzelbacher, Slagle was attacked immediately by political opponents.
After Wurzelbacher challenged Obama's plans to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2008 in a totally unplanned sidewalk debate in front of his working class residence in Springfield Township, Wurzelbacher was accused of not being a real plumber because he didn't have a plumbing license. (He worked for a licensed plumber and says he was a plumber in the Air Force.)
Slagle's story in the Obama commercial was attacked because the fact that he has worked at Johnson Controls since 2006 supposedly undercut his claim of owing his job to Obama.
It's a lame criticism, though. Slagle made clear in the commercial that he was "laid off" and now he's back at work because the 2009 auto industry recovery successfully saved the industry. (The exact same thing happened with Chrysler and GM workers). Nor is it claimed in the TV commercial that Slagle got his job because of "stimulus" funds that Johnson Controls received for its Holland, Mich. plant, one of the criticisms aimed at the "Brian" ad.
Johnson Controls makes car batteries. The fear in 2009 was that the entire car parts supplier industry would have been decimated if GM and Chrysler were forced into liquidation. Obama and Congress put up some $82 billion from the taxpayers to help the companies through an orderly bankruptcy reorganization.
It's a fair debate whether the taxpayers should have played that part, and whether UAW workers got the best part of the bargain. We're still short about $23 billion of that money.
But it's hardly debatable that the auto industry rescue had the desired effect. It appears to be working for Slagle, who is in the process of moving from the working class West Toledo neighborhood that appears in the Obama video to a suburban home in Waterville.