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Marion On December - 6 - 2010

What is the “middle class?”

When I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the middle class was white-collared professionals, all of whom had a university degree. They were doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, accountants.

Most people were from solid working class – blue collars, skilled and unskilled, or low-level clerical. My parents were strictly blue-collar, but we were taught that you bettered your own social position by education. The 1970s saw record numbers of people going to universities thanks to the scholarships and financial aid schemes engendered under the Johnson and (yes), the Nixon Administrations, and social mobility was achieved thus.

I have a cousin who married a doctor. Her husband’s father was a self-trained carpenter from South Carolina who never learned to read or write, but he saw one of his sons become a doctor and the other finish at West Point.

Somewhere in the past 30 years, when we got conned into believing that just because we had a credit card in our pockets and could get a loan from the bank on the collateral of your house or whatever to buy the latest car or go on a lujo cruise, that we were middle class. In truth, most of us aren’t.

And in truth, for all the talking head pundits, Right and Left, go on about the “middle class”, who are REALLY working class, they’d have to fumigate themselves if they ever had occasions to walk amongst them.

An awful lot of the Obama-hate on BOTH sides of the political equation is down to one thing and one thing only: RACE.

The sooner that’s admitted, the sooner we can address the elephant in the room – and that elephant’s not necessarily a Republican.

19 Responses so far.

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  1. darrelplant says:

    I just have to say that I think most of the commentary on this thread is bunk.

    Charges of racism against the left with absolutely no examples? Claims that white progressives only reach out to “black churches” because they think African-Americans are too stupid to leave their God? Where do people come up with these theories?

    People talk about getting black churches involved in campaigns because churches are one of the most important social centers of the African-American community. You go to churches just like you go to unions, because — to paraphrase bank robber Willie Sutton — that’s where the people are. If you need to reach masses of people or recruit volunteers and you want to make the most of your time and money, you go to those places first.

    It’s also incredibly tone deaf to ignore the fact that there is plenty of involvement from non-African-American liberal or at least non-conservative church organizations like the Unitarians and the Metropolitan Community Church. Has everyone else forgotten the heat the United Church of Christ took for running ads a couple of years ago explicitly spelling out their policy of inclusion for disability, sexual orientation, and race?

    As for the “middle class,” there’s just no actual definition of what it is and there never has been. The US Census Bureau specifically avoids defining the term (http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/inequality/middleclass.html). Whatever we were “conned” into over the past 30 years has nothing to do with abstract definitions, anyway. It’s a fact that median household income has increased (in inflation-adjusted constant dollars) by only 25% since the mid-60s. Per-capita GDP has gone up over 90% in the same period (also in constant dollars). Meanwhile, the number of women between 25 and 54 in the workplace nearly doubled from 45% to more than 80%.

    Essentially, the median household income has kept pace with the increase in the size of the total workforce but its fallen far behind the amount of money in the system. And most households need two incomes to keep up.

    If the system wasn’t rigged against the working class, that number of women moving into the workforce should have greatly improved the income levels of households, not just (sometimes) provided a bulwark against slipping into poverty.

    • Khirad says:

      I don’t really have a thoughtful comment to add to that.

      I’m still gushing that Unitarians got a shout out.

      Seriously, if there’s a liberal cause, there’ll be a UU there. 😉

    • kesmarn says:

      A thoughtful and well-written comment, darrelplant, and thank you for posting it on the Planet.

      Choicelady’s comments, though, do carry a good deal of weight with me because she represents most of those those “non-African American liberal churches” that you mention, as a lobbyist. She (and they) worked tirelessly for a decent health care reform bill. If I’m reading her correctly, she’s referring to a sub-sector of people who tend to regard themselves as the liberal “elite.” People who are, almost by definition, atheists/agnostics and who live in up-scale areas where they can satisfy their consciences by being self-declared libs, but who have minimal to zero contact with actual poor people and their real life interests. So when this type of lib talks about “getting the black churches involved,” it actually can mean that it is said in the type of condescending way she deplores.

      This doesn’t imply that she (if I may be so bold as to speak for her) feels all progressives have this attitude. But she’s had enough (often unpleasant) experience in dealing with limousine liberals to know that some of them certainly do.

      While racism (right/left, subtle/overt) may not be the dominant element in the struggles the current administration is experiencing, it surely can hardly be dismissed either.

      On the topic of the slippage of the so-called middle class, I’m totally with you in recognizing that the phenomenon of the two-income household is the primary factor in keeping the American worker’s head even slightly above water. And that’s not a good thing.

      • darrelplant says:

        The demographic of “atheists/agnostics” “who live in up-scale areas where they can satisfy their consciences by being self-declared libs, but who have minimal to zero contact with actual poor people” is vanishingly small. I’m at a loss to understand how they’re supposedly a major force in a Democratic Party where any politician above a certain level is almost certain to have publicly expressed some sort of faith in God. Are those people the talking heads on TV, almost every one of whom expresses some sort of faith when called for? Are they some shadowy operators behind the scenes?

        And that still doesn’t address the charge of racism on the left. Certainly there are racists of all political and ethnic stripes. Why, as a young man, the African-American mother of my then-girlfriend nearly had a fit when she met me for the first time. But claiming that the “elephant” behind unhappiness with Obama’s policies and actions over the past couple of years is race-based is just wack.

        There were a lot of people who didn’t like Bill Clinton’s policies either, and it wasn’t because Toni Morrison called him “our first Black President.” People--not just some supposed liberal elite but lots of working-class people--are genuinely concerned about the high rate of unemployment that’s being treated with all the urgency of a “check engine” light. People are still confused as to why a bunch of people were allowed to nearly destroy the US economy and nobody’s been held accountable. And I dare say there are some people unhappy with the fact that we’re potentially punting the resolution of Iraq and Afghanistan into a Palin administration.

        I think there are a lot of atheists and agnostics (and probably a variety of believers) living in modest homes on tight budgets who might have bones other than racism to pick over with the current administration.

        • kesmarn says:

          Of course there are “atheists and agnostics and a variety of believers living in modest homes on tight budgets who have bones other than racism to pick” over with the current administration. I don’t think choicelady (nor I) would argue to the contrary.

          I also don’t think either she or I would claim that dismissive limousine liberals run the show on the left. But they do exist.

          It’s creating a false choice to imply that this is an all-or-nothing situation.

          I do think there should be a space (and a safe space, too, where there’s not a kneejerk charge of racism) for people who are critical of the president. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that there really are racists out there.

          As Questinia says, this is an element that’s hard to measure. There’s no racism-meter. At the risk of making a bad pun: this isn’t a black/white situation.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Darrel, you are right. If there IS an elephant in the room, it is not racism. At least not when it is used as a catchall brush with which to smear all of Obama’s detractors. If one wishes to address the situation of Obama getting more heat than previous Democratic presidents, one needs to examine the things you state, PLUS the fact that this current administration, who are mostly white, let’s remember, have a way of insulting their base and pooh pooh-ing their concerns. The message is: “Grow up, “professional left”, and stop complaining! We DID campaign on “yes, we can” but in fact much of the time we can’t, (i.e. get single payer, a public option, end the wars, close Gitmo, initiate a green revolution, end the Bush tax cuts,etc.etc.) so pipe down and get over it.” In a nutshell, that’s the message from Obama, Emmanuel, Gibbs, etc.

  2. Questinia says:

    I think some amount of racism is present, but I don’t think it’s the central theme.

    This is a continuation of Bush’s Shock Doctrine, only part two. It would have fallen to Hillary as well. Any democrat in power. The economic stage was set well before Barack Obama became President. The middle class was being decimated. This is race- neutral inasmuch as the plan was for the Dem president to be loathed for not cleaning up the financial mess.

    We should be careful about projecting race onto the tone of the nation that much. It creates an intangible thing to grapple with. It can’t be proved. If it is inferred as central, one runs the risk of not dealing with the reality of the situation as it may truly exist.

  3. javaz says:

    You’ve hit it out of the park with this one, Marion.

    Historically, I do think that Democratic Presidents have always been given a hard time, to say the least, by the Corporate-owned-Republicans, but when it comes to President Obama, the discourse runs much deeper.

    When certain Republicans and Republican pundits say that President Obama has set race relations back 30 years in this country, it’s the typical Rove politics of accusing others of what they are guilty of doing.

    And I agree that racism is prevalent on both sides of the aisle and it is time for each and everyone of us to ask ourselves where the harsh criticisms of Obama is coming from -- it’s hard to admit prejudice is at the core.

    I think that people who have experienced bigotry, even subtly, have an easier time understanding the root of the problem.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      I am not convinced that prejudice is at the core, am willing to be persuaded otherwise, and have experienced bigotry, not at all subtly, though not in my formative years. Since moving overseas, I have been told by ignorant citizens of this country (the majority of whom are terrific) that “I don’t like foreigners!” (to my face), that foreigners have a peculiar smell, and even, by pub owners, the equivalent of “we don’t serve your kind here”. Furthermore, as an American, it is shocking at first to realize how insouciantly Brits and Aussies, among others, criticize us Yanks, our intelligence, etc. So I have at least a modicum of first hand experience in this regard.

      I think that the majority of people on the left who complain about the president are not racist. Plain and simple, this is what I think. It’s a simple matter of giving the benefit of the doubt, I feel. There are some on the other side of the spectrum who would literally be happy were the president to become strange fruit. This is the ugly, horrifying truth. I don’t want that truth to become diluted by suggesting something of a similar nature is happening on the left.

      What about Maher, one might ask? What about him? He’s a comedian, and his jokes reveal his tone deaf nature in this regard. He says he expected Obama to act more like a “gangster”. A tasteless joke, and an example of stereotyping. If Giuliani had become president (and Thank God we dodged THAT bullet) , does anyone here really believe we wouldn’t hear comedians say things like “He needs to make Congress an offer it can’t refuse!” or, “If Pelosi pulls that, she’ll be sleeping with the fishes!” When that inevitably happened, how appalled would you be?

      I think people are sick, sick SICK of the way this country is working right now, and Obama is getting the heat because he has the job he campaigned so hard for and coveted so earnestly. I would be willing to bet he’s not sitting in the Oval Office blaming his woes on bigotry.

  4. WLA says:

    That’s the short and sweet of it, Marion. We also can’t seem to hold onto the true meanings of WORDS anymore. “Middle class” now is everything between the CEO and the homeless guy on the bench outside.

    And “Liberal”… well, that means a godless card-carrying Maoist-Leninist, of course. And “Conservative,” well, that now means that you have to be a racist, bigot homophobe cousin-humper.

    I blame the media.

    This is only half-heartedly snarky.

    Peace.

  5. choicelady says:

    Marion -- I remember middle class, and I even remember when blue collar people were that, too. I worked with union folks, middle class all, but NOT when it came to status. As a sociologist I learned that class has many components, only one of which is income. That said, yes, most blue collar folks were in the middle class even if their education levels did not equal that of doctors, CPAs, etc.

    I do see your link between class and race -- again, the blue collar folks I knew well were fighting for racial and class equity. You’d look far afield to find a more comfortably integrated union than UAW and many others. But the wedge driven among us came from both the right and left, with the latter deciding that there were status differentials bigger than income -- dress, preferences in wine and cheese, education, tastes in cultural things. I knew very few college professors who’d hang out willingly with working people. So, having found the white collar middle class hostile to the blue collar middle class and to especially BLACK middle class people, I was not remotely surprised that the intelligentsia turned on Obama almost immediately. Depressed, yes. Surprised, no.

    One of the themes in my life as someone working with the faith community is very odd -- every progressive group will tell you they “have to get the Black churches” engaged in —fill in the blank. They NEVER say that about white or even integrated churches. Why? If you dig deeply enough, you will discover that white progressives think Black people culturally and historically cling to the Black churches -- because they are not smart enough NOT to. If they really were well educated they’d be indifferent or outright atheists. Only historic oppression makes them cling to God.

    And if that ain’t racism, I’m not sure what IS.

    The fragmentation of the middle class and the racism that goes along with it tears my heart because there was a time when that was NOT what was going on, when we were on a good path. Then came Reagan and the overt effort to smash solidarity -- the snide “welfare queen”, the misunderstandings about Affirmative Action vs. court mandated “catch up programs”, about the whispers that people of color were being given preference over US in hiring. Never mind we white people outnumber Black people 12 to 1. “They” were getting all the middle class jobs. It’s “their” fault we aren’t middle class anymore. Of course now it’s immigrants, but the damage was done.

    So it all fell apart, the Left can be just as snarky on race as the Right if more covert about it, and we now wear our racism openly as “being honest”. “Speaking the truth”. Since the ‘truth speakers” I know never spent a second with anyone Black, I find it disingenuous at best that they “know” what Black people need -- and aren’t afraid to say so, never realizing how freaking patronizing they are, and how wrong.

    I miss some of the old days -- not the racism of the 50s but the hope of the early 60s. In five short years, 1963-1968, everything got blasted from us -- JFK, MLK, Jr., RFK, the war -- on and on and on. I remember thinking Nov. 22, 1963 -- is this the beginning of the end? And it was in a way. The end of innocence, the end of trust, the end of hope. Those who revere the 60s I find odd. They were horrible, and the legacy is not flower power but napalm and racism, corporate dominance, and anti-democratic power grabs.

    Still and all I must have something left -- or I’d not be here on the Planet. I’d not be doing my job. Maybe it’s memory of times when we tried to be better and nearly succeeded. Maybe this time we will try -- and we’ll make it. All of us. Together. Keep hoping!

    • kesmarn says:

      Once again, a beautifully written analysis, c’lady.

      I had a humbling experience when I was well into adulthood. It was in the early stages of my friendship with a Black co-worker. I was mentioning a certain gospel group, and somehow implied that she might have seen them at her church. “I don’t go to church!” she said, eyebrows raised in irritation, “I don’t even believe in God!”

      I was doing the typical stereotyping thing that I arrogantly thought was not part of my (I presumed non-prejudiced) personality.

      She taught me a lot about sub-conscious prejudice and stereotypical thought because she was so generous about lovingly correcting me when I said something stupid. She was one of the most balanced people I’ve ever met. She had a low tolerance for inner city black kids who were throwing their lives away on crime and addiction, and yet she was willing to take a strong stand against white bigotry when she saw it as well. She literally seemed to see people and not color when she looked at human beings.

      I learned from her that that kind of courage and perspective “don’t come easy.”

  6. VegasBabe says:

    NOW YOUR TALKIN’!!!!!!!!!!! I DETEST LIARS, DENIERS, DECEITS, AND FRIGGIN HYPOCRITES and it’s about damn time we get at the meat of the problem here. AND it remains important to illustrate that there are racists ON BOTH SIDES of the aisle here. It will be written in history….oh boy to the downright “astonishment” of many just how deep rooted it was (give me a fucken break). I have begun to question how good has this President been for this country BECAUSE of the racists and their obvious tenacity in stopping, halting, obstructing every move he attempts to make.

  7. whatsthatsound says:

    How is this semantic stance on what qualifies as “middle class” related to the charge that anti-Obama sentiments are race based? I don’t see the connection.

    • bito says:

      Nor do I agree with it. Many blue collar workers in that era had a HS education or less, and they were very much in the middle class.
      Railroaders, steel workers, tradesmen, butchers, bakers and ice cream makers, all middle class during that era.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        I think I disagree too, but I just don’t see where OP is going with this….

        • bito says:

          I too, have a problem with the “The thus and therefore…” I would have gotten one of those marks in red of non-congruency. I hated that mark. Disagree? OK, but those marks I didn’t like.

  8. boomer1949 says:

    Marion,

    Thanks for posting this!

    I agree 1,000% and have been saying the same thing for months, and months, and months, and months. Last Wednesday December 1, 2010, I faxed a letter to Senator Scott Brown; I also faxed it to the President and to my Senator, Sherrod Brown. This is the closing:

    Moreover, it is the firm belief of many Americans that your collective agenda has little or nothing to do with what is or is not good for the people, ALL OF THE PEOPLE , in this country.

    I would bet my next three paychecks vendetta the Republican Party has against President Obama has never been about the policies being put forth by the White House, but everything to do with the ethnicity of the family living in the White House. Food for thought Mr. Brown, food for thought.

    And…you and your colleagues thought none of us had noticed.

    Up Against An Uncompromising GOP Brickwall


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