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The Greedy Old Party's|
"Middle Class" Scam
As the wise Greek philosopher Plato observed long, long ago, "For every city (or state), however small, is, in fact, divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another."
It might be more accurate to contrast the "haves" to the "have-nots", and to include political power and influence, rather than just wealth, in that contrast, since some communities may not have much wealth, but still tend to be divided between those who have power over others, and those who are dominated by those in power. See how fundamental this divide is to the contrast between "liberals" and "conservatives" at Great-Liberal-Insights.Org/liberals.html.
How on earth does the Republican Party manage to persuade so many poor and working class people to go against their own interests and enthusiastically support the "Greedy Old Party", while fearing and distrusting the party that fights so hard on behalf of the poor and the over-worked and the underpaid? There are many pieces to this puzzle. We deal with "God, guns and gays", for example in other pages of this site. But a very important piece which most Democrats overlook is the matter of how people view themselves in American society and how that is reflected in our public discourse.
How many working class people would choose to support the Republican over the Democratic Party, if the choice were between "the party of the Working class" and "the party of the Employing (or Exploiting) Class"? Isn't that the reality? The Working Class (which includes those who would like to be employed, if they could get a job , and the "self-employed" if they actually "labor" themselves, rather than making money on the backs of others' labor) far outnumbers the Employing (and/or Exploiting) Class and should prevail any time matters are put to a vote. But that hasn't been happening for the past forty years or so, because like magicians, the rich and the powerful have succeeded in replacing reality with a mirage. By not only using the "middle class" language themselves, but fooling Democrats and the media into using it as well, they have persuaded vast numbers of working class people to think of themselves, not as rivals of the rich and the powerful, but as neighbors, half-way between the poor and the rich, i.e. members of "the Middle Class".
"There is no standard definition, and in fact, an overwhelming majority ' Americans say they are 'middle class' or 'upper-middle class' or 'working class' in public opinion polls. Hardly anybody considers themselves 'lower class' or 'upper class' in America.' 'Other polls suggest that 90 percent or more of Americans consider themselves to be 'middle class' or 'upper-middle class' . An April 2007 poll by CBS News found that of 994 adults surveyed only 2 percent said they were 'upper class,' and 7 percent said they were 'lower class.' In another poll, taken by Gallup/USA Today in May 2006, 1 percent said they were 'upper class,' and 6 percent said they were 'lower class.' Interestingly, since 12.3 percent of Americans were living below the official federal poverty level in 2006, these poll findings suggest many who are officially poor still consider themselves to be 'middle class'."
Because "the middle class" is never actually defined, just about everybody who isn't filthy rich on the one hand or jobless and homeless on the other thinks of him or herself as "middle class". And while it would be difficult to persuade many people who thought of themselves as "Working class" to support "the party of the Employing (or Exploiting) Class", the Greedy Old Party has proven that it is quite easy to persuade people who view themselves as "middle class" to imagine that they who are already half-way to the "rich class" and that they should support policies that benefit the rich (like the lowering of taxes on the rich : capital gains, dividends, income, corporate and estate taxes). And in the process, they have infected many working men and women with contempt for their poorer brothers and sisters.
There's a great study on the New York Times web site [ at www.nytimes. com /packages /html/national/20050515_CLASS_GRAPHIC/index_04.html ] which shows among other things that "More than ever, Americans cherish the belief that it is possible to become rich. Three-quarters think the chances of moving up to a higher class are the same or greater than 30 years ago." ( That's up from 1983 - in Reagan's first term - when it was 50%! ). 50% Americans believe that no matter how astronomical the estate a person dies with, it should not be taxed a single penny.
"So what do politicians mean when they say "the middle class"? Good question. Each politician may be talking about a different group of Americans, but the message many voters hear is that the politician is talking about them."
Because of this, every time Democrats say or write the muddled "middle class" language, instead of the uncompromising language of "the working class", they are driving another nail into their own coffins. If you want to help resurrect the fortunes of poor, exploited, employed and unemployed Americans, then help resurrect their Democratic Party by never again speaking "middle class", and by telling fellow Democrats and Green Party members to always think and speak of themselves and their allies as members of the best class there is, "the working class" !
The members of the "Working Class" are also the ones who buy and consume most of what the "Exploiting Class" sells for a exorbitant profits. So, after first exploiting workers in the production process, it exploits them again at the purchasing end of the economic process.
The graphic below shows what proportion of each income level (divided into 5 "quintiles") votes at all (the dark column); and what proportion of that group has voted Democratic (the gray column) in recent presidential election years. Since there are many more people in the working class quintiles, Democrats would hardly ever lose at the polls, IF more of that huge class voted, and IF they voted in their own interest.
The moment working class Americans start thinking of themselves as "Middle Class", they are only a step or two away from voting with and then joining the Greedy Old Party. The Republicans may not be smart enough to have invented this phenomenal scam, but they are certainly its beneficiaries.
This might not be the case if "middle class" had any kind of definition. But as, the Wikipedia article on "American Middle Class" points out,
"In the United States the definition of the term middle class is very vague as neither economists nor any other sociologists have ever set down to accurately develop guidelines to precisely define the American middle class and its sub-divisions. There seem to be several approaches as to what is middle class. The term can either be applied to all those who are at neither extreme of the income strata or to a relative elite of professionals and managers." The term "Middle Class" might be a useful sociological concept if we laid out the total range of annual income (say from $3,000 to $100 million) and the called those earning between $33 million and $66 million the "middle class", and all those who earned under $33 million the "lower class". Another approach would be to have the IRS report precisely how the nation's population is distributed each year, i.e. at which range of income the "upper" third of the population is earning more than the "middle class", and the lower third of the population is earning less.
Either of these approaches would bring intelligence to the endless debate as to who is doing what for a nebulous "middle class." But who in this country has any idea what such a "middle class" is? This terminology is useful, but not for enlightenment. It is a tremendously subtle and useful tool for Republicans to persuade the great mass of people between the nation's multi-millionaires on the one side and the welfare recipients on the other that the G.O.P. is their party. The vast majority of Americans know they aren't in the upper class, but would much rather think of themselves, and have others think of them, as "middle" rather than "lower" class.
By persuading Americans that they are for the "middle" class - with whom almost everybody wants to be identified - and letting the Democrats be identified with the "lower class," the G.O.P. is winning the hearts and minds of voters who, by every standard, ought to be Democrats. By the time one generation has wised up, there's a new one falling for the Republican promises of tax cuts for "the middle class", and they too have to learn that most of G.O.P. tax cuts are designed to go to the fat cats at the top end of the "middle class", and they have to learn the hard way that, when services for the "poor" are cut by Republicans, they and their families are among those low income people.
As bad as this scenario is for "the working class", the ones who suffer the most grievously from the muddled "middle class" language are the those who are forgotten, never mentioned, i.e. "the lower class", the bottom-dwellers, the poor, the un-employed. Would that be the case if people viewed themselves as members of the whole class of people whose lot in life is to work for a living - whether they actually have job at the moment, or would like to have one if they could, or are now retired from that life?-
The most progressive era in America's history was the time when the vast majority of the population had no illusions about it's social status. They were not ashamed of their poverty, but that didn't mean they went around identifying themselves as members of the "lower class". They had another choice in those days, one they didn't have to be ashamed of. They considered themselves members of "the working class"! The vast majority of Americans then as now were workers. But when they got organized and stuck together, they had tremendous economic, social and political power. Those who work for a living still outnumber by far those who live off the labor of others, but the power of the "working class" has been dissolved into the meaningless mush of the "middle class."
By seducing large numbers of working class people away from their poorer brothers and sisters, the G O P has managed to crush most of the progressive causes in recent years. If they had not been so stupid in their choice of presidential candidate in '96, they would now be in full control of all three branches of the national government, not to mention all the state houses and even mayoralties of our largest cities. We can't count on their repeating such mistakes. It's time we progressives wised up. When are we going to start fighting the treachery of the "middle class" scam? From this point forward, we ought to consider it treason for any Democratic leader or activist to utter the words "middle class" (except to enlighten their working class friends).
Austin - Some days, you have to believe that right-wing ideologues have lost touch with reality completely. Their latest proposal to prevent future
Enrons is ta-da! - cut the capital gains tax. . .
In 1999, the average after-tax income of the middle 60 percent of Americans was lower than in 1977. The 400 richest Americans between 1982 and 1999 increased their average net worth from $230 million to $2.6 billion, over 500 percent in constant dollars. That's class warfare.
By 1999, over one decade the average work year had expanded by 184 hours.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the typical American worked 350 hours more per year than the typical European. That's class warfare.
Less than half of all Americans have any pension plan other than Social Security. Wage-earners in the United States collectively ended the decade with less pension and health coverage, as well as with the industrial West's least amount of vacation time, shortest maternity leaves and shortest average notice of termination. Among the Western nations, the United States has the highest levels of inequality. That's class warfare.
From 1980 to 1999, the 500 largest U.S. corporations tripled their assets and their profits and enlarged their market value eightfold, as measured by stock prices. During the same period, the 500 corporations eliminated 5 million American jobs. That's class warfare.
(All these figures are from Kevin Phillips' excellent book Wealth and Democracy.)
The stress and tension in the lives of middle-class Americans is unfortunately not quantifiable, but that's part of class warfare, too.
None of this is inevitable or even accidental. It is a consequence of oligopoly - rule by the rich through their campaign contributions.
In the 1940s and '50s, the middle 60 percent of Americans got the largest share of the growth in the economic pie. In the '90s, the increase went disproportionately to the very wealthy. Phillips reports that it dwarfs what happened in the Gilded Age.
When George W. Bush came into office, the first thing he did was give an enormous tax break to the richest 1 percent of Americans, the same people who had gained at such a madly soaring pace. That's class warfare, too.
If I may be just wildly populist here for a moment, we can't fix any of this by making it worse with even more tax cuts for the very wealthy. It puzzles me that the well-off complain so much about taxes when they pay so little relative to their wealth. (See the Web site of Citizens for Tax Justice at www.cpj.org.)
Whether you belong to a Union or not, how many of the following benefits do you enjoy, which you only have because they were fought for and won for all American workers by unions, and enacted for the most part over the objections of conservative Republicans by liberal Democratic administrations:
The above is just one of many unique and exclusive insights that we have made available free of charge at our Great-Liberal-Insights.org site to help make the Democratic Party not just more liberal but more successful in its battle for the hearts and minds of the good people of America... Here are a number of others :