This morning, at a Democracy journal forum on the future of the Democrats, the main message conveyed was that Obama must stick to his "narrative" about the . observed that moderates gave Obama his victory, showing that his message of moderation made sense to lots of people ("he out-moderated the Clintons," said one panelist). Another panelist suggested that the First Hundred Days be dedicated to the Middle Class. That means choosing the right issues, yet another panelist agreed, noting that "Obama didn't really talk about the minimum wage during the campaign because middle class people aren't affected by the minimum wage, they're not minimum wage workers. So he shouldn't focus on those sorts of issues now." The panelists, by the way, were described and/or self-described as part of the progressive community.
Who exactly is the Middle Class that moderate politicians aim to please? The political middle -- as in "centrists"?....Or as in the statistical mean? People who earn less than $250,000/year, as the president-elect suggests? People who earn between $30,000 and $75,000/year, as Charles Schumer implied when he identified the "middle quintile" in his 2007 paean to the Middle Class, Positively American?
At this political juncture, it's useful to remember what Schumer wrote in his book. He exerts enormous, centralized power over the Democratic message as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Candidate Obama promoted Schumer's version of the Democratic message as he courted Middle Class support over the course of his campaign.
In Positively American, Schumer assigned the following characteristics to the Middle Class. According to Schumer, a middle class person is:
*a homeowner with a mortgage
*a property taxpayer
*someone whose wife works because she "has to" (I guess the iconic middle class person is a man)
*has an income between $30,000 and $75,000 per year
*is a "regular" person
The Middle Class, then, does not include poor people. Later in the book Schumer adds some normative qualities to the Middle Class, most important among them that the Middle Class represents "homogenization," as compared to folks who are "group-identified" (I think that means women and people of color).
If the Democratic Party is going to make the Middle Class its defining cause, we need to agree on some common definitions about who's in and who's out -- both of the class itself and of the bounty of power.
Does being for the Middle Class mean being for or against unions? For or against free trade agreements? For or against Paid Family and Maternity Leave? For or against affirmative action? For or against including transgendered people in the expansion of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual/gender identity/orientation? For or against more war in Afghanistan?