You might say that Middle Class is bourgeois – in which case, I’m proud to be a class enemy
Let’s Hear it for the Middle Class!
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(Author’s Note: This article was originally written nearly four years ago, after Obama’s election to his first term. However, I think that despite a bit of datedness with respect to some of the specifics mentioned below, the general point still applies quite well for today, especially as we see the middle classes in this country coming under increasing assault from Resident Obama and his gang of thieves and scoundrels.)
I am not a great fan of Arnold Toynbee’s cyclical interpretation of history. Nevertheless, I do think that history often seems to repeat itself because history records the actions of a common denominator – humanity – whose members will have the same basic responses under the same general social circumstances, regardless of time and place. So it is with the pattern we’re seeing in America today, with regards to the position and viability of the Middle Class.
Lately, I’ve been reading G.M. Young’s Victorian England: Portrait of an Age, and have been struck by the similarities between the evolution of Victorian society and our own. In both societies, you had an early and fleeting embrace of individualism under the auspices of classically liberal political philosophy that sooner or later gave way to a radically secular and libertarian caricature of self-government (here, it began with Ayn Rand, there, with Herbert Spencer).
In both cases, creeping socialism under the auspices of “Poor Laws” and “social relief” spread through most strata of society, while most people were asleep at the wheel. Further, both saw the encrustation of social and moral traditions – but only for tradition’s sake – which were then suddenly and decisively swept away with the advent of a decadent new generation that was not taught WHY these traditions were important or necessary. In England, this occurred in the Edwardian age that followed the Victorian – the era of bohemianism and Bright Young Things; here it was the rise of the Rock and Roll culture and the Sexual Revolution, from the late 1950s and continuing to this day.
One aspect of these social changes, however, upon which hinged the whole destabilization of society was the steady denigration and decline of the Middle Class. In both Victorian England and middle 20th century America, there was the progressive ostracization of the Middle Class and its attendant values and purposes. Both societies degraded as a result.
What we need to understand is that “Middle Class” is not so much an economic description as it is a psychological one. A person can be “Middle Class” and not fit into the typically associated income brackets. Likewise, you can fit right into the middle economically, and not be “Middle Class.” It’s a mindset, a worldview, a way of looking at things through a certain lens. To be “Middle Class” is to hold to the conventional values that made America great – personal self-government, capitalistic self-improvement, fiscal responsibility (both personal and governmental), and moral steadfastness. You might say that Middle Class is bourgeois – in which case, I’m proud to be a class enemy.
The Middle Class mindset is one that believes that it is better to regulate one’s own behavior than it is to have someone else regulate it for you. It rejects the “anything goes” attitude of post-modern America. It also resents the profusion of laws, regulations, and stipulations that society enacts when certain members of the body politic cannot govern their own behavior. It upholds the rule of law, but knows that the free and sovereign individual shouldn’t need very many laws to successfully live out his life in peace with other members of society.
The Middle Class individual strives to improve him or herself through hard work and industriousness. He or she neither wallows in self-perpetuating poverty and enslavement to the welfare state, nor do they seek to get rich quick. He knows that the path to financial betterment comes neither from a welfare check nor a lottery ticket. Instead, the Middle Class individual works hard, does a quality job, rises through the ranks, expects to be judged on his merits, and makes plans to better himself and society through producing real wealth with real value and real benefit to all involved, by investing his own ingenuity and abilities. Riches are the result of the patient investment of blood, sweat, and tears, not finding the right stock or having an uncle who doesn’t have a problem with nepotism.
The Middle Class individual understands that fiscal responsibility is key to his own life, and the life of the nation. He knows that it is foolish to spend more than he makes. He knows that budgets exist for a reason – and that reason is to keep you out of debt. He understands that debt is slavery, and that the instant gratification that causes debt to accrue just isn’t worth it in the long run. He also knows it’s a wise man who scrimps and saves now, so that he can be provided for in the future. And just as he expects and practices fiscal responsibility for his own self and family, so also does he expect it of his government, and is offended and alarmed when it isn’t forthcoming.
Lastly, the Middle class individual understands the time-honored value of traditional moral absolutes. He knows that Biblical morality and Judeo-Christian tradition are the bedrocks of successful societies that have historically escaped the morass of tribalism, poverty, despotism, and ignorance. He understands that the principles of loving the Lord his God, and loving his neighbor as himself are not only principles of godliness, but also are principles of successful civil society, all at the same time. He holds to them not just because they are tradition, but because they are GOOD tradition, and he understands WHY they are so.
As I said before, a person doesn’t have to fit into a certain income level to be “Middle Class.” A man who earns minimum wage working at a convenience store, but yet who is saving for an education, who is preparing to provide honestly for his future family, who rejects the “buy it now and pay for it later” materialism of this age and is mad as a hornet that his government doesn’t do the same – he is Middle Class. Conversely, the man who makes precisely the national average income, but who lives like a playboy, runs up debt on all kinds of “big boy toys,” thinks morality is for religious losers, and is glad that the government is going to hand out all kinds of goodies it can’t afford, is NOT Middle Class. It’s a mindset, not an income bracket.
It was a cardinal error of late Victorian society that it allowed, and indeed abetted, the erosion of its Middle Class. In Early Victorian England, society was orderly, moral, and dominated by the institution of the “Respectable Family.” Families were large – partly because the technology level of the day meant that half of the kids wouldn’t live to the age of five, but also because children were revered. They were an investment in the future. Motherhood was honored. Women had a primary role in shaping the moral character of their children, and they were not ashamed to assume that role. The father in the family was a role model to his children. He was expected to conduct himself with dignity, with love for his family, with a well-meaning regard for the honor and dignity of his wife.
From this foundation on the family, all of society followed suit. People were (or at least generally tried to be) dignified in the way they dealt with each other in the public square. Crime was low, and the need for police equally low. Men respected each others’ property and lives. Wealth was a matter of industry and land – both things that required hard work to prosper. The Middle Class in England - the product of successful small farmers and landholders in the past centuries – was remarkably stable, falling neither to the degradation of the slums nor to the idleness of the aristocracy. This situation existed because of ideology as much as it did for any other reason.
But, later in the Victorian era, you begin to see the breakdown of the “Respectable Family” – which was no longer as respected as it once was. Education grew less and less to be the province of the family unit, and more and more the province of disinterested government bureaucrats in public schools. Darwinism began to replace the traditional morality, and concurrent with this, all manner of perversions began to creep into Victorian life, hovering ever under the veneer of public respectability.
English society became disillusioned, and the Middle Class eroded as its mores loosened and its bedrock turned to gravel. In short, the Middle Class lost its own confidence, and a society changing for the worse lost confidence in it. Social spending on welfare and various other government programs increased steadily throughout this later age, as the family became less important, and the state more so. Society lost its taste for the “benign” imperialism of Clive, and replaced it with the rapacious Imperialism of Rhodes – justifying itself upon evolution’s “survival of the fittest” mentality.
So it is with the America of the last fifty years. Our society has become increasingly immoral, disorderly, bloodthirsty, and secular. This is all to its own detriment. And this is in many ways because, politically, the Middle Class has allowed itself to become fragmented and disillusioned, and therefore ineffective.
Of the many bad ideas that I’ve heard following the recent election as to what the Republican Party needs to do to regain electoral prominence, one of the worst is this idea that the GOP needs to “move to the center,” that it needs to dump social conservatism, and not be so hard-line on taxes and spending. We just need to accept the new order, and play the “go-along-to-get-along” game. This view, advocated by many so-called “conservative” opinion-writers like David Frum and Kathleen Parker, as well as by many RINOish elected officials, is utterly wrongheaded. It evinces no understanding of history. For while our situation somewhat parallels the Victorian situation, it does not completely emulate it – or at least not yet. We still have a substantial Middle Class in this nation. The problem is that it is currently fragmented and politically disheartened.
The GOP’s problem is not that it holds to traditional moral values. Neither is the problem that the GOP (ostensibly, at least) holds to the movement conservative program of smaller government and lower taxes. The problem, instead, is that the GOP has pandered too many times in recent years to exactly the kind of RINOs who are now advising it to slits its own wrists. By seeming to reject traditional American Middle Class values, the Republican Party has driven away many voters from the successful Middle Class coalition built by Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement in the 1980s.
Much has been said about the need for the Republican Party to reach out to minorities and the young. I’m certainly not opposed to these efforts, but all the same I would point out that to date, it’s not as if the GOP has been ignoring these groups. Rather, these groups have been ignoring the GOP. Why? Because the Republican Party is associated with a set of values that are not shared, quite frankly, by most college students or minorities. Obviously, this is not always the case, but nevertheless is generally true. These values are the Middle Class values of which I’ve been speaking. Typically, the stereotype of getting a company job, working hard, keeping your nose clean, saving for the future, etc. are viewed by many college students and other twenty somethings as “selling out,” and are viewed by minorities as “acting white.” Ask yourself – why is it that after two decades of touting him as an example, Clarence Thomas is still so poorly respected within America’s black community? It’s because he’s not viewed as a role model, but as an Oreo – black on the outside, but white on the inside. So fine, the GOP can spend millions of more dollars in outreach and maybe sway a couple of percentage points our way, but there has to be a more cost-effective way of building up a winning coalition.
There is – it is to rebuild the winning coalition we once had, and which still exists out there to be had, if the GOP would return to fully embracing its fiscal and social conservative roots. Who are these folks? They’re the conservatives who didn’t bother to come out and vote this time around for McCain. They’re the conservative Democrats who didn’t particularly see McCain and the increasingly “centrist” Republicans as attractive enough to stray from the strong roots of partisan affiliation. They’re the libertarians for whom the GOP has become as synonymous with “big government” as the Democrats. They’re the social conservatives driven away by the social liberalism of the Arlen Specters and Olympia Snowes in the Party who have been allowed too disproportionate of an influence and voice.
In short, they’re the people who more or less hold to Middle Class values, and who are mad enough at the Republican Party for abandoning these values that they have abandoned it. They’re the people who were fused together by Reagan and his strategists, and who handed the Gipper his monumental victories in 1980 and 1984, and who were motivated enough to come out en masse in 1994 and deliver Congress to the Republicans. They’re the people who want social conservative protections of our social order and fiscal conservative protections for their pocketbooks. And for the past several years, let’s be honest, the GOP has floundered around and largely failed to deliver.
But this doesn’t need to continue being the case. The answer to the problems currently faced by the Republican Party is not to become more liberal, but to go back to being conservative. We need to appeal to that Middle Class majority that DOES still exist out there, but who is looking for a Party that consistently, rather than haphazardly, supports what they believe in.
Recent polls show that pluralities of Americans believe that the Democrats are more credible when it comes to spending, taxation, and economic issues. Granted, I expect this to change once the polls start reflecting the public’s response to TARP, Porkulus, Omnibus, Bailout of Losers Who Never Intended to Pay their Mortgages, TARP II, Son of Porkulus, TARP III, MegaOmnibus, Porkulus Eats Manhattan and the rest. Nevertheless, we need to ask – why are the Dems viewed as more credible? It’s because they’re at least doing what they’re supposed to. You expect Democrats to tax like crazy and spend like there’s no tomorrow. On the other hand, people don’t expect multibillion dollar prescription drug plans and multibillion dollar budget deficits from Republicans. Yet, that’s what they got. Hence, credibility was damaged, to say the least.
To regain that credibility, the GOP needs to get serious about standing firm on principles related to fiscal matters. We need to once again be the champions of tax cutting, fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, and parsimony with the taxpayers’ monies.
We also need to present a united front on social issues, even if it comes at the expense of driving away the Arlen Specters and Colin Powells in the Party. It’s one thing to have a big tent. It’s another to have too big of a tent – and that’s what the GOP has been trying to pitch. It hasn’t worked, of course. On the national level, opposition to gay marriage and abortion, the two most prominent social issues in our day, has shown itself to be remarkably popular. Every gay marriage ban to date has passed in every state it was proposed, most by wide margins, even in leftist states like California and Oregon. So why listen to David Frum when he says that we’re going to “alienate” voters with the issue? Likewise with abortion, most states regulate abortion legislatively, many quite restrictively through broadly popular measures that even many liberals support. So, prolife is a deal breaker? I don’t think so. The GOP cannot afford to go soft on social issues, just to appease persons within the Party who are only precariously with us in the first place.
Rebuild the Middle Class coalition. Bring back in the conservative Democrats who are waiting for a Republican worthy of voting for again. Bring back in the libertarians who want the government out of their pocketbook and their personal lives. Bring back the disaffected former conservative Republicans who left because they got tired of being trampled by RINOs. They’re out there. We just have to give them a reason to vote for us again. And if we do, we won’t be sorry. Instead, we’ll be celebratory.