Debra J. Saunders

Maybe if ABC had made the 26th Democratic presidential debate this election season drag on for another couple of hours (on top of the two endless hours), someone would have gotten around to answering this question: When did households earning $200,000 and change become middle class?

Moderator George Stephanopoulos asked both Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama if they would make "an absolute, read-my-lips pledge" that, if elected, there will be "no tax increases of any kind for anyone earning under $200,000 a year." Clinton pledged not to raise "a single tax on middle-class Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year." Obama answered he would make a similar pledge: "It depends on how you calculate it (the income level), but it would be between ($200,000) and $250,000."

Last weekend, the big campaign flap concerned whether Obama's remarks about "bitter" small-town Pennsylvanians were "elitist." Wednesday, when the candidates described $200,000-a-year earners as middle class, no one batted an eye.

Hello. I'm a Republican, and I think a family that earns more than $200,000 is rich. In the world of Democrats Clinton, Obama and Stephanopoulos, however, you have to be among the top 3 percent of wage earners to qualify for that club.

Some stats: In 2006, the median annual household income in America was $48,201. The median income for two-earner families was $78,994.

When I asked Gerald Prante of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation if he thought $200,000 were middle-class income, he noted, "It isn't even middle income in Manhattan," where Prante said some 14.2 percent of households make more than $200,000. The median income in a household headed by someone with a master's degree is about $88,000. Ergo, it would take the income of 2 1/2 master's-degree-headed households or more than four median households for one family to transcend middle-class status chez Obama and at casa Clinton.

To the apparent glee of Clinton, ABC anchorman Charlie Gibson assailed Obama for his proposal to raise the cap on Social Security payroll taxes beyond $97,500 a year. (Actually, the cap is now $102,000.)

"But that's a tax on people under $250,000," said Gibson. Like that's a bad thing in the formerly soak-the-rich Democratic Party.

Obama replied that he would "look at potentially exempting those who are in between." Huh?

Robert Bixby of the fiscal watchdog group The Concord Coalition figured that Obama is proposing a "donut hole" -- wherein only earnings below $100,000 or above $250,000 would be taxed. And: "Campaign rhetoric and sensible budgeting are incompatible creatures."

Debra J. Saunders

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