The best GOP response to this charge is to insist that liberals have been assaulting middle-class values for years—and it’s those values, not government giveaways, that built prosperity for the Great American Middle.
The outcome of this argument (and, very likely, of the election itself) will depend on how the public defines “middle class.” The left insists that you qualify for that status based on the money you earn: if you bring home too little—or too much—you’ve entered some other segment of the population.
But if Republicans can make the case that membership in the middle class is based more on worldview and values than pay stubs, they can claim the coveted title “middle-class defenders" and even make the case that it’s Obama, not Romney, who’s most out of touch with the American mainstream.
Polling data suggest that most Americans are already inclined to view the middle-class designation as something more than a matter of income: overwhelming majorities describe themselves that way even when their earnings put them far below or far above the normally assigned boundaries. A fascinating, in-depth study from the Pew Research Center (2008) showed that 41 percent of Americans with family incomes below $20,000 said they are middle class—even while the federal government classifies them as below the poverty line. At the other end of the spectrum, 33 percent of families with incomes above $150,000 also considered themselves middle class. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll (April 2012) showed a full 59 percent who said they saw themselves as “middle class” or “upper middle class.” A scant 3 percent said they were “better off than that.”
With significant proportions of those who live in poverty—as well as those who draw six-figure incomes—claiming the same middle-class designation, it ought to be obvious that they share common values that count as more important than economic circumstances. Many families struggling at the edge of survival (including, no doubt, many immigrant families) feel proud of practicing middle-class virtues, and feel confident those virtues will bring their ultimate financial reality more in line with their cultural aspirations. Many other Americans (like the famous “Millionaires Next Door” celebrated in a series of bestselling books) may have earned enough to leave bourgeois life behind, but still they still choose to toil away at the daily grind, spending sparingly, attending church, saving for the future and otherwise honoring their middle class roots.
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