Both President Obama and Mitt Romney insistently use the term "middle class." But what is the middle class? Is a lawyer or doctor who may earn six figures a member of the middle class?
Back in the 50s, 60s and even 70s professionals earned more money than the so called middle class, made up of teachers, skilled laborers like plumbers, government employees, electricians, carpenters and owners of small businesses. But by the 1980s, the gap between the professional class and the upper class had begun to widen. Salaries of heads of industry dramatically increased, as did the sums earned by successful Wall Street professionals (hedge fund managers and partners in major investment banking firms like Goldman Sachs).
So when the candidates today refer to the middle class, they are actually referencing a demographic that contains a large swath of American society. A fireman and a brain surgeon are in theory both members of the middle class. Back in the 60s, middle class was considered a pejorative term. Middle class and bourgeois were used interchangeably and as baby boomers, who were once protestors, will remember no one wanted to be a member of the bourgeoisie. The last thing the flower children of the 60s yearned for was the shingled house with its white picket fence -- the house that those who were foreclosed in the sub-prime frenzy only dream of getting back today.
After Main Street, Sinclair Lewis wrote Babbitt, a satire of middle class ideals and "babbitt" became a word. The Free Dictionary defines babbitt as "A narrow-minded, self-satisfied person with an unthinking attachment to middle-class values and materialism" or to quote Nicholas Berdyaev the Russian philosopher and author of The Bourgeois Mind,
But even when the triumph of mediocrity was complete a few deep thinkers denounced it with uncompromising power... Carlyle, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Leon Bloy, Dostoievsky, Leontiv, all foresaw the victory of the bourgeois spirit over a truly great culture on the ruins of which it would establish its own hideous kingdom... With prophetic force and fire these men denounced the spiritual sources and moral foundations of middle-classdom and repelled by its ugliness thirsting for a nobler culture, a different life looked back upon Greece or the middle-ages, the Renaissance or Byzantium.
This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture