The Invincible Nobility of the Middle Class



I really don't want to jump on Mitt Romney every time he phrases something inartfully. Talking in front of people is hard. The chance to phrase something wrong comes with every sentence. It is, of course, a good idea when seeking public office to be better at saying what you mean than most civilians. But I'm more interested in the deeper connotations that you hear both from Romney, most Republicans and most Democrats that somehow equates virtue, and I would argue even patriotism, with being "middle class."


I enjoyed the President's google hangout, the other day, but it was striking how hard he--and his interlocutors--stressed the fact that they were "playing by the rules," "hard-working." and "middle class." As someone with a parent, and siblings, and friends, who were raised in public housing or, at different points, on some sort of other government assistance, I find this framing interesting. My grandmother raised three daughters in Gilmore Homes. You would not have found (rest her soul) a more hard-working, playing by the rules person in any class. My grandmother was the American that so many hard-working/rules-playing citizens believe themselves to be.

But the implication of a middle-class patriotism holds that the poor do not work hard, and do not play by the rules. Their poverty is a moral stain. It's rather sad to see ostensible progressives reinforcing this message. Perhaps in the case of Obama it's matter of democracy and market. Perhaps he's talking to the people who are most likely to vote.

Still, for his next google hang-out, it really would be nice if he had someone from the projects or the impoverished regions of Appalachia who "worked hard," I understand that he has to go with the market. But it'd be nice to see him influencing as well as serving the market.

I'm sorry, but I don't have such expectations for Mitt Romney.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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