The Use of the Term “Middle Class” by Politicians

Rick SantorumFormer presidential candidate and social conservative Rick Santorum argued that the term “middle class” is “Marxism talk” because, “Since when in America do we have classes?”

“Who does Barack talk about all the time?” Santorum asked a group of Republicans recently in Lyon County, Iowa. “The middle class. Since when in America do we have classes? Since when in America are people stuck in areas, or defined places called a class? That’s Marxism talk. When Republicans get up and talk about middle class we’re buying into their rhetoric of dividing America. Stop it.” — Source: Salon, August 16

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On Monday, August 26, Jane Taber wrote in The Globe and Mail:

Justin Trudeau“After a summer on the road, Justin Trudeau is refining his middle-class message and gearing up to fight Stephen Harper on pocketbook issues – an area of economic policy where the Liberals believe the Tories are weak and where Mr. Trudeau can shine.”

So, Canadian politicians, too, are engaging in “Marxism talk”. By now every politician is a Marxian and a Keynesian and a Freudian. These terms are not meaningless, but their meaning is imprecise.

When politicians speak of the middle class – Jane Taber is right – they mean pocketbook issues.

Or could they mean that members of the upper class are so rich that they don’t have to worry about money, and members of the lower class don’t matter because they don’t have any?

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4 responses to “The Use of the Term “Middle Class” by Politicians

  1. Mr Santorum’s surname means “of the saints”. I suppose if one’s own status is high enough, class divisions among mere mortals don’t appear very substantial.

  2. David Schatzky

    Mr. Santorum is unable to distinguish the difference between aspiration and reality. He somehow believes that Thomas Jefferson’s declaration “all men are created equal” is not only sacred but also a description of concrete reality. He fails to recognize that America IS divided. To deny that is delusional, as are many of Mr. Santorum’s perceptions (including his virulent anti-gay stance) which are shaped by his fundamentalist belief system.

    The challenge is to find a way to recognize and acknowledge – without judgement – that people’s lives, circumstances, preferences, needs, character, personality, gender, racial makeup, incomes, values, et cetera, are distributed along an almost infinite continuum, and that it gets us nowhere to pretend that we are all the same with the same needs. A catch phrases like “the middle class” is code on which we project our own meanings, and is not very helpful in defining problems or creating solutions.

    As for pitching one’s political message to the so-called “middle class”, surely that’s a slightly cynical ploy to garner votes, since numerically the middle is the majority, yes?

  3. Some schools of sociology use the concept social stratification to analyse society. This can be translated for some into empirical socio-economic terms of lower, middle and upper class. In Canada and the USA the great majority of the pop. resides within the range of the middle class, within this sociological framework those who pay the lions share of taxes and where there are the most votes. You are right that it is the pocket book issues that unifies this group, otherwise there are many diverse aspects in this middle class (read classification). Trudeau is following Obama’s playbook. This notion of the term middle class has nothing to do with Marx’s concept of class conflict between the working and bourgeois class in a capitalist society. Santorum was probably trying to score points on Obama by focusing on conflict and appealing to many Americans antipathy towards Communism which they believe was defeated by Ronald Reagan.
    Santorum was implying that Obama is un-American without stating it.

  4. Michael Gundy

    Mr. Santorum has used up his allotment of credibility long ago, hence very little he utters can be considered profound..