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War on the Middle Class

Article excerpt

War on the Middle Class Lou Dobbs Viking, 2006

The author is the anchor and managing editor of the CNN television network's social-commentary program "Lou Dobbs Tonight." In that capacity, he has carved out for himself a role as an intelligent, calm, but at the same time articulate and provocative, champion of the American middle class with respect to a number of critical issues. By critiquing a wide range of problem areas, War on the Middle Class broadens the more purely economic discussion contained in his earlier book Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed is Shipping American Jobs Overseas.

The mainstream of American society - historically the essence of American life - has long consisted of a broad middle class. As the book's title declares, Dobbs sees an on-going war against this mainstream. He quotes Warren Buffett (who "is not only one of the richest men in the world, [but] also one of the smartest") as agreeing that "This is class warfare." Although there is much more to Dobbs' discussion, we get an immediate insight into his thesis from the following passage: "Ours is becoming increasingly a divided society - a society of haves and havenots, educated and uneducated, rich and poor. The rich have gotten richer while working people have gotten poorer. We must also recognize that our public education system is failing, that there are far fewer well-paying jobs for our workers, that the middle class is hardly represented in government, and that our community and national values are increasingly challenged by corporatism, consumerism, and ethnocentric multiculturalism."

For most of the past two centuries, intense social criticism has been voiced in the United States by the Left. The criticism has been a message of alienation. Dobbs differs in the fact that, although he sees a corruption of virtually every facet of contemporary American life, he does not speak from alienation, but from a deep sense of attachment to the main society, which he fervently wants to see preserved. He explains that he has been "a liberal Republican" who is at one and the same time both "a strong believer in free enterprise" and someone who rejects "unfettered capitalism."

A considerable virtue that he brings to his commentary is that he is in no sense a political or ideological partisan. The corruption that he sees is found, he says, in both political parties, in the national media, in the current presidential administration, in Congress and government in general, in big business, and even in the scientific community. His, then, is an ecumenical complaint. In effect, there are "abuses," just as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed many years ago, "in which all connive." Nevertheless, even though he sees that the decadence is widespread, he pinpoints an especially salient part of America's current plight: "It is the members of this business elite, this new upper class, that pose the greatest danger to our American way of life."

It is worth noting that when Dobbs speaks of a "war" against the middle class, he is including the effects of gross indifference as well as those of outright hostility. He writes of "elites who are hostile - or at best indifferent - to the interests of working men and women of the middle class and their families." Those familiar with the legal concept of "gross negligence," also spoken of as "willful and wanton disregard," know that it involves "doing something highly dangerous to others while possessing a state of mind of not caring about the potential harm." An example would be firing a rifle into a park without sighting in on anyone, but at the same time knowing that people picnic there. Dobbs traces innumerable policies that demonstrate either hostility toward, or an active unconcern for, the well-being of the average American.

There are so many facets to this, as Dobbs sees it, that we can only grasp the whole by considering the cumulative effect of his many points:

1. His book Exporting America dealt with the de-industrialization of the United States, with its outsourcing and offshoring of jobs and capital, and Dobbs doesn't neglect that issue here. …