Saturday, January 31, 2009

Middle class revolutionaries on the march

I've been a card-carrying member of America's middle class all my life. I suppose my "card" is that wrinkled old original Social Security card I carry in my wallet. All of us have one of these, from the homeless man crashing at the local shelter to crazy ol' rich guy Bernie Madoff. But most of us are middle class, like it or not.

There was a time that we artsy types wanted to distance ourselves from suburbia. "Middle class" was a putdown among '50s beats and '60s hippies (and hippie wannabes). Odd thing is, the most vocal critics tended to be offspring of the upper classes rather than the sons of daughters of carpenters and insurance salesmen. Middle-class kids like me were raised to strive for better lives that our parents'. Most of us seemed to want that, too, although life has a way of playing tricks on your aspirations.

My father was an accountant and my mother, a nurse. My father was the first college graduate in his family, courtesy of the G.I. Bill. My mother's nurse's training was paid for by the U.S. Navy, although World War II ended before she could serve in the military. My parents' first house came through a no-down-payment, low-interest loan through the V.A. It was in Aurora, Colo., Denver's burgeoning eastern suburb. We lived just down the street from Fitzsimons Army Medical Center where Ike recovered from one of his heart attacks. Pres. Ike was married to Mamie, a middle-class girl from Denver.

My parents and millions like them made up the middle class. Their ungrateful kids wanted something else, something better, something....who the hell knows. Most of us claimed territory in our parents' socio-economic cadre, whether we wanted to or not. In the 1980s -- that "Me Decade" when TV's "Thirty-something" was all the rage -- we didn't grasp the fact that forces energized by the so-called Reagan Revolution were on a search-and-destroy mission. Target: me and my neighbors. Those forces took steroids during the Dubya Administration.

But now the Reagan/Bush/Bush tide is ebbing.

On Friday, Pres. Obama signed an executive order forming a Working Families Middle Class Task Force. Point man is Veep Joe Biden. Here's what he had to say:

"America’s middle class is hurting. Trillions of dollars in home equity and retirement savings and college savings are gone. And every day, more and more Americans are losing their jobs. President Obama and I are determined to change this. Quite simply, a strong middle class equals a strong America. We can’t have one without the other. This Task Force will be an important vehicle to assess new and existing policies across the board and determine if they are helping or hurting the middle class. It is our charge to get the middle class – the backbone of this country – up and running again."

Who would have thought there would come a time when being middle class was revolutionary?

The task force's first meeting will be in Philadelphia Feb. 27. I would have preferred a place closer to Middle America. Aurora, Colo., for instance. Or possibly Cheyenne, Wyo., or Omaha or Wichita. I formally invite the task force to Cheyenne. The Veep can stay in my guest room.

One thing that's encouraging -- you can submit your ideas to the task force here.

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