What was the most amazing statement in this week's ABC debate?
For my money it was anchor Charles Gibson's assertion that $200,000 is a middle class income. It is, in fact, within the top 4%.
The Census Bureau estimates the current median family income at $62,228. It varies by state. As high as $78,000 in New Jersey, as low as $46,000 in Arkansas. A median income means half of all families make more than that, half make less. It's a true, real-world average.
But I have no doubt that, to Gibson, his statement was right-on. Half the people he knows make more than $200,000, only half less. Which is precisely the problem.
If you make your living as a talking head, on network or cable TV, it's almost certain that you are, by most common definitions, wealthy. This is true for those so-called "newspaper" people you see on TV, not to mention nearly all the pundits and "strategists" who populate the political chat shows. (For the record, our family is doing just fine -- nowhere near $200,000, though.)
This is a very important point to understand when you're looking at today's media. If there is a class war -- and I would argue that there has been for many years -- everyone on the tube is on the rich side of that divide. Everyone, whether they're claiming to argue for conservatives or liberals.
This was not always the case. When I was a kid journalists were truly middle class, their incomes close to the median. Top editors were a bit above, reporters were always below. Our job was to identify with the middle class, and with those who had middle class aspirations. We could do that because that's where we lived -- in the middle.
No more. Now those paid to supposedly advocate on behalf of the middle class are themselves far above that station.
Something similar happened over the last few decades regarding athletes, the people we're expected to aspire to be when we're young. (To the left, Tom Friedman, very serious. Also very rich. Does that matter? In 2008, it does.)
All big-time athletes, like all big-time journalists, are rich now. Every single one of them, even the utility infielders and the basketball players at the end of the bench, or the weekend anchors. The political result of this change has been the creation of a political "jockocracy" -- journalists identifying entirely with those in their own class, using their good fortune to get those with less to agree with them.
Given the reality of our time -- an increasingly rigid class system in which each rung of the ladder is further-and-further away from the one below it -- this needs to be pointed out. Regularly. And this is the fact that will put those people on the defensive. They are not of the middle class. When they claim to speak for the middle class they lie.
They don't even know what the middle class is.
The response you'll get from the wealthy class will be instructive, so it's important you know it now.
First they will claim that the speaker has no right to say that because they're rich too. Barack Obama, for instance, has done really well with his books, and they will claim his wife Michelle got her latest job because of connections. This is called a distraction, an irrelevancy tossed out to change the terms of the debate from reality to myth.
Second they'll call you a class traitor. If you are above median income and dare speak about class warfare, as some musicians and movie stars do, you're a traitor to your class. You have no right to speak because you have money and should STFU. This is called a diversion, again aimed at changing the subject.
Finally, in exasperation, they will accuse you of engaging in class warfare. You'll be called a communist (as irrelevant as that may be in today's world). This is mere bullshit, claiming you're doing now what they are in fact doing right now, what they've been doing for years and years.
I do think there are some people, and sites, where the arguments of the right against those calling them on class warfare have more credibility. The Huffington Post, for instance, which is of, by and for celebrity, whose founder is herself a former GOP operative (and had her former husband been elected Governor probably would still be one today) is a very poor place to make this kind of argument.
But that's the beauty of this medium. The point, whatever it is, can start anywhere. The key is to spread the word, to use this medium as it was intended to be used, and not to depend on those above us on either the media or class totem pole to do so.
That's the key difference between this medium and those which came before. There is no barrier to entry in the Netroots, save your time, your talent, and your interest. Everyone can be heard, if only a little bit. The voice of the Internet medium is choral music. All our thoughts have value.
There is in Gibson's comment a startling bit of the French Revolution. His $200,000 comment is the "let them eat cake" of the 2008 campaign.