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May 01, 2003

Elevate The Commons

Hearing yet another story about the gap between rich and poor led me to think about something we have been missing since the end of the Cold War; that is the notion that the American middle class is slightly but importantly better than that of the Russians.

I can recall a time when we were proud that we were an inch or so taller on average, that we lived a year or two longer on average. It was the propaganda of Wonder Bread. We all wanted to build stronger bodies 12 ways.

These days the bitterness of the Russians is palpable in their recent spying on American troops in Iraq. They used to be considered our equals, and I have little doubt that their people still are. But all their prestige is gone, we don't lose sleep any longer. We 'won'.

In celebration of all that, the well-off voted themselves largesse. The rich got way richer and the gap between them and the rest of us widened a bit. It's not so important that the average American be superior. So for my children there is no President's Physical Fitness Program at the local public elementary school.

Furthermore, you and I know what has happened to the radio since the invention of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh. We know what has happened to television since the retirement of Johnny Carson. We know what has happened to politics since the ascendancy of Newt Gingrich. Mr. Smith has been replaced by Michael Moore. Radio's Michael Jackson plays second fiddle to Bill O'Reilly. Here is handbasket, here is Hell. Any questions?

It occurs to me that the welfare of the middle class doesn't matter any longer, that they as an institution are not the ones considered responsible for the victory over communism, if its failure can be thought of as our victory. Since the great American Middle Class needn't be so great, we needn't have class, we needn't save ourselves from anything nor for any purpose than our own indulgence. So that is what is on the American cultural buffet. Junk food. It's a market function.

Our culture is polluted with Jerry Springerisms as a natural consequence of the upper class' perception that leaving us to our own devices is fine. The health of the nation doesn't depend on us doing anything other than feeding the great enterprises of our time. So long as we consume and spend, it doesn't matter if we get durable goods.

When we get SARS, as my paranoia suggests, it may be too late, but the lesson will be clear. We should not have let the middle sag. We should not have let the poor get too poor. We should have created millions more hundred thousandaires instead of hundreds of thousands more millionaires. The six figure club and their immediate subordinates, the upscale, could have supported that theatre. Instead we got more multiplex theatres because our middle class affords $7 movie tickets, not $250 sponsor level contributions to the Civic Light.

The Commons might have been upscale if we would have done a bit more trickling down. Instead, more of us have become cynical proles and the mainstream has become more downscale as a result.

Posted by mbowen at May 1, 2003 01:06 AM

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