By John Feehery - 06/06/11 10:03 PM EDT
Over the last several weeks, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney sounded different themes and emphasized different things during their announcement speeches, but they all made the same glaring omission. Not once during their announcements did they say the phrase “middle class.”
But if any of these candidates — or any other Republican, for that matter — hopes to have a chance against Barack Obama, he or she will have to win the middle-class vote convincingly.
America’s strength comes from its middle class.
And middle-class America is under considerable strain.
Wages for the middle class are stagnant, and have been stagnant for a decade. Many people stay in their jobs because they fear that if they leave, they won’t get another one. But prices, for food, commodities and especially energy, have increased, putting a great squeeze on middle-class families.
House values in Middle America, especially in suburbia, have taken a tremendous hit. For most middle-class families, their biggest single investment is their home. But that investment has turned out to be a complete flop.
For many middle-class families, the road to prosperity starts with a stop at a university. But college is becoming unaffordable for middle-class parents, and more and more kids wonder if the loans that they are forced to take out are worth it.
President Obama has done nothing to fix any of these problems. His spending programs have done nothing to ease the strain on middle-class families. Wages haven’t gone up because unemployment has not gone down under the president’s watch. House values haven’t stabilized because the president doesn’t have a workable plan to inspire confidence in the sector. The president hasn’t lifted a finger to help middle-class families deal with the high cost of education.
Obama, the arugula eater, is not a natural middle-class kind of guy. He tends to think that middle-class voters, especially those who own guns or go to church, are angry or delusional. He drinks a beer every once in a while (e.g., the Beer Summit or the pint in Ireland), but that doesn’t mean he is particularly sympathetic to the concerns of the middle class.
His healthcare law put a greater burden on middle-class voters to pay for the healthcare for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. His one priority on college education was to get free education to the children of illegal immigrants. The middle class didn’t think his stimulus spending helped them very much, which is one very big reason why they turned against it.
Talking about the middle class is but a starting point for the Republican candidates. They also have to propose some things that actually give middle-class Americans a stronger sense of economic security.
They have to propose plans to deal with the high cost of college. They have to come up with real plans to stabilize the housing market. They have to understand why wages have stagnated and better appreciate how to lift the burden from the backs of middle-class workers.
Republicans have a very good shot at winning the middle-class vote. The president has ignored them, and his policies have alienated them. It would help if the Republican candidates would actually mention the middle class in their stump speeches. Somebody has to start fighting for the middle class. It sure isn’t going to be Barack Obama.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.