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Stalemate in the War on the Middle Class

Reported by Judy - December 16, 2006 -

Fox News sent its troops to the front lines of yet another war on Saturday (December 16, 2006) -- the war on the middle class. Only this time, the four-star generals at Fox News decided there is no war on the middle class, or if there is, the enemy is not who you thought it was.

Brenda Buttner, host of "Bulls and Bears," began her show with the provocative question, "Who’s really waging war on the middle class? What if I told you those pretending to be its defenders could be?”

The show never actually got around to addressing who's behind the war on the middle class. Instead, the panel spent most of its time debating whether there really is a war on the middle class. And from the passion of the conservatives, it was obvious they feel very threatened by any suggestion that income inequality is growing.

Buttner started off with a vague reference to "some reports" about the plight of the middle class, but never clued her viewers in on who issued those reports or what they said. Never let facts get in the way of a good story is Buttner's motto.

Tobin Smith, of Changewave Research, claimed that John Kerry and The New York Times are waging war on the middle class. "This is a trumped up malarkey that comes out of this class warfare argument that Kerry thinks he’s going to get elected on and lose again," he said.

Guest panelist and Democratic strategist Laura Schwartz managed to present a few statistics to make the point of a middle class under pressure -- a $1,300 decline in real household incomes under George Bush, while costs of health care, education, and energy have risen $5,000, but Buttner had effectively stacked the panel against her.

Gary B. Smith, of Exemplar Capital, countered that median income might be dropping, but if you throw in benefits, such as health care, compensation is at an all time high. Sounds good, but higher health care premiums are not disposable income that helps a family pay its bills, a point that Smith failed to make.

"I don’t know how much more the middle class and every other class could be benefiting right now," said Smith.

Pat Dorsey, of Morningstar.com, tried to cool things down. "I guess I don’t understand why this has to be a partisan debate because these trends are long-term in nature," he said. "They don’t happen under a Democratic administration or a Republican administration. Income inequality in this country has been widening since the ‘70s. … It’s an issue and I think it needs to be addressed, but I think slinging blame at one side or the other really doesn’t get us any further.”

Buttner then quickly undercut Dorsey, noting, "Actually upward mobility is the rule, not the exception." Then she went to her main yes-man, Charles Payne of Wall Street Strategies.

"Well, it’s the rule and it’s the American dream," he said.

The dream, yes, the rule, no. Not according to a report called The State of Working America, 2006-2007. The report, published by the Economic Policy Institute, says that ingenerational mobility has become less likely. For example, it says that "sons of low-income fathers (with income at the 10th percentile) have only a 4.5 percent chance of reaching the 80th percentile and only a 22.5 percent chance of reaching the median income as adults." In other words, 4 out of 5 of America's poor never make it to the median income level. Those sorts of inintergenerational mobility figures put the U.S. 5th in the world behind countries that conservatives all love to hate -- Finland, Canada, Sweden, and Germany, with the United Kingdom right behind the U.S. Maybe we should call it the "Canadian Dream."

Nevertheless, Payne clings to his dream that if he made it, everybody else must have, too, and if they didn't, it must be their fault. "All these bonuses we hear about, some of these people came from nothing. ... This is the American dream. So I think it’s really despicable on the part of liberals, Democrats and anyone who’s trying to sell us this load of crap that somehow the middle class is doing poor because they’re not. There’s a reason everybody in the world is coming to this country," he said, apparently meaning that people are coming here because the quotas for Finland, Canada, Sweden, and Germany are filled.

Dorsey tried to make the point that upward mobility still exists in this country, but has been declining. "It is less likely today than it was 20 years ago for someone born in a lower income category for their children to be in a higher income category later one. That’s not a good trend," he said.

Buttner ignored his comment, and went on to warn that "the Democrats may use this as a chance to take away the Bush tax cuts.”

Meanwhile, throughout the segment, the banner on the lower third of the screen read: "The 'Real' War on the Middle Class."

Instead of asking a group of wealthy stock brokers how they think middle class Americans are doing, Buttner might have sought the views of some actual middle class people. If all those crack Fox News reporters couldn't find any real people, Buttner might just have referred to a recent CNN poll, which found 54 percent of Americans no longer believe the Amerian dream of class mobility is possible.