Timothy Noah takes readers' questions about Democrats and the working class.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
April 17 2008 4:23 PM

Class Action

Timothy Noah takes readers' questions about the Democrats and working folk.

(Continued from Page 1)

Arlington, Va.: Who is in this working class? I make $150,000 a year and my wife makes $100,000 a year. I work 50 hours a week and my wife works 45 hours a week. We have investments we have made, but we do not live off these investments. We are both first in our families to be college-educated and have worked hard to get where we are at 32 and 31. Why are we not considered working-class?

In addition, Obama and Clinton want to increase the Social Security, income and investment taxes. Where in the Constitution does it say that people like my wife and I have to support people who did not plan wisely (housing bailout, retirement and health care). I don't mind paying my fair share, but my family is not living off inheritance, and has worked hard to get where we are. Why are we not being viewed as working-class for having some self-made success? Will this class warfare work? It blew up on the Democrats in '00 and '04.

Timothy Noah: This gets into another question. Is your class status determined by your present economic situation (which in your case makes you upper-middle class)? Or is it determined by your origins (which, from what your saying, seems like it's working class)? I disagree that when a candidate wants to increase taxes he's engaging in "class warfare," incidentally. Shouldn't those who earn the most money bear the greatest tax burden? That's the theory of progressive taxation.

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Seattle: You're funny. You're "reviewing the literature" to see how the working class feels about stuff? How about you admit you and your peers are out of your element and move on to something worthwhile?

Timothy Noah: The only way to find out how a large group of people feels about this or that is to look at the statistics. I'll grant you that it is also valuable to talk to individual people. The fallacy there, however, lies in believing that the people you talk to are representative of the whole. Both approaches are worthwhile. Please don't sneer at me for the method I chose, and I won't sneer at you for preferring contact with individual people.

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Woburn, Mass.: Me again. I'm familiar with What's the Matter With Kansas?, but I guess my follow up is—so what? If people want to make the decision that social issues are more important to them than economic ones, so be it.

Timothy Noah: The fallacy is that politicians don't really do much about social issues, many of which don't even lend themselves particularly well to government action. They just demonize their opponents as elitists and reap the benefit. It's a stupid way to do politics. Economic issues can more often be addressed concretely, and it would seem logical for people to vote their interests in this area. According to some theorists, they do. According to others, they don't.

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Class issues: I didn't find much wrong with his remarks, when taken in context. What I have a problem with is how you (and many of his supporters) have misconstrued his statements so grossly. Worse yet, more than a few of his supporters misconstrued his statements and agreed with the misinterpretation. He wasn't calling anyone "deranged." Take another look at what he said—he said that after 25 years of being ignored on one issue (the economy), working-class voters feel that they don't have a say on that, so they become more vocal on the issues where they do have a say. Some of those issues happen to be gun control, religion, immigration and outsourcing.

The guy who worked with religious organizations for half his adult life isn't putting down the religious; the guy who's wary of NAFTA isn't scoffing at people whose jobs may have left because of it. The worst things you can say is that he doesn't get hunting culture, and that he suffered from clumsy wording. So why is it that in your piece you assume he's calling people "deranged"? Why is it that so many of his supporters think he was condescending so-called rednecks—and agreeing with that course of action? I think the fallout says a lot less about his class issues and a lot more about everyone else's.

Timothy Noah: In my piece I said that Obama used the term "bitter" and that Frank used the term "deranged." I do not think Obama is an elitist. I think he said something impolitic, and is paying the price. What really interests me in this isn't Obama at all. What interests me is the question of whether the Democrats have lost the working class—the core constituency of the New Deal coalition—and, if so, why?

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Shouldn't those who earn the most money bear the greatest tax burden? : A flat tax is the solution.

Timothy Noah: In other words (you're saying), "No, they shouldn't." I disagree. The progressive income tax was relatively uncontroversial for most of the 20th century. I don't really understand why it's a hot potato now.

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Not changing social policy?: Not to nitpick, but the Republicans are within one Supreme Court vote of having very serious consequences on social policy in this country. It is erroneous to say Republicans don't do much about changing social issues. They may not legislate them, but look at how the court has ruled recently. The changes are there.

Timothy Noah: Point taken.

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Princeton, N.J.: What does "class warfare" Arlington, Va., thinks about the three hedge fund managers who "earned" more than $2 billion (with a "B") each last year and paid a lower rate than their janitors—and, undoubtedly, Arlington? Were they practicing "class warfare" when they hired people to lobby Congress to protect their low rate?

Timothy Noah: Good point.