The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off today with the usual harangues about liberals, President Obama, spending, deficits, foreign entanglements and the decline of social values (however you define it). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) popped off about “freeloaders,” climate science and “traditional marriage” in his speech this afternoon. But his vision of the middle class and its importance to the United States is exactly in line with that of Rep. Charles Rangel, the unabashed liberal from Harlem.
…[O]ur hardworking middle class is one of the things that makes America different and special from the rest of the world. Every country in the world has rich people. Unfortunately, every country in the world has poor people. But few have the kind of vibrant widespread middle-class that America does. A widespread middle-class that everyone, we have said, should have an equal opportunity to be a part of, the middle-class or even better. It sets us apart from the world.
In my previous post, I wrote about the “moral question of the poor, the sick, the aged, the uneducated” put to the Catholic Church by Rangel. But his query was part of a larger discourse on the middle class, which he crystallized vividly near the end our Tuesday talk.
I really think the best thing America can give the world is a strong middle class. Even if you’re poor all of your life, you can touch and taste the middle class. You’ll never be able to taste…Palm Beach, but you can be able to look on the hill….I was poor as you can get, but I saw Sugar Hill. Goddamn. And then you get to Sugar Hill. And then you find out that that’s what America is about. Everybody has their Sugar Hill, and that’s what drives us and makes us different.
If you’re born shoveling crap and your grandfather shoveled crap and your great-grandfather shoveled crap and you knew there was nothing you could ever do in life except shovel crap, I don’t see how you can be a part of building a great country. But if they give you just this much hope that you can get out of this stuff, even though most of the people won’t be able to do it, but you hope and dream that you can be one of them? What a difference. And that’s what America’s supposed to be about.
Rangel and Rubio worry, albeit from different perspectives, that the promise of the middle class is eroding or being eviscerated. To be sure, each man and his respective party have vastly different views on how to ensure “equal opportunity” to “get to Sugar Hill.” Still, their near-identical reverence for the middle class ought to be a good foundation on which to build the consensus needed to achieve their identical goal. But to achieve that consensus there needs to be real compromise. There needs to be a willingness to put the long-term art of governing ahead of the short-term expediency of politics. Unfortunately, such willingness is in short supply in Washington these days.
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