I have just read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin: an American Life, and was struck by Franklin’s “great rallying cry for the new American middle class,” according to the author, or as Franklin in his pamphlet, Plain Truth, said “We the middling class people. The tradesmen, shopkeepers, and farmers of the province and city!.” I contrast this emphasis with the recent Iowa Democratic gubernatorial debate and the five candidates running in next Tuesday’s primary and separately, this past Wednesday when Governor Kim Reynolds signed Iowa’s new tax reform law.
The middle is suffering form a lack of real wage increase, declining service of state supported programs such as public and higher education, the worsening availability of health insurance that is either of little value or that is affordable, and a new set of federal and state income tax changes that reward the rich and will ultimately harm the middle class. I agree with Franklin that the spotlight needs to shine on the middle class.
As Isaacson writes, “Through it all, he trusted the hearts and minds of his fellow leather aprons more than he did those of any inbred elite. He saw middle class value as a source of social strength, not as something to be derided. His guiding principle was a ‘dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people.’ Few of his fellow founder felt this comfort of democracy so fully, and none so intuitively.”
In a country where the courts rule that corporations are citizens and Republicans further grant them privileges that we human citizens do not receive; preferential treatment regarding taxes; and the avoidance of oversight; American corporations are our new inbred elite. Our society and the Democratic Party need to follow Franklin’s advice. We need to support and enhance our middle class, which, as Franklin believed, would make America a great country. With the federal and state income tax changes the middle class will suffer twice; once from a titled tax structure and a second time from reduced spending for public programs. A strong middle class will support and fund a government that will nurture our people, allow them to rise out of their circumstance, and provide services for those in need.
Health reform is a necessary corollary to a strong middle class, Benjamin
Franklin would have applauded the health care co-op that Iowa started–Co-Oportunity Health–because he started several associations predicated on public service such as public libraries and fire departments.
The Iowa Primary Election is Tuesday, June 5. My hope is that the Iowa Democratic Governor nominee who is elected on November 6, 2018, will understand this dynamic and articulate it as well as Benjamin Franklin did.