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August 30, 2012

JOEL KOTKIN: The Unseen Class War That Could Decide The Presidential Election.

There is no true solidarity among the rich since no one is yet threatening their status. The “one percent” are splitting their bets. In 2008 President Obama received more Wall Street money than any candidate in history, and he still relies on Wall Street bundlers for his sustenance. For all his class rhetoric, miscreant Wall Streeters, particularly big ones, have evaded big sanctions and the ignominy of jail time. . . .

With the patriarchate divided, the real action in the emerging class war is taking place further down the economic food chain. This inconvenient reality is largely ignored by the left, which finds the idea of anyone this side of Bain Capital supporting Romney as little more than “false consciousness.”

Obama’s core middle-class support, and that of his party, comes from what might be best described as “the clerisy,” a 21st century version of France’s pre-revolution First Estate. This includes an ever-expanding class of minders — lawyers, teachers, university professors, the media and, most particularly, the relatively well paid legions of public sector workers — who inhabit Washington, academia, large non-profits and government centers across the country.

This largely well-heeled “middle class” still adores the president, and party theoreticians see it as the Democratic Party’s new base. Gallup surveys reveal Obama does best among “professionals” such as teachers, lawyers and educators. After retirees, educators and lawyers are the two biggest sources of campaign contributions for Obama by occupation. Obama’s largest source of funds among individual organizations is the University of California, Harvard is fifth and its wannabe cousin Stanford ranks ninth.

Like teachers, much of academia and the legal bar like expanding government since the tax spigot flows in the right direction: that is, into their mouths. Like the old clerical classes, who relied on tithes and the collection bowl, many in today’s clerisy lives somewhat high on the hog; nearly one in five federal workers earn over $100,000.

Essentially, the clerisy has become a new, mass privileged class who live a safer, more secure life compared to those trapped in the harsher, less cosseted private economy. As California Polytechnic economist Michael Marlow points out, public sector workers enjoy greater job stability, and salary and benefits as much as 21% higher than of private sector employees doing similar work. . . .

The GOP, for its part, now relies on another part of the middle class, what I would call the yeomanry. In many ways they represent the contemporary version of Jeffersonian farmers or the beneficiaries of President Lincoln’s Homestead Act. They are primarily small property owners who lack the girth and connections of the clerisy but resist joining the government-dependent poor. Particularly critical are small business owners, who Gallup identifies as “the least approving” of Obama among all the major occupation groups. Barely one in three likes the present administration.

The yeomanry diverge from the clerisy in other ways. They tend to live in the suburbs, a geography much detested by many leaders of the clerisy and, likely, the president himself. Yeomen families tend to be concentrated in those parts of the country that have more children and are more apt to seek solutions to social problems through private efforts. Philanthropy, church work and voluntarism — what you might call, appropriately enough, the Utah approach, after the state that leads in philanthropy.

The nature of their work also differentiates the clerisy from the yeomanry. The clerisy labors largely in offices and has no contact with actual production. Many yeomen, particularly in business services, depend on industry for their livelihoods either directly or indirectly. The clerisy’s stultifying, and often job-toxic regulations and “green” agenda may be one reason why people engaged in farming, fishing, forestry, transportation, manufacturing and construction overwhelmingly disapprove of the president’s policies, according to Gallup.

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