The Daily Caller video that surfaced (Not "re-surfaced" as reported by the Mainstream Media, because the most controversial portions never surfaced before) of Obama speaking in 2007 has some fascinating aspects to it relating to the middle class. I couldn't care less what voice or cadence he used, because the substance is what is important to me.
Among other divisive things, Obama said: "We don't need to build more highways out in the suburbs. We should be investing in minority-owned businesses, in our neighborhoods, so people don't have to travel from miles away."
Here is a small list of assumptions in that short excerpt:
1. Minority-owned businesses aren't in the suburbs;
2. "We" shouldn't be investing in non-minority-owned business (in the suburbs or not);
3. "Our" neighborhoods aren't in the suburbs;
4. "People" currently have to travel from miles away to visit businesses; and
5. The highways in the suburbs are in good shape or the state of highways in the suburbs isn't important.
There are more, but that will suffice for purposes of this article. Obama's use of the word "our" suggests he is speaking collectively with his audience. Since the audience is made up of almost all African-Americans, it is quite reasonable to assume that Obama is speaking about African-Americans and their situation. And since he differentiated between the suburbs and "our" neighborhoods, it is also reasonable to assume that Obama is referring to the suburbs as "their" neighborhoods (whites or non-blacks).
Obama was generally correct in his assessment of the suburbs. According to articles (here and here; and there are many more) "the average middle class white household lives in the suburbs" and "the average middle class African-American household lives in the center city." Recent articles note that the percentage of African-Americans in the suburbs is actually growing - nearly 33% as of 2011. Do those African-Americans need roads out there in the suburbs with those people? Are those African American suburb-dwellers still part of the "our" that Obama was talking about?
What is most interesting to note is that the suburbs are made up of almost all middle class voters, whether black or white. If Obama were a true man of the middle class, it seems he would want to build roads (literally and figuratively) to the suburbs. So, why wouldn't Obama want to build more roads for these middle class citizens? Why wouldn't he want to encourage minority-owned businesses to migrate to the suburbs?
There are about a dozen counties in the United States that could swing the 2012 election to one side or the other. In almost every case, the suburban middle class voters are key. For example, Chester County, PA, Jefferson County, CO, Wake County, NC, and Hillsborough County, FL all have significant populations of middle class voters living in suburbs. President Obama has tried to paint himself as the man of the middle class for nearly six years, and yet the middle class has been the hardest hit during his Presidency. Under Obama the median household income fell to $50,054 (8% drop since 2007). And now (or then) he is telling the ones in the suburbs that they don't need more roads. Let us celebrate the unity of that notion.
Could it be that Obama doesn't see people in the suburbs as "middle class"? According to Charles Ogeltree, one of Obama's mentors, political advisors, when Obama says "middle class" he really means "poor", but doesn't like to use the term "poor" because it's demeaning and not politically popular. Are most people in the suburbs poor? No. So, when Obama talks about the middle class, is he talking about the people in the suburbs? Probably not. Have Obama's policies been aimed at the traditional "middle class" or the "poor"? You decide.
And, those swing voters in those swing counties out in the suburbs should decide whether Obama really has their best interests in mind as they drive to the polls on those suburban roads Obama doesn't think "we" need.