The State Of The Middle Class? Not Strong

WASHINGTON -- Why wait for the president's speech? If you want to know his theme -- and it's hardly a surprise -- just glance at the quintessential Beltway pre-spin transaction: White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer's "exclusive" preview feed to Mike Allen's "Playbook."

According to Pfeiffer, President Barack Obama is going to ... champion the middle class, which, Pfeiffer points out, his boss has done consistently since he began running for the highest office in the land back in 2007.

That's true. I was there. Obama always has cited improving the economic lot of the middle class as a central purpose. So has every other politician in modern times.

But as Obama prepares to deliver his latest State of the Union address, the issue isn't rhetoric -- it's results. And while the words are there, the results, to be blunt, are not.

I'm not going to review the numbers here or the reasons why he hasn't been able to do what he said he wanted to do to "restore" the life and livelihood of millions of Americans in the middle of the middle class. All you need to do as you prepare to watch him Tuesday night is read, or reread, HuffPost's judiciously fair and thorough report on the matter by Dave Jamieson and Arthur Delaney.

We posted it on the eve of the president's second inauguration as part of our "Road Forward" series.

The gist: "By most accounts, middle class Americans are no better off than they were when the president took office in 2009. ... Median household income is lower than when Obama took office. ... Although the unemployment rate has fitfully fallen below 8 percent ... most new jobs are too low-paying to sustain middle class families."

In other words, the middle class is at best treading water, and the waters are choppier.

Perhaps that is why Obama's approval numbers for handling the economy are so low: 39 percent approve and 60 percent disapprove in the latest Gallup Poll.

The president, to be sure, has faced obstacles: from recalcitrant Republicans in Congress to skepticism in private capital markets to the intervention of other undeniably urgent matters, such as gun control, immigration and a certain nettlesome series of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now, according to Pfeiffer -- long the White House's chief message disciplinarian -- the focus returns, big time, to middle-class jobs and lives.

Will the president say something new and convincing to and about the middle class tonight? Perhaps.

Will those words change the ground-level reality in big-box stores or in Main Street shops or on factory floors or office cubicles coast to coast?

That is the question tonight cannot answer. But it is the question that Obama's next four years should be all about. And there is nothing wrong with wishing him good luck as he tries to deliver on that essential premise and promise.