Congress and the Middle Class

As I was preparing for the mock campaign in my Government & Politics class, I came across an article by Linda Fowler titled, “Who Runs for Congress?” (Political Science and Politics, Vol. 29, No. 3, Sep. 1996)   In it, Fowler mentions that “at least fifty members [of Congress] are worth $2.5 million or more.”  That was in 1996.  Fast forward to 2012, and we see that almost half of all legislators are millionaires.  Fowler then goes on to discuss who can actually run for Congress.  Here, she argues that one of two types become candidates- those that have the time to devote to running a campaign and soliciting donations, and those that have personal wealth.  What this means is that those who actually run for office either have jobs that allow them to be away from work while still receiving a paycheck, or they have a spouse who makes enough money to pick up the slack.  Pierre Guerlain, in his article about American decline, reaffirms this notion that “only the rich can even run in elections.”

So, if the wealthy are the ones running in elections, who eventually makes their way to Washington?

Recently, Businessweek broke down the members of the 113th Congress into an enlightening graphic.  What we see is that over half of the members of Congress fall into one of three occupational categories- businesspeople, lawyers, or career politicians and government employees.  It seems to me that these three categories would give the candidates enough money to be able to run for office.   It also leads me to question whose interests are being represented.  I should also note that my three representatives in Congress- Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Sen. Ron Johnson, and Rep. Mark Pocan- all fit into those three categories.

During the 2012 elections, many of the candidates, both for my state of Wisconsin and for president, talked about representing the needs of the middle class.  Based on the statistics from the Bloomberg graph and the article about millionaires in Congress, I have to wonder how exactly my elected officials plan on representing the middle class when they themselves are not members of the middle class.  I have a hard time believing that they know what it is like, or remember what it was like, to be a member of the middle class.  I doubt they know what it is like to struggle to make ends meet on one salary, or live paycheck to paycheck.

So, if our representatives do not come from the middle class, and the middle class are generally not running for office, who represents our interests?  How will members of the middle class improve their situation?  Is there hope for the middle class?


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