On July 28, 1908, in a speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, William Howard Taft said that in an ideal society there is a “middle class tending to build up a conservative, self-respecting community, capable of self-government.” Taft’s speech became the first documented time “middle class” had been used by an American politician, however, the term began to be widely used to describe a large social economic class of people between the poorest and wealthiest of Americans. Referring to the middle class as developing a community “capable of self-government,” Taft’s speech shows how the middle class has always evoked a sense of stability in American society. Today, being middle class is supposed to mean having the ability to send your kids to college, having money saved up, and easily making rent. However, a shift in political speech among candidates for the presidential election of 2016 shows that the term “middle class” is not relevant anymore because many Americans are no longer able to afford the comfortable lifestyle that the middle class embodies.
From 2000-2008, 60 percent of Americans identified as middle class, whereas 51 percent of Americans have identified themselves as middle class before this upcoming election. More and more Americans are beginning to believe that they have not followed the upward climb in class of the “American dream,” instead they believe they have become lower class. This shows that the majority of American people are well aware the middle class is shrinking and that they are at risk of falling down the ranks of socioeconomic status. For this reason, the term “middle class” now evokes a sense of fear within the large portion of Americans, and many politicians are careful not to use it.
Although it’s shrinking, the middle class still makes up the largest portion of voters, which is why the fearful candidates are addressing it by going around the term. Republicans are using more specific and elongated phrases, such as “people who work for the people who own businesses,” “millions and millions of Americans who aren’t rich,” and “people working full time.” This is because, as seen in a video made by the New York Times, there are many more potential Republican nominees than Democratic. On the Democratic side, Hilary Clinton seems to have minimal competition going towards the presidential election, which is why she is basing her campaign off of a much more generic term to refer to the middle class: “everyday Americans.” In contrast, Republican candidates can’t use such generic terms because they need to find a way to stand out during the presidential primaries.
All in all, political speech in terms of class status has changed since William Howard Taft first used the term “middle class.” As we have further studied The Kentucky Cycle in my American Studies class, we have seen how American society has progressed, but not always for the best. The shift in political speech has made it even more evident that the middle class is disintegrating, and that the gap in social class in the United States has progressively increased.