(3 of 11)
Defining Middle America
Who precisely are the Middle Americans? Columnist Joseph Kraft gave the term currency in late 1967. They make up the core of the group that Richard Nixon now invokes as the "forgotten Americans" or "the Great Silent Majority," though Middle Americans themselves may not be a majority of the U.S. All Americans doubtless share some Middle American beliefs, and many Middle Americans would disagree among themselves on some issues. The lower middle class, including blue-collar workers, service employees and farm workers, numbers some 40 million. Many of the nation's 20 million elderly citizens, frequently living on fixed incomes, are Middle American. So is a substantial portion of the 36 million white-collar workers. Although a hard figure is not possible, the total of Middle Americans probably approaches 100 million, or half of the U.S. population.
A State of Mind
The Middle Americans tend to be grouped in the nation's heartland more than on its coasts. But they live in Queens, N.Y., and Van Nuys, Calif., as well as in Skokie and Chillicothe. They tend toward the middle-aged and the middlebrow. They are defined as much by what they are not as by what they are. As a rule, they are not the poor or the rich. Still, many wealthy business executives are Middle Americans. H. Ross Perot, the Texas millionaire who organized a group called "United We Stand Inc." to support the President on the war, is an example. Few blacks march in the ranks of Middle America. Nor do the nation's intellectuals, its liberals, its professors, its surgeons. Many general practitioners, though, are Middle Americans. Needless to say, Middle America offers no haven to the New Left, although Middle Americans might count a number of old leftists—unionists, for example—in their numbers. They are not extremists of the right despite the fact that some of them voted for George Wallace in 1968. They are both Republicans and Democrats; many cast their ballots for Richard Nixon, but it may be that nearly as many voted for Hubert Humphrey.
Above all, Middle America is a state of mind, a morality, a construct of values and prejudices and a complex of fears. The Man and Woman of the Year represent a vast, unorganized fraternity bound together by a roughly similar way of seeing things.
The American mood during the past year has been unquestionably calmer than it was in 1968, which seemed to be the violent crescendo of the '60s. A new Administration given to understatement—on the part of the President if not the Vice President—soothed the national psyche. When Spiro Agnew erupted against television and newspaper commentators and against dissent's "effete corps of impudent snobs," Middle America was further comforted—and also aroused to an intimation of its own potential strength. The flights of Apollo 11 and 12 were a quintessential adventure of American technology and daring; the "triumph of the squares" is what Eric Hoffer, the forklift philosopher and spokesman of the workingman, called the Apollo program. The astronauts themselves were paragons of Middle American