If struggling and losing in the lower class produces fury or fatalism, and the arc of failure leads for the rich to second, third and additional chances, the experience of failure in the middle class often produces a feeling that the costs of middle-class independence just aren’t worth it – that the rewards are hollow after all, that nice guys finish last, and that a little peace and harmony is well worth the lowered horizons it seems to take to get it.
This attitude manifests today in a variety of ways, but one of the most characteristic is to be seen in the relationship between students and colleges. Anecdotal evidence mounts that our universities have filled with chronically anxious undergraduates who wind up in their teachers’ offices when hit with a bad grade, like a B – visibly shaken but determined to get the full value of their education, namely, an A. They’re the customers, after all; others might give up on the upward mobility they purchased, but not these students. The more things in life are monetized, the more anxious – yet the more demanding – the middle class becomes.
Although Paul Ryan’s position in Congress is far more secure, his path to the speakership betokens the same kind of middle class political psychology that has made him resonate with the reformocons. He’s the friendly, respected and hardworking fellow poised somewhere between the “unprincipled” party establishment and the “fanatical” conservative insurgents.