Everyone is Not the Same

The President returned to Des Moines Tuesday night for a visit and to circle the wagons. (Eric Thayer/New York Times)

On Wednesday, President Obama will speak to a crowd about the pressing issue of the struggles of the middle class.  The early reports were that he was going to speak at a home.  The Des Moines Register reported and confirmed Tuesday night that the home Obama will speak at is the residence of Sandy Hatfield-Clubb and her husband Jeff.  Clubb is the athletic director at Drake University.

Drake Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb. (Drake University)

State Representative Janet Petersen selected Clubb and her family because she thinks the Clubbs are the epitome of an Iowa family — “they’re both working, they’ve got kids at home, they have busy lives.”

Let me preface this:  there is no doubt in my mind that the Clubbs are good individuals, work hard, and do the right things. This is not about them.  It’s the selection of Clubb’s family to host the President at this “invite-only” gathering that I have mixed feelings about.

State Representative Janet Petersen

I feel that Petersen and the White House could have selected another family, a middle-class family who is struggling to keep up and survive in this current climate of economic uncertainty and upheaval.  An acquaintance of mine inquired why I would suggest another family and not the Clubbs.


Sandy Hatfield-Clubb is no ordinary middle-class person.  As Drake’s athletic director, she’s a high-profile local celebrity.  Everyone knows who she is.  The perception to the majority of residents in Des Moines is that she’s doing well at her job, she’s highly recognizable, and doesn’t appear to be a struggling middle-class American.

The President, candidates, and pundits can talk about saving the middle class, but it’s apparent that the middle class is on the cusp of being extinct.  You have the upper middle class and the lower middle class and the wedge that is driven between the two is hard not to ignore.  The middle represents the two directions where this nation is heading towards:  lower and upper class. Poor and rich.

The Prez will be picking up some Baby Boomer cookies along the way.

To Representative Petersen, the Clubbs are the “epitome” of an Iowa family.  To me, the Clubbs do not “exactly” represent the middle class, only part of it.

There are lower middle-class families who are going through more trials and tribulations that the Clubbs.  One layoff, one missed mortgage, or one life-changing event, can turn a middle-class homestead into one of turmoil or breakup.  The middle class no longer is made up of nuclear families.  There are extended and combined middle class families (single-parent families, gay or lesbian families, interracial or interfaith, and even middle-class broken homes).

Not all of the middle class look like the Cleavers.

I should know.  I used to have that “nuclear” family until my parents divorced.  Growing up in a blue/white collar working middle class on the rough and economically-depressed east side of Waterloo can give you a different perspective on what the middle class should “look like.”

The point I’m making is that if the President wants to address the issues the middle class is facing and his quest to help them, why not visit a home of a middle class family that is not “perfect” and has issues that resemble the evolving majority of the middle class.

As Bill Bishop’s book “The Big Sort” pointed out, we fall back on finding people who live like us, look like us, think like us, and emulate us (homogeny).  Rep. Petersen could have found a family who wasn’t similar to her family or neighborhood and yet still be middle class.  By choosing Clubb and her family (who lives in Beaverdale along with Petersen and her family), it plays into the image of a “perfect” middle class family that all of America should resemble.

This is an example of what today's middle class looks like.

Not everyone has a two parent home with two kids, the pooch, and a two-car garage.  The Clubbs represent the old lasting image of the middle class that we, for some reason, want to hang on to.

And it’s wrong to portray that image to America because it’s not accurate and distorts the reality of what the middle class truly is today.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. R.H. says:

    Joe, that’s the point, albeit lengthy, that I was trying to make, and you did a great job of giving it a clearer picture.

    The Clubbs are not representative of the “middle class” that the President is trying to reach out to. The national media will portray this as a gathering at a “middle-class” home, and overlook that the person who owns the home is a high-profile athletic administrator at a prestigious university.

    That sends an inaccurate message to the middle class who are battling to stay afloat.

  2. jburklund says:

    Single Man,

    I agree with you for the most part. Where I have a difference of opinion is in how you are classifying the Sandy and Jeff Clubb. I surmise that their combined household income would be in the $150 – 200K range. (That is my guess.) I feel that would put the Clubbs in the upper class, in my opinion. From what if have heard and can find out, the Clubbs are an outstanding family, very successful and to be admired. And that may be the reason they were chosen.

    Representative Peterson may have chosen them to present a positive, successful image of Iowa to the world. She could be saying “See, we have more than corn fields and hog egg farmers in Iowa. We have successful, urban families, too!” *

    It would have been a lot more real, relevant, relatable (I’ve run out of “R” words) to the rest of the state and country if Peterson had chosen a middle-middle class family who have hit hard times and are rapidly taking the exit ramp from the road-to-the-good-life and ending up in the township of desperation. I know many that fit that role.

    In case anyone asks, my political designation is INDEPENDENT. VOTER. My snapshot of Washington this week is: the Republicans are obstructionist and the Democrats are clueless. The parties are now playing partisan political games that will get nothing done and just try to make the other party look bad before the elections.

    *Disclaimer: I moved to Des Moines 18 years ago from out of state. I have lived in four other states and done business in many more. My assessment is that Iowans have an inferiority complex (entirely undeserved) and a need to prove themselves to the outside world. This feeling is almost as bad as North Dakota’s. That being said, I still like it here!

    Joe Burklund

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