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The Middle Ages

A few thoughts, Mr. President, from a fed-up middle-class member

Chris Erskine offers his own thoughts on the state of the union

Pardon my impertinence, Mr. President. But I have a few thoughts on the current state of the union.

There is always, it seems, a veneer that stands between the way you presidents see things and the way we actually live. You live in a mansion. We don't. You'll get a pension. Most of us no longer do. When you leave the White House, you'll get a big book deal that will set you up for life. We haven't had a raise since 1980.

For our entire lives, we will be worrying whether the rent check cleared.

Sure, we like the way things are going — better gas prices, more jobs — but for the most part, your policies seem incremental, not bold.

Parents continue to freak out over their children's prospects, and it trickles into the schools, where teachers are also freaked. It leads to obsession over fourth-grade test scores and "panicked parenting" in general.

Why not? Where once parents could help with homework, we're now paralyzed — at the mercy of a Common Core no one demanded or understands.

As a scientist friend put it: "Math should be taught with a pencil and a piece of paper," not $1,000 worth of buggy silicon.

See, that's the thing: All we've ever sought from our leaders is hard-core common sense. You give us platitudes when what we want is a dose of Harry Truman.

Meanwhile, no one gets us, no one cares.

Where we once could roll up our sleeves and work extra hard, we now live in fear of stressed bosses and the next round of cuts.

Half a century ago, President Eisenhower warned: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed."

Yet you still let the military suck the marrow from our paychecks.

Forget missile systems. Invest in drones and antiterrorism, books and teachers. What are all those U.S. forts protecting Germany from? The Dutch?

Instead, do more for the middle class. Buy down their student loans.

Finance their start-ups. And forget token gestures, such as free community college.

Be bold, not incremental.

Your $3,000 tax credit for day care certainly would help, though it's not close to being enough. Know what day care costs? Four times that.

In the meantime, every day companies dump their most-loyal workers in favor of cheaper youngsters.

Even so, the job prospects for talented twentysomethings are spotty at best. They move back in with us, then out again, then back in.

I fear for young adults. Will they ever have a career? When they find work, it doesn't pay enough to live. When they work overtime, they are afraid to put in for it, for fear of losing the job that doesn't pay them enough to live in the first place.

Help.

Help with the burden new technology places on families. Help them afford the laptops and the printers schoolkids can't live without, not to mention unbridled connection fees.

Do we seem a little cynical? Yes. We're cynical because we never see most of what we make … because you politicians take a third of our earnings and insurance takes the rest.

Look, Mr. President, the middle class is your fireball, your offensive line, all the obvious metaphors for economic thrust and vibrancy. On it, everything rests — the present, the future, our ability to adapt and compete. Without the middle class, everything folds and you're scrambling from the bad guys who want to pound you.

For God's sake, in New England, they're even running out of air for their footballs.

But I digress.

That's what happens when we rant, I guess. We're flummoxed; we're feisty. Such desperation reflects our distrust — the broken pacts between politicians and the people, between companies and their employees, between hard work and a living wage.

We rant because we feel taken advantage of, because no one seems to inspire us anymore, even as the Super Bowl — our annual Festivus — features two win-at-all-cost teams.

So, in tweets and talk shows, we fire back. If it seems civility is lacking, so are sportsmanship and shame.

Think we're desperate for hope and moral guidance? Maybe. Our most-popular movies deal mostly with the end of the world.

Television's so-called golden age is fixated on creeps, meth labs and dysfunction.

If the Internet seems a scary place, just turn on Showtime.

Finally, another parent was saying the other day that her son had chosen soccer over baseball, deciding not to juggle two sports, in addition to three hours of algebra each night, the product of the freaked parents and freaked teachers I was speaking of earlier.

"I'm tired of being tired," her son Connor explained.

He's 12.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter: @erskinetimes

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