Whatever the excruciating decibel level in Washington, the average citizen can at least be thankful we’ve reached the relatively peaceable moment in the calendar about halfway between the last presidential election and the next one. The last one, which you’ll remember was a battle pitched on the hallowed terrain of the late lamented Middle Class, is sufficiently in the rear view that the only time you hear about a mitt these days is in a baseball story. And on the other side the glow from the victor has surely faded. The next election will likely feature new faces at the top, but the battleground–barring any fresh disasters–will be the same: the fate of the Middle Class. Problem with this is a lot of people don’t know what the Middle Class actually is, including, often, the candidates–and sometimes the Middle Class itself. That’s where Edward McClelland comes in. McClelland may know more about the Middle Class than anyone else–and not only that, he’s happy to explain it.
McClelland writes plain-spoken, fact-based reportage. Painting pictures like a pointillist, his little details add up to a lot. He knows you can’t write about the Middle Class without either mentioning a Camaro or talking to the people who used to be in it (the car and the demographic). He knows where the metal working jobs went, who used to make $27 hour, a whole lot about the UAW and NAFTA, and enough about policy to say how good Richard Nixon (sic!) might have been for the people who unfortunately had to despise him for his jowl-quaking lies. As you can imagine, McClelland has spent some time in Gary, Indiana and, of course, Detroit and Buffalo. The best piece so far–besides his book Nothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland–is here at Salon, where he gives you in 2,500 words what it would take a documentary filmmaker two hours to deliver. Reporting the lives that can’t be overwritten by statistics or explained away by theory, McClelland talks about the same thing you’re going to hear ad nauseam on the stump soon–all too soon. But McClelland knows of what he writes. He’s done the research. Save his name, read him come election time. Measure what you hear from the candidates against what you read in his prose. Therein lies the rub.