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This Week: The Middle Class
This Week
February 6, 2004

This week on NOW:

When bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren set out to write a book about overspending by America's two-income families, she discovered something that defied conventional wisdom. "I thought this…book is gonna be about too many trips to the mall, too many Game Boys," Warren says. But what she found was that, "Expenses have more than eaten up all of mom's income and eroded what dad earned. They actually have less money to spend than their one-income parents had a generation ago." Bill Moyers goes in-depth with Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren who reveals some surprising facts about the plight of America's two-income families.

On the surface it may seem like an ordinary county fair – food stands, live music and guest speakers – but here people have gathered to ignite voters by putting the party back into politics. Inspired by the19th century Chautauquas - the traveling education, lecture, and arts movement - the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour is a series of one-day festivals aimed at bringing together people in a sort of citizenship fair. And, many prominent political-minded folks joined their tour, including filmmaker Michael Moore, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and columnist Molly Ivins. "Politics ought to be a part of your life. It's not something that is just in the last 30 days of an election," says tour organizer Jim Hightower, "The whole idea of a Rolling Thunder is to be festive… and to think ‘Hey, this isn't bad. I could do this. If this is what politics is, I might participate."

Since the early days of the political television ad in the 1950s, the days of shaking hands and kissing babies seem to be over. Political candidates - and not just presidential contenders - are relying on high-cost advertising to reach voters, even as the costs to air these ads have grown significantly. But who's profiting from these increasingly expensive campaigns? And, is the public getting the information they need from these ads to vote wisely? Featured on the program, nine-term New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter discusses the burden of political advertising and laments the days of grassroots outreach and meeting her constituents face-to-face. It's so sterile just to sit in a room and film something or have a picture of you walking down the street with strangers - doesn't really say anything about you."

With the Michigan Democratic presidential caucus meeting on Saturday to choose their candidate, some of the pressures on working families are on display in a small town in Michigan. David Brancaccio travels to Greenville outside of Grand Rapids, where just a few weeks ago, the refrigerator manufacturing Electrolux factory announced that it was closing next year. The move will cost 2,700 jobs in a town of just 8,000. Will their frustration be reflected in the ballot box at this Saturday's caucus? NOW goes to the Great Lake state to see what's on the minds of some of its citizens.

In Depth

1950s suburban kids
Who is the American middle class?

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Middle Class

Harry Truman on the campaign trail

Professor Elizabeth Warren

The Evolution of Campaign Ads

NOW Campaign 2004
Election Watch Tools

The Rolling Thunder Tour

Election 2004 Taxes and Spending


Talk about the economy on the message boards.


Learn more about the issues discussed on NOW.

Read the complete transcript.

Streaming Video

[NOTE: RealPlayer is required to view NOW segments.]

Bill Moyers talks with bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren (22:06)

David Brancaccio talks with Michigan voters (11:46)

Buying Time: Campaign Ads (11:16)

Rolling Thunder (5:17)


Buying Time
Producer: Brenda Breslauer
Editor: Kathi Black

Rolling Thunder
Producer: Karla Murthy
Editor: Amanda Zinoman

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