At the end of December, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman ticked off a few pet peeves and proposals regarding the media’s campaign coverage.

Peeves:

*Don’t talk about clothes

*Beware of personal anecdotes

*Don’t fall for political histrionics

Proposals:

*Actually look at the candidates’ policy proposals.

As we leave New Hampshire, campaign coverage seems to be sixty percent horse race, thirty percent analysis of style and rhetoric, and ten percent coverage of issues. Sure, the volatile fluidity of the Democratic primary lends itself to Racing News-style coverage, but what about some rigorous reporting on pesky issues and policy proposals?

For savvy political consumers who want a quick survey of where the candidates stand on the central issues affecting America’s middle class–the cost of housing education, childcare, and healthcare; unemployment; the minimum wage; the right to organize; credit card debt; bankruptcy–check out the Drum Major Institute‘s (DMI) valuable survey, “The Myth of the Middle? Campaign 2004 on America’s Middle Class.”

Over the last few months the New York-based non-partisan, non-profit organization sent questionnaires to all the campaigns, in an effort, as Institute President (and former Bronx borough president) Freddie Ferrer says, “to get rid of rhetoric and begin a true discussion on the concerns relating to America’s struggling middle class.”

In surveying the candidates, DMI “intends to help Americans form an opinion about where the Presidential contenders stand on protecting the middle class and restoring the mobility of poor and working families who want to earn their way into the middle class.”

Some of the report’s key findings:

*Most candidates agree that the main challenges facing the middle class are falling incomes and job security, affordable health care, and the rising cost of higher education.

*The candidates disagree on their approaches to expanding access to health care, on support of a National Usury Law to limit credit card companies’ interest charges, on an increase in the minimum wage with annual adjustments for inflation, and on their plans to restructure the tax code to best meet the needs of middle class families.

*General Clark refused to commit support for increasing federal regulation of the credit card industry, Howard Dean wouldn’t commit to increasing the ceiling for eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Joe Lieberman didn’t take a stand on increasing the minimum wage.

*All of the candidates supported the expansion of eligibility for unemployment insurance, making college tuition tax-deductible, and the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows a union to be certified if a majority of employees have signed authorization cards.

*When asked what each candidate had already done to improve the lives of the middle class, responses ranged from Clark’s efforts to improve the quality of military housing for soldiers under his command, to Dr. Dean’s creation of 56,000 new jobs as Governor of Vermont, to Senator Kerry‘s defense of Medicare and Social Security during the Newt Gingrich years.

In contrast, Bush’s GOP has steadfastly refused to raise the minimum wage (stuck at $5.15 since 1997), has forestalled all proposals to address the dramatically increasing healthcare costs borne by the middle class, and has effectively eliminated overtime pay for some eight million American workers.

As Rep. Bernie Sanders wrote recently in a powerful piece for The Progressive titled “ We Are the Majority,” currently, “40 percent of American workers are working fifty hours a week or more…The scandal of our time is that with all the explosion of technology and productivity the average American is not working fewer hours and making more money. We are not down to a thirty-hour week. The middle class is not expanding, and poverty has not been eliminated. On the contrary, it has increased.”

Fortunately, groups like DMI are around to inform Americans of policies which counter the GOP’s ruthless war against the middle class. Click here to help spread word of DMI’s valuable new report.