Similarly, during last night’s debate, McCain’s sarcastic use of the word “rich” in reference to Joe W. should remind us that the middle class receives a generous political definition for a reason: it allows the candidates to shape their policies most flexibly, and regardless of party, to maintain as much of a populist tinge as benefits them. It’s also the more convenient way to address the “what is rich?” question that has floated around the campaign since Saddleback. But waving a “not rich” wand is no way to categorically define such a large swathe of our population.

Jane Kim is a writer in New York.