I’ve been wanting to link to an article that author John Scalzi wrote on his blog back in July, but hadn’t gotten around to writing a good intro post. It turns out that Mitt Romney’s remarks made to a private group at a fund raising event earlier this year, and recently leaked on a secretly recorded video tape, provide the perfect springboard to Scalzi’s article.
If you read through the full transcript of Romney’s statements (you can find a copy here) there are dozens of comments to find fault with, and that prove just how out of touch Romney is with average Americans. But the one that I think bothers me the most, and that I keep coming back to in my head, is this, in reference to the 47%: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Seriously? Working families who don’t make enough annual income to pay income tax, and elderly people who have paid their way their entire lives and are now living on social security, don’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives?” We aren’t talking about a nation of freeloaders here. We’re talking about average people whose worst offense is that they weren’t born into wealthy families or didn’t get the education needed to work in high-paying professions.
And let’s not forget that we’re also talking about the men and women who serve our country in the military. Romney would have you believe, with his 47% of the population comments, that our serving soldiers and veterans are people who think of themselves as victims and have a sense of entitlement. I can’t think of anything more insulting. For the record, I think they’re entitled to anything they can get from us for the sacrifices they make and have made*.
What Romney can’t seem to grasp is that every American both receives from the government and gives back to the government. It is not a sign of laziness or lack of personal integrity if no income tax is owed in any given year. Some people receive more help than others, but even the wealthiest in our country are eager recipients of government largesse.
All Americans pay taxes of some sort. If they don’t pay income tax they’re still paying sales taxes, payroll taxes, use taxes, etc. every single day. As an example, my phone company charges $13.00 per month for my landline, which is pretty reasonable if you ask me. But the problem is, once all the taxes are added I have to pay $23.00 per month for phone service. The Mitt Romneys of the world won’t even notice that $10 difference. But if you’re struggling because you’re only making minimum wage at your job, that extra $10 in monthly taxes is most definitely noticed. It’s painful.
The American Dream is to work hard and succeed by virtue of that hard work. Attaining that dream is harder for some than others, because we don’t all start on a level playing field. But we’re brought up with the ideal that even those who have a lot stacked against them can make it. What is easily forgotten in all the stories used to sell people on the idea that the dream is possible, is that there really is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all receive help along the way.
The help may come in the form of publicly funded schools, an inspiring teacher, getting an important first job through a well-connected parent, or food stamps, but every one of us has received help. We Americans love the myth of the self-made man, because it allows us to believe that anything is possible. But we all stand on the shoulders of those who have given us a helping hand, both public and private, even when we have worked hard and are responsible for much of our own success.
John Scalzi knows this, and wrote about it. Please read his article. It’s a great read on its own, but it’s even more fitting now in light of a man who wants to be president, but doesn’t get it. Who thinks he’s the personification of the American Dream of the self-made man, when in reality he’s had enormous help from both family and government to get to where he is.
* As a tangent, yet related: Returning combat veterans have a jobless rate that is 35% higher than the rest of the American population. A bi-partisan jobs bill for veterans was written and expected to pass in congress. A good portion of the bill was written by Republicans in order to insure they got what they wanted and that the bill would pass without problems. But because we’re close to an election, it was more important to make sure the President doesn’t have any successes he can point to, and the bill was killed by the very Republicans who had helped to write it. Vets deserve our help, but way too often they don’t get it. Not because they don’t take personal responsibility, but because as a country we’re too cheap and too selfish.