Friday, September 28, 2012

Nadia Colburn's Voice

Dear Mitt,

Your comments revealed something that I hadn't quite realized before. Writing off those who are less privileged than oneself must be rooted in fear. You laugh and you joke and you have your private dinners with your millionaire friends. You think that those who don't have the millions like you do must be losers who don’t “take responsibility.” But you've forgotten, apparently--or maybe you never knew--that there are plenty of people out here who work hard, who dream hard, who have enormous talents, who have great dignity and pride--who still don't earn millions, who still don't even earn enough to pay income tax. And that must mean that you are lucky. And depending on luck--even if it is just luck from birth--can be a scary thing.

I want to tell you about my grandfather. He, like you, earned a lot of money. He went to the best restaurants and lived in a big apartment on Park Avenue. He, like you, thought that he had made it all himself. But he hadn't. His parents were poor immigrants from Russia. They owned a general store in Astoria, Queens and worked very hard. My grandfather, wanted to be a doctor. But when he applied to medical school in the early 1920s he did not get in because of the quota against Jews. My grandfather ended up getting into medical school only because he went to the Dean and persuaded him to let in one more Jew, despite the quota.

My grandfather took initiative, but he was also lucky. What about the Jew who might have come to the dean the next day?

Later, my grandfather changed his name, because he did not want his name to interfere with his medical practice. He went on to be a head surgeon at a number of the best hospitals in New York City. He always accepted poor patients on a sliding scale and was generally a very humane and generous man. But he also came to think that the vast wealth that he accumulated was his, by his own right, that no one else had anything to do with it.

That is where I think he made a mistake. If my grandfather had been black instead of Jewish, for example, he would not have been let into medical school. Or if he had happened to visit a different dean, one who wouldn’t break the quota.

I think that my grandfather needed to cut off the part of him, the young man who was discriminated against, who had parents who’d needed to leave their home country because of pogroms in which they had seen family members killed. Pain was in his blood. And maybe it was too painful to admit that even when people do everything right, things do not always work out. And so he came to believe that those who hadn’t made it were lazy or hadn’t tried hard enough.

Mitt, I know you can’t imagine discrimination that is not against yourself, I know you imagine that you’d have a “better shot” if you were Latino, but you are wrong. You think you inherited nothing, but you inherited your own sense of entitlement, the many doors that opened for you as a result of the color of your skin, your gender, your parents’ position in the world, not to mention the roads you drove on that your government paid for, the schools that educated those who worked for you, the system that kept you in the position that you were born into.

I don’t know what you are scared of, but I think you are scared. I think if you were able to come out of your web of denial and fancy dinner parties with millionaires, you’d see that there are plenty of people around you—no doubt right there among the waitstaff who were attending to the dinner as you talked—who have a lot more courage and have put in a lot more hard work than you know anything about.

Like my grandfather, I am lucky. I’m lucky to live in a time and place when there aren’t pogroms aimed against me. And partly because of my grandfather, my parents were of a certain class, I was able to attend elite schools, and I was able to pursue my own interests in my own way.  I know that I was born into that privilege. 

But even with that privilege there were several years when I didn’t pay income tax: all of my years as a graduate student, and even a few years after I finished my program, when my husband was a public school teacher and we had young kids and a mortgage. I’m lucky to live in a world where some people, at least, have some choices, a society in which there are at least some concessions made, some safety net for people who are not earning millions.  That safety net is important, and should be expanded.

You say some people think they are “entitled” to things like healthcare, food and housing. Well, those things are all in the UN’s declaration of human rights. You have certain privileges—having millions is a privilege. But having choices, opportunities, healthcare, and basic necessities are human rights. You seem not to know this; that is one of the many reasons you won’t get my vote, even though I do pay income tax now.

Nadia Colburn

Bio: Nadia Colburn is a writer and teacher living in Cambridge, MA.

Anne Fischer Mancine's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

My dad has written letters all his life.  He wrote dozens of letters to the editor.  He wrote letters to company presidents and city councilmen.  He probably wrote letters to presidential candidates, as well.  I can picture him sitting at his old drop-front desk in the dining room with his black-rimmed glasses slipping low on his nose as he composed these letters first in pencil to get the wording and spelling just right, then painstakingly copied them in ink, hand-printing each letter and word.  Only his distinctive signature was written in cursive.  My dad can barely form that signature now.  He is 85 years old, and has Alzheimer’s disease.  He lives in an assisted-living facility.  I am writing this letter for him.  I am honored to do so. 

It is no surprise that my dad was immediately drafted into the army upon his graduation from high school in 1945.  The war ended while he was still in basic training, and my dad was doubly fortunate in that he never saw active combat, and that through his service he became eligible to attend college under the G.I. Bill.  I guess you might consider that a government handout, but it was crucial to my dad as he didn’t have a wealthy father to subsidize him through his college years and early married life.  He didn’t have a father at all at that point in his life.  His father died when he was nine years old, leaving my grandmother to raise her son and two daughters as best she could through the years of the Great Depression. 

After receiving a degree in engineering from Ohio University, my dad worked all his adult life, though it wasn’t always easy for him.  I remember accompanying him to the employment bureau where he stood in line and waited his turn to receive the funds that bought food and clothing for our family, and paid our rent when he had been laid off.  But all those years that he did work – and there were many, many of them – he paid taxes and he paid into social security, believing that those funds would be there for him; that he had earned the right to use them in his old age. 

Now you call my father a slacker, a “victim”.  Someone who can’t take “personal responsibility” for his life.  My dad would not appreciate your characterization of him, Mr. Romney, and would use a few choice words to describe you.  I am a more polite letter writer than my father, and will not share those words with you.  I will only say, shame on you, sir.  You clearly do not possess the empathy, humility, or understanding to ever serve as president of the United States.


Anne Fischer Mancine

P.S.  The real irony of the situation – and who doesn’t love true irony? – is that if my father was still capable of voting, he would probably vote for you.  Can you imagine that?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Agnes Bannigan's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

From 2006 to 2009, I was non-elderly (still am) with an annual income under $20,000. I paid income taxes but no federal taxes. According to you, I would have been an irresponsible victim. Except I wasn't, because I was a successful, responsible, independent graduate student, earning approximately $14,000/year for a teaching assistantship at a public university. Although I was technically employed by the state of Maryland, I earned the stipend by teaching University of Maryland students. Although technically the position was 20 hours a week, I worked more than 50 hours a week. I was lucky enough to receive health insurance through the university, to hold a babysitting job and tutoring positions to pay for extra expenses, and to have a family to help me as needed (and they did pay federal income taxes).

Over the three years I was in graduate school, I taught nearly 1,000 students. And I was just one of many, many graduate teaching assistants. For students who attend large public universities, a good part of their university education is made possible by graduate students who are too poor to pay income taxes but who work their asses off to improve their own lives, certainly, but also to contribute to the success of educational institutions, students, community, and countless fields of study.

Obama hadn't been in office the whole time, of course. But I did not need the government to take care of me, and I did not feel entitled to food, healthcare, and housing. I earned the income I received from the state and provided a service far beyond the compensation. To categorize all those who didn't or don't pay federal income taxes as victims, dependent, and entitled is bigoted. And it's insulting to generalize that everyone in the same group would cast a vote over these issues alone.

Now I work for a nonprofit teachers' association, and I continue to better our public education and the quality of our teachers. I would not have been able to provide this service, which is essential to our nation's future, without having first been in the 47%. I'm LUCKY to have been in the 47%.

Agnes Bannigan

Agnes P. Bannigan is a writer and editor with experience in teaching, content development, and publishing. She is a full-time editor at an educational book press and is working on her first collection of short stories. She holds a BA in English from Elon University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland. She lives in Washington, DC.

Jane Hull's Voice

Dear Mitt,

My mother was born into an illegal immigrant family in 1923.  That was her first sin, I suppose.  She didn’t speak English until she went to publicly funded school and her mooching off the hard working millionaires began.  Her parents were bright but uneducated and her mother divorced her dad when mom was 6, in 1929.  Her mother proceeded to have horrible marriage after horrible marriage and my mother went to 8 public grade schools in 8 years.  Sometimes there wasn’t enough to eat, so her mother did without.  Sometimes there was, but if a hobo came begging to the back door (this was the first great depression brought to you by another Republican administration) her mother gave him her portion, clearly victimizing herself.

In first grade, mom fell in love with her publically paid teacher, so much so that she determined to become one.  But then she changed schools.  Repeatedly.  In 8th grade she had another spectacular teacher (whom I had the honor of meeting in 1985 or so) who reaffirmed her commitment to become a teacher.

She worked at her grandmother’s corner store and finished high school -- they were half days, then.  She was accepted at the taxpayer supported municipal college.  She worked 48 hours a week for Army Ordnance while she was in school, so I guess that was another government handout. What with taking all that army pay, it took her an extra semester to graduate.  Then, of course, she was going to go to graduate school.   But before she could do that the war ended.  And she was hired by that municipal college to teach the boys returning home on the GI bill.  More money from the government, I guess.  For the boys too, come to think of it.

My father was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His parents were tax payers.  She a school teacher and he a farmer and then a butcher, a rubber worker, a home builder, and finally restaurateurs.  He went to public school, though. And eventually he taught at the same college cum university as my mom, eagerly taking tax money from his hard working Republican parents who nearly disowned him during the Republican-led red scare of the 50’s because he was a college teacher so he must be a communist, you know.

Mom taught for 43 years, sucking more and more tax payer money with each passing semester, though only at 40% of the rate of her husband.  She was in a more advanced position and had been there longer, but she was just a woman and had her man to take care of her, for a bit, until he died in 1971.  Eventually, after she was widowed, she took that tax-payer funded insurance policy and bought treasury bills with it.  So that she could make the tax payers pay her more money, I guess.
When she died, there was no federal inheritance tax so she got off scot free there, too.  Seems she had accumulated quite a bit of taxpayer money over the years.  Funny thing, though, somehow the way the tax laws were written, she always had to pay income tax.  Even as a young widow with a kid.  And she never complained.  And never voted against a school levy.  She paid those taxes.  She never voted against the library levy.  And she paid those taxes.  And never voted against a social support levy.  And paid those taxes.

She, Mr. Romney, was one of the Greatest Generation.  You, sir, are not.

So, I guess, she was one of the 47%.  And so was my dad:  Public school, US Army Captain, WWII, municipal and then state college professor.  And, of course, when he died I got free money from the VA and the teachers’ retirement system.  So I am one of them, too.  And even worse, I am a lawyer.  And I represent poor people.  For which I am paid with tax dollars.

So I can understand why you wouldn’t want the vote of people like us.

Jane Hull 

Jane Hull was born in 1958 and is a lawyer in private practice in Akron, Ohio.  For the past 21 years she has made most of her living representing people accused of crimes or of being unfit parents.  During that time she has come to appreciate the disastrous effects of poverty and the endless depression of those who see no light at the end of the tunnel; people who have no hope of bettering themselves.  Meanwhile, she has seen the government and its laws being more and more skewed against sin and sinners, confusing it with crime and criminals.  When the government is mean to its citizens, we all lose. And she has a cat.

Nita King's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney,

Although I am not yet part of the 47% you spoke so cruelly about in your unfiltered remarks to your unfeeling friends, I feel compelled to write to you anyway.

My husband is 72, in poor health and unable to work, and I am 68 and still working full-time. We  are part of another unfortunate percentage– the working elderly…the ones still working in order to have decent health care coverage because, despite years of paying into Social Security and Medicare, despite paying income taxes for all of our working lives, the great American dream for us, and many like us has become the great American nightmare.   Look around…you see us everywhere; the greeter in WalMart who cheerfully welcomes you, even though he is in obvious physical pain, the checker at the grocery store who is struggling with totaling up your groceries because of her arthritic hands, the receptionist at the dentist office whose hand shakes ever so slightly as she gives you a receipt.  We are everywhere.  We don’t complain because we are so thankful to still be working, so thankful that we are not on food stamps or government assistance, so thankful that we are not a burden to society or to our children….yet.   But, if you look closely, you will see fear in our eyes because we know that day is coming….we will be part of the 47% soon.  So, very soon, you can lump us in with all of the other 47%....the ones you think you don’t need to worry about.

As I heard you speak,  I thought of my parents, who worked hard all of their lives to provide a better life for us; who believed in this country - believed that everyone deserved a chance, that no one should be worked to the bone for the financial gain of the few powerful industrialists who ran the country until workers united and formed unions.  Instead of thinking of social security as a travesty, like you seem to, they were proud to be Americans, proud to be a part of a country that felt a responsibility for its poor and downtrodden.  When I was growing up, Mr. Romney, the words "union" and "Social Security" were not dirty words.  They were hallmarks of a country who didn't turn its back on its workers or its elderly.  Presidency Roosevelt, who faced a similar set of circumstances as we face now, was revered for stepping out of his own privileged world and daring to envision another world that embraced everyone.   They were proud to be a part of a country that welcomed with open arms the disenfranchised and downtrodden.....they believed that this country was built by people who were part of the 47% in other countries….they came here because they believed that America was different.  And we always have been.  We don’t forget about the disenfranchised or the weak…the words on the very statue that welcomed them to America proudly proclaims: ”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  These are the people you so easily dismissed in your remarks. 

We may be tired, we may be poor, but we are strong enough to make our voices heard on November 6th.  Yes, indeed, Mr. Romney, you do need to worry about us.

Nita King

Nita King is an administrative assistant in the MFA Program at Murray State University, Murray, KY for the past two years.  She has a degree in English and Economics from Texas A&M University in Commerce, Texas, where she and her husband grew up.  They have two children and four grandchildren.

Silas House's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney, 

In the early 1950s, my paternal grandfather died in prison after killing a man in what he claimed was self-defense. He was poor, uneducated, and living in a place and time when both of those things meant that he didn’t have much on his side, despite the perfect American dream being portrayed on television shows. His public defender barely showed up. He died after being hidden away in an icy basement of an overcrowded facility. 

He left my grandmother, Mae, to raise nine children on her own. She had been a schoolteacher and was the daughter of a prosperous store-owner. But teaching jobs were fewer now, and no matter how many doors she knocked upon, she could only find work at a very popular local restaurant that eventually became the first Kentucky Fried Chicken. She had no car and often had to hitchhike to make the nine-mile journey into the town of Corbin. Sometimes Colonel Sanders himself gave her a ride home, but only to the mouth of the holler since her road was so muddy that it was often impassable. Why should the county grade the road of a handful of hillfolk, even though they paid their taxes? 

Welfare as we know it now had not completely been formed by this time, but nonetheless my grandmother took the least amount of public assistance she could. Still, she did receive assistance while also working like a dog and was thankful for it the rest of her life. Even in her 80s she recalled that they might not have survived without it. 

Mae came home from frying chicken all day to take care of her house, fields, and children. The children themselves had to take jobs, too. My father was working in a local skating rink by the time he was twelve. Those older than him were forced to drop out of school to take jobs. A couple of them even had to leave their beloved home in Happy Holler to travel north for work. 

Not one of Mae’s children had the opportunity to go to college. The mere thought of it was laughable. It took all they could do to hold onto their family farm, their heritage, each other. 

My father volunteered for the Army in 1965 to escape this life of poverty in a place that was economically depressed not because the people there wouldn't work, but because politicians made sure that the region remained a mono-economy dependent on coal. That aspect of life here hasn’t changed much since then. Before he knew it, my father was in Vietnam. 

He came back a different man, of course. A haunted man, an angry man, a thankful-to-be-alive man. A man determined to rise up out of poverty. He worked two and sometimes three jobs: as a mechanic at a local Shell station, pouring concrete driveways for whomever would hire him, and at a fiberglass factory where he rose up to become one of the lead supervisors by the time I was in high school. 

All of my aunts and uncles made something of themselves. They became preachers or store-owners. One worked in city maintenance, another as a state plumbing inspector. They all worked so long and hard that all of their bodies became gnarled and bent. This country was built on the backs of people like them. 

I was raised for the first eight years of my life in a little red-and-white trailer on the banks of the Laurel River. I was one of those folks that you might think of as “you people.” My mother worked in the school lunchroom. She wore plastic aprons. A hairnet. Her hands were wrinkled and paled by bleach. My father worked the third shift at the fiberglass plant when he wasn’t working on cars or pouring concrete. I grew up feeling guilty that I had more than them, although they never made me feel that way. But I was conscious of it. I knew the best way I could honor their hard work was to go to college, and so I did. 

After graduation I lived within that same mono-economy. Why didn’t I leave, you say? Because it was my home. My heritage. I lived just one mile from that little scratch of land my grandmother had fought so hard to save, although she finally relented to the demands of the coal company and leased her land to them. They repaid her by pushing her infant baby’s grave over the hillside in an effort to get to more coal as quickly and inexpensively as they could. 

I became a father and although I too was working everywhere I could-- helping to pour concrete, installing satellite dishes, in restaurants—I found it hard to support my family, too. We had a trailer on a hillside overlooking God’s Creek. Once again I was what people like to call “trailer trash”, which is, by their definition, apparently, anyone who lives in a trailer. I wanted to make sure my child was taken care of so we signed up on a government assistance program called WIC, which provides vouchers for healthy food. This program encouraged us to buy the healthiest food for our baby and greatly helped with the grocery bill. I didn’t like taking money from the government but I was working hard and I knew that someday I wouldn’t have to take it any more. And eventually, I didn’t. I’m thankful for it to this day. 

All the while I was writing a novel that eventually became successful and allowed me to build a home debt-free. I went to graduate school and became a professor myself, continuing to write seven more books. I have tried to be of service to my country and my community to the best of my ability. 

Around this same time my father began to use the services of the Veterans’ Administration, provided by the government he had served in the army. 

After years of standing on her feet on damp school lunchroom kitchen floors and breathing in countless hours of cleaning chemicals, my mother is disabled and draws a paltry check. 

Nearly everyone in my family has benefited from some kind of government assistance—veterans’ benefits, social security, disability, student loans—and they have worked all of their lives. Many of them were even going to vote for you. Mind-bogglingly, I fear that some of them may still vote for you. 

But I won’t. 

Do you see how we are the 47%, Mr. Romney? Do you see how you don’t understand the very people over whom you propose to preside? I bet you don’t. 

Silas House 

Silas House is the author of five novels, including Long Time Travelling (2009), This Is My Heart For You (2012). House serves as the Director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College and on the fiction faculty at Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. House was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky and is very proud of his Appalachian roots.  He is the father of two daughters and has three dogs:  Rufus, Holly, and Pepper.  For more, go to

Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum's Voice

So, I’m one of them too, one of the 47%, though you’d hardly guess it to look at me. I should, by political logic anyway, be on your side. I was raised in a small, rural town in the American west. My grandfather was a rancher, a GMC auto salesman, and rodeo president. My father is a minister. I am a wife, a mother, and—yes—a Christian. And I have always been a rule-follower, up-by-my-own-bootstraps, A-student type. But people can’t really be reduced to types, can they?

That same grandfather knew the importance of valuing the land that had given him a start in life and a home to tend, and that’s why he was among Washington State’s conservationists; he knew the efforts his neighbors and friends in that rural town put into their labor, and that’s why he was a union organizer; he recognized as his equal the woman who worked and lived by his side for over fifty years, and that’s why he was a feminist. And my father, the minister? Why he’s the most liberal Liberal I know. He and my mother—a nurse—were the ones to teach me that real faith calls one to real stewardship. It means taking responsibility for the welfare of others, believing in the worth and dignity and equality of every member of society, no matter his tax bracket or race, or her religion or sexual identity. As I see it, being on your side would be a betrayal of these good-hearted American ancestors of mine; it would mean forgetting everything they worked so hard to give me.

In my own adult life, I have chosen to become, among other things, a teacher. My husband is also a teacher. For the last decade we have primarily worked as part-time faculty members at public colleges. Because we have two young children in need of our attention, one of us most often teaches daytime classes, the other night-classes. We both take freelance projects as well to add to our income. Many nights, after we eat a family dinner and read our children their bedtime stories, we stay up well past midnight getting work done; then we get up with the kids at six a.m. and start all over again. In the summers, when school is not in session, my husband paints other people’s houses. We do not own a home. We do not take vacations. We share a single car to save on gas. Still, money is generally tight. Most years our family of four does not owe income tax. We’re trying to save what we have, but we are also still paying off the student loans (both federal and private) that we, as the children of public servants ourselves, needed to use to fund our own educations. Because we believe in social responsibility, we also tithe to our church, and when we can we donate to the arts foundations (many of them the beneficiaries of federal grants) that have supported our own creative work. We coupon-clip to pay for groceries and the clothes we put on our children’s backs before we send them out for their day at the public elementary. We do what we can with what we have, and we’ve honestly never considered ourselves “moochers.”

The truth, however, is that I do believe I was entitled to the government support from which I’ve benefited over the years. In fact, I’m raising my children to believe that they are entitled too. Because a good society is one that cares about its members. In a good society, people work together to ensure that schools are accessible and well funded, that infrastructure is built and safety personnel hired, that the average family does not have to face financial ruin because of illness or the cost of education. I believe we’re all entitled to live in a society that guarantees us those few but necessary privileges. And while I understand that you and I disagree there, I think you’re missing something. I think you’re overlooking the return. What America gets today from the 47% is that same promise of hard work and service my grandparents made sixty years ago. We promise our labor on behalf of the next generation’s dreams. We promise to use our lives as stewards of our time and talents for the betterment of a society we still believe can be great. Or, as my Sunday School teacher once told me, we promise to keep believing that from those to whom much is given, much can be expected.


Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

Kirsten Lundstrum is a fiction writer, author of two collections of short stories (This Life She's Chosen, published by Chronicle Books in 2005; Swimming With Strangers, Chronicle Books, 2008), and was from 2008-2012 a member of the faculty at Purchase College, SUNY in creative writing. She now lives in Seattle with her family. She can also be found at

Goldberry Long's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

I grew up with an outhouse and no running water.  I know that this is beyond your comprehension, as I’m quite sure you don’t believe such a thing exists in the United States, but I assure you it is true; in fact, a great many of my neighbors also had outhouses.  (Ours was one of the less nicely constructed, I’m afraid).  My culture of dependency started early; I attended Headstart, and thus I was brainwashed, from the age of 4 , to believe that the government owed me something. I grew up on Foodstamps. I used to cringe when my mother pulled out those booklets at the grocery store; sometimes I wandered away and pretended she wasn’t my mother because I was so ashamed of her lack of personal responsibility.  I ate school breakfasts and school lunches, partaking twice of the undeserved largess so unjustly provided by those more responsible in this country.  Somehow, despite being a recipient of those entitlements, and despite being raised by parents utterly without personal responsibility as is clear by the unforgiveable behavior of partaking of entitlements, I managed to do exceptionally well in school. And yet my culture of dependency continued; I went off to college only because of student loans and Pell Grants, sucking yet again on the teat of the Responsible America, those who grew up with flushing toilets and cashing paychecks and eating lunches made by their responsible mothers.  I went on to graduate school; more loans, more dependency.  In fact, when I take stock, having been motivated by your illuminating remarks, I note that I have partaken of almost every entitlement available to an American.  I am still an American, aren’t I?  At this point I’m not sure I qualify. 

I just want you to know that I repent.  I repent that I have earned three college degrees; I repent that I have failed to do it on my own; I repent that I now pay more of a percentage of my income on my taxes than you do, when I have clearly had so much undeserved entitlements that I should put some real skin in the game, 50% of my income, let’s say.
Of course, 50% of my income is what my tax advisor tells me I will pay in taxes out of my book advance.  So maybe I will finally begin to pay back my unfair opportunities to eat, learn, and thrive in this country.  Maybe then I’ll finally learn some personal responsibility.

Goldberry Long

Goldberry Long was born in New Mexico, attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.  Her novel, Juniper Tree Burning, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2001, and her next novel, The Kingdom of No, is forthcoming from S&S.  She admits to being an excessively slow writer, but this letter came out very quickly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

J.W. Wang's Voice

Dear Mitt,

I’m a child of immigrant parents--you know, that classic American dream--parents who moved to a country they believed in before they even set their eyes on it. It wasn’t easy; when they arrived they had very little, but they didn’t ask for much, only a job and an opportunity to prove they could succeed. My father served tables in a Chinese restaurant, while my mother stripped roses in a flower shop. We were poor, but my parents were creative and we made things work. Sure, we didn’t have health care, so we had to be careful, and there was a scare when my father was rear-ended while waiting at a red light, hit so hard his car was pushed into the middle of intersection. But we were lucky, and there were nice people along the way who gave us a hand, such as the dentist who gave us a discount for annual cleanings.

I went to a good school--Berkeley--and worked part-time through college. Heck, I worked full-time near the end while bearing a full course load, scheduling all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I could have five whole workdays. I barely saw anyone outside of work or class, and I lost a good many friends during that time. My parents both worked for the United States Post Office by this point--my father was a mail carrier and my mother one of those people who sorted your mail in the middle of the night--and a good thing too, because they were finally able to obtain health insurance and build up a pension. As soon as they were eligible, they went to Immigration and had themselves sworn in as naturalized citizens.

All of that is to say, none of us were ever entitled, though we were apparently foolish enough to pay more taxes by percentage of income than you seem to be doing. And you may applaud our family’s story and say, Good for you! You’re not part of the 47 percent! But of course we were, always have been. And here’s where the story gets tricky.

My father ruined his knees and his back, carrying all that mail for the Postal Service. For the last three years of his career, he walked with such a pronounced limp people who lived on his route would come out to get the mail before he could get to their mailbox. He was stubborn and refused to go on disability. Eventually he gave in and retired early. My mother went blind, a genetic condition that was worsened by the fact that she was squinting at countless envelopes during her graveyard shifts. She, too, was stubborn, and refused to go on disability until she got into a car accident and it became clear she could no longer function as a normal contributing citizen. They had built up a little pension, sure, but without Medicare or Social Security they would be in dire situations, despite contributing to the building of America and ruining their health in the process. If you had cut Medicare and privatized Social Security, who knows how they would be faring today. A welfare home wouldn’t be out of the question.

As for myself, I worked in the corporate sector for a number of years, at one point paying 40%--forty percent!--of my income to taxes, until I realized the extent to which inherent prejudices and biases were disenfranchising large, huge swaths of America. People, in fact, like my own parents. What the country needed, I realized, was not more greed, but more compassion. People who could help each other succeed, like the kind dentist who worked with the poor. Improving each other’s lives together, rather than knocking down someone else so you could be farther ahead. The 47 percent isn’t about entitlement, Mitt, it’s treating each other like decent human beings. It seems to me this was something you once cared about--Romneycare, you remember?--yet now you’re speaking a strange language even a slightly dated version of you would have eschewed, perhaps rebuked.

What happened, Mitt? What’s with the mean act? No, I don’t expect you to divide your millions with everyone, nor do I expect you to have even the slightest understanding of what it means to be the working poor in this country. But you don’t have to make things any worse for them than they already are, do you? They’re working as hard as they can to keep this country going, and they don’t need some rich bully who’s never had to bus tables or carry mail telling them they’re not pulling their own weight.

 So leave them be, Mitt. You have your millions, your Cadillacs, your stocks and trusts and however many houses. The 47 percent, many of them work for you: they mow your lawns, they cook your food, they do your laundry. Don’t make life any more difficult for them than it already is. They’re only human.

J.W. Wang

 J.W. Wang is finishing up a Ph.D. in creative writing at Florida State University. He's at work on a novel based on his family's immigrant experience.

Rene Mercer's Voice

Yes, Mr. Romney, I have been a member of that 47%.  I got married when I was 27 years old, had an Associates Degree in Medical Records, my husband was an air traffic controller, we thought we were joining the rest of the middle class, living the American dream.   Well I was wrong.  When I was 43 years old my husband committed suicide on Christmas Day leaving me with an 11 year old, a 15 year old and not a dime, only a huge amount of debt.  I did not even have the money to pay for his funeral.  No insurance, nothing. 

I was working at the time as a medical transcriptionist making a decent salary, so I thought I would be able to make it.  Well I was wrong there too.   Because in the 1990's suddenly we started seeing those jobs being outsourced to countries like India for cheaper pay.  The company I was working for at the time suddenly sold out.  The representative from that company came in, cut our pay by 50%, and with a smirk on his face told us to take it or leave it, they could outsource it and pay even less.   Well, I left it.  I struggled on my own for a while working for various companies, had no health insurance or benefits and yes my income ended up in the poverty level, thus owing no federal taxes.   Do you honestly think I said hooray, this is great, I don't have to pay taxes?  Try to support your family on $20,000 a year Mitt.

The only thing that kept me from losing my home and being out on the street with two children was the Social Security I was able to draw for them until they were 18.  That allowed me to change careers which was not an easy thing to do.  I researched and found medical coding was a field needing more people, so with my degree I already had I decided to get the further education I needed and pursue a job in that field.   After being turned away time and time again (come see us when you have some experience), by the grace of God (yes, Mr. Romney you don't have to be a Republican to be a Christian),  I found a coding manager in a local hospital willing to hire me and give me a chance. Of course I had to start at the very bottom of the pay scale, so for about the next 10 years  I worked one full time and two part time jobs to survive. 

I have a great job today and do alright for myself.  But I also must be realistic.   In a few years I will be reaching the age when most people retire.  I know I will never be able to retire completely.  I will always have to work at least part time (you want fries with that?).  The only way I will be able to survive will be with the help of Social Security.  I am qualified to draw and Medicare.  And now you want to privatize Social Security and give me a coupon to buy myself an insurance policy rather than provide me with Medicare.   Of course if you were to repeal the healthcare reform that would also mean that insurance companies can deny anyone with a pre-existing condition coverage.  Now just how many people over the age of 65 do you think have no pre-existing conditions?

Funny, Mitt,  you call me a "victim"  - I call myself a "survivor."

Rene Mercer

Rene Mercer lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently work for a hospital in Northern Virginia. 

Alise Hamilton's Voice

Dear Mitt –

My grandfather, an Onondaga Iroquois man and a registered Republican, was raised in poverty in upstate New York. He began working as a child, 10 years old, and served in the Navy during the Korean War. He is retired as disabled veteran now and receives all of his health care from his local VA hospital. His father before him served in WWII. Despite the horrendous treatment by colonists, these men, my family, served this country with pride. Shame on you Mr. Romney. Shame on you for giving them nothing but the utmost respect for their service, for their sacrifices.

I admit, I am one of the votes you need not worry about. I am female and mixed race. Liberal. Atheist! You never had my vote. But if you are, god forbid, elected, you would still be my president. For the record, my own student loans are monumental. For the record, I am the first person in my family to earn a college degree. I never took “special scholarships” because I myself was not raised on a reservation. I didn’t think it would be right. I have a combination of federal loans and private loans, which I have never once defaulted on.

In a way, I never expected you to be my president. Even if elected, I knew you would never have my best interests at heart. But my grandfather—a man who fought poverty and illiteracy. A man who started his own business, supported his family, found time for reading and music and painting (my grandfather is a truly amazing artist, Mr. Romney), a man whom I may disagree with on politics but a man who inspires me and who I love in the deepest sense of the word. He has given you his support. When—if ever—do you plan on giving that support back?

What a disgrace you are. What a sad symbol of America. What a disappointment.

Alise Hamilton

Alise Hamilton is the events and marketing coordinator for HugoBookstores, a family of four independent bookstores in Massachusetts. She is set to earn her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University in January 2013.

Jennifer Givhan's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney,

As a graduate student, earning my Master’s degree in English, I paid over twenty-thousand dollars (taking out private loans and “borrowing from my parents”) to adopt my son domestically from Michigan because I wanted to be a mother so badly. My degree was paid for with scholarships, grants, and more loans. I was twenty-three years old.

At the time, my husband was successfully working for a major corporation, making a good salary (though, of course, not enough to move us anywhere near out of the 47%).

Then the recession hit, and my husband lost his job. Terrifyingly, we also lost our health insurance.

My position as an adjunct professor at several community colleges didn’t offer insurance. I’m what we call a “freeway flyer,” picking up classes at sometimes three or four different colleges and universities within a thirty mile radius in order to piece together a full course-load each semester so that I can be paid half the amount of what “full-time” instructors who are teaching the same number of classes earn. However, as a “freeway flyer,” I am without critically imperative benefits, such as health insurance. This fact is yet another effect of education budget cuts.

So I got Medi-Cal for my son. My beautiful domestically adopted son. My sunshine. The boy his birthmother handed to me and trusted me to care for. To provide a better life for. Because my husband and I were educated and (at the time) well-employed.

I’m so thankful that people in California are willing to pay a few extra dollars each month in taxes so that children without health insurance can go to the doctor when they’re sick. That moms and dads in California without the money to pay don’t have to worry about not taking their sons or daughters to the hospital when they’re burning of fever that won’t relent despite baths and cool washcloths and Tylenol because they’re scared of the bill they could never afford—thousands and thousands of dollars for a single emergency visit. I know that even a few hours in the ER is outrageously expensive.

I know this because a few months after my son got Medi-Cal, I got pregnant. Joyously. Miraculously. A previously infertile woman, I was pregnant. I hadn’t tried to get pregnant. I hadn’t known I could get pregnant until I was.

And then, one night eight weeks later… I wasn’t.

In between my first and second doctor visits, before I took my Medi-Cal paperwork to my obstetrician (a wonderful doctor who accepts Medi-Cal for pregnant women), I began bleeding. In line to obtain my free H1N1 flu vaccine from the county health department at the fairgrounds in Hacienda Heights, the blood came.

Because my hormone levels were dropping so quickly, the pregnancy test at my doctor’s office could no longer verify for my Medi-Cal paperwork that I was pregnant (the stubborn blue line wouldn’t fully develop), and thus, I did not qualify for health insurance.

That night, when the blood wouldn’t stop and my fever wouldn’t break, my husband drove me to the emergency room, where, with unbearable grief, I miscarried our baby.

Two weeks later, I received a bill for seven thousand dollars. Seven thousand. I hadn’t even stayed overnight. Maybe for the other 53% this isn’t much, but for the rest of us, this is several months of wages (at the time, for my family, six months’ worth).

My hands trembling, tears dripping on my shirt, I sat on a bench at the park while my two-year-old son played on the jungle gym, and I called the hospital to see if I could work something out. There was nothing they could do, they said. I didn’t have insurance. But because I had credit cards, they assumed I should be able to pay. Apparently, it didn’t matter that those cards were maxed out—as they’d been used in the months before to buy other important things, like groceries.

Three years later, my husband is a Registered Nurse working two excellent jobs, and though I’m still working as an adjunct instructor between several different colleges and universities in New Mexico where we now live, my family has access to health insurance. For now. But tomorrow?

You, Mr. Romney, seem to believe that far too many Americans are dependent on government support and this is not sustainable or desirable. You’d like Americans to be industrious, hard-working, self-supporting and contributing to the country’s growing economy.  Well, my family is on our way to our American dream, but getting started sometimes means being in a position of needing government (as well as community and family) assistance. Our story represents millions of young families struggling financially to get started in successful careers. In many other facets of life it is considered common sense to give beginners the extra help they need to get started.  It is a naive and arrogant insult for someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth to criticize a beginning family for needing help getting started.

We aren’t moochers, we are the young, the next generation coming of age and continuing the American experience. We (especially mothers) are the strength of this nation. Previous generations of Americans have helped their young come into young adulthood (e.g., GI Bill, tuition free college in California in the 1960s); why should we now be sacrificed to giant finance (privatizing social security and our schools, vouchering Medicare)?

I’d rather live in a country where loss of job, loss of health insurance, loss of baby does not equal immense debt—financial stress atop heart ache. In a country where we needn’t miscarry our dreams amidst painful obstacles but can emerge healed, triumphant, and ready to begin anew.

For Obama’s healthcare plan, for the access ALL women should have to affordable healthcare, for the 47%, for my family, I am voting for Obama.

Jennifer Givhan

Jennifer Givhan was a 2010 PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, a 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award finalist, and a 2012 National Latino Writers' scholarship recipient. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in over forty journals, including Rattle, The Los Angeles Review, and The Feminist Wire. She teaches at several colleges, including The University of New Mexico, and is an MFA student at Warren Wilson College, where she is the recipient of a grant. She recently landed an agent for her first novel and is at work on her second novel, as well as a second collection of poetry. She adopted her beautiful son in 2007 and gave birth to her strong, healthy daughter in 2010.

Rebecca Lehmann's Voice

I am a member of the 47% you referred to in the off the cuff remarks you made to a room full of donors earlier this year. When I say that, I mean that I am a member of the 47% of Americans who are going to vote for Obama. And, you’re right, there’s not much you can say or do to change that. I’m a social democrat, so unless you start saying things like “I think abortion should be legal and accessible to everyone,” or “I support gay marriage,” or “I believe in the value of a strong social safety net,” or “I think corporations and the wealthy should be taxed at higher rates,” you’re not getting my vote.

But I also used to be a member of the other 47% of Americans you referred to, the 47% who, for a variety of reasons, don’t pay federal income taxes. And I found your statement that members of the 47% can never be taught to take personal responsibility and care for their lives highly offensive. As you said those words, you reminded me of the countless ignoramuses I have encountered throughout the years who all seem to know somebody who has gamed the welfare system and then confessed said gaming to said ignoramus and that’s why “welfare ain’t right.” This attitude is ignorant, and misinformed, and demonizes America’s working poor.

Why does this bother me so much? Because my family was on and off welfare when I was a kid. We were on AFDC, and used food stamps. I got free lunch at the public school I attended, and my parents received medical aid so I could see a doctor. Were my parents a couple of unemployed loafers dependent on government handouts? No, they both worked, but their jobs bartending and waiting tables and cleaning bathrooms didn’t pay enough to make ends meet. After my parents divorced, my mom went to college, and she did so because she was able to get government grants and loans. And guess what? By the time I was in middle school, we were in the middle class! My mom got a job as a graphic designer. My dad got a job as a union carpenter. My step-dad was a union plumber. Both of my parents have paid back again and again any aid they received.

What about me? Did I turn into a dependent moocher unable to care for myself because my family received government assistance when I was a child? No. I may have worn second-hand clothes when I was in elementary school, but do you know what I could do better than all the girls in my class with perfectly matching, brand new outfits? Math. And reading. And writing. I excelled at school. I was motivated. Even as a child I made the connection between education and upward mobility. I graduated high school in the top 10% of my class. I went to the best college in the state of Wisconsin (this was what I could afford—my family was middle class, but we weren’t swimming in it). While there I decided I wanted to be a writer, so my next stop was the best writing program in the country, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, for a MFA. Then I decided I wanted to get a PhD and become a college professor. I did both those things. I also published a book of poetry. I did all of this by the time I was 30. I was driven. I was motivated.

And that’s why I find your comments so offensive. The poor aren’t helpless and they aren’t the great Other; they’re normal people who have fallen on hard times. Shouldn’t we, the wealthiest nation in the world, help them out? Can we please stop demonizing them? They’re already poor; they have enough to worry about without being used as a prop on the national political stage. Governor Romney, I do think all Americans are entitled to food and housing and health care and “you name it.” I’ll name it. I also think all Americans should be entitled to a quality public education. I think all Americans should be entitled to free university education. I think they should be entitled to paid maternity and paternity leave. I think they should be entitled to unemployment benefits that support them as they search for new jobs, and social security that keeps pace with the cost of living for when they retire. I think they should be entitled to affordable childcare. I think all Americans are entitled to a government that supports them when they need help. How do I think we should pay for these things? I think we should all, you included (you especially?), pay higher taxes. But think of the benefits! Wouldn’t you pay higher taxes if you didn’t have to worry about saving for retirement, if you didn’t have to worry about saving for the astronomical price of college tuition for your children?

I say “you.” Of course “you,” Mitt Romney, don’t have to worry about these things. You were born rich. You’ve been rich all your life. You’ll die rich and leave your vast wealth to your heirs. I’m not one to generalize, but I’m beginning to wonder if being a member of the 1% makes a person incapable of empathy. I know this can’t be true. So, where’s your empathy, Mitt Romney?


Rebecca Lehmann  

Rebecca Lehmann is the author of Between the Crackups (Salt Modern Poets 2011). Her poems have been published in Tin House, The Iowa Review, The Gettysburg Review, and many other journals. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and a PhD in creative writing and literary theory from Florida State University. She lives in Sherman, Texas with her husband, where she is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Austin College.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Traci O. Connor's Voice

Dear Mitt, 

I had three children—two boys, eleven and eight, and a daughter who’d just turned four—when I was met in the driveway by the county sheriff. They’d found my husband’s body in a car in the mountains of Utah, he said, asphyxiated by a propane grill my husband had bought earlier that morning, filled with gas, and then opened—intentionally—in the back seat.

You probably would’ve felt a kinship with my husband, Mitt. He was tall and handsome, clean and healthy, just like you. He served a Mormon mission, too. To Fiji. He almost spoke French—that would’ve been something, huh?—but he loved spending his free days playing soccer with the village kids or helping the neighbor farmer to cut through his jungle with a machete, so it made sense that he would learn Fijian instead. 

My husband, he was smart. He graduated college with a 4.0 GPA in engineering, no kidding. And debt-free, to boot. His first year out, he landed a well-paying job at an important software company. At first he beta-tested, looking line by line for mistakes in huge piles of coded papers he’d bring home. Soon, he was proposing ideas, leading teams. Then he was writing patents and traveling to Italy. Once, just for a fun weekend project, he bought a thousand abandoned office phones, reprogrammed them with Linux, and then re-sold them to other offices at a really nice profit.

My husband was creative like that. And talented. And, wow, he worked hard, even though I’m sure he would’ve rather been surfing off Tavarua Island or biking hard and fast down a single-track lined with Aspens. My husband was a good father, a responsible man. He provided for his family.

We married young in the Mormon temple—just like you—and had three children pretty quickly, as most young Mormon couples do. We built a house in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, a house with a brand-new upright piano and slate floors my husband laid himself. I dressed the boys in khaki pants and white shirts for church every Sunday, my daughter in velvet jumpers and hair bows that matched. We ate home-cooked meals and read bedtime stories about two left feet—

Steak and baked yams, that’s what my husband liked to cook. He was so careful, scattering sea-salt and olive oil, tending to the grill.  That’s still my kids’ favorite meal, though we don’t eat it that often anymore, except sometimes on birthdays.

We were living the American Dream, I guess. A traditional, hard-working, fun-loving family. Our kids were smart, our cars were almost new, we trick-or-treated in elaborate costumes all of a theme: Blue’s Clues, for example. My husband was the crayon.

From the outside, we were picture perfect, a snapshot of happiness.

It wasn’t fair at all, the mental illness that my husband suffered with. It wasn’t his fault, the awful birthright of his DNA. “Shell-shocked,” was the term they used for my husband’s grandfather because doctors couldn’t explain, then, his misshapen collection of whispering voices and black thoughts—the unreasonable algebra of his mind that left him unable to care for his children. My husband’s grandfather spent whole days eating tuna from a can and swinging wildly around and around the kitchen on a rope he’d hung from the ceiling.

It scared my husband, terrified him. He saw his own future, saw himself at the end of that rope and he couldn’t bear it. He loved his kids too much to ever imagine being unable to love them.

This is how my children and I became a part of that 47% of our country’s citizens you scorn, Mitt Romney. This is when my life and everything I had understood about who I was and how I was supposed to be and think and act turned topsy-turvy and inside out. Suddenly, there I was: a single mother. A situation I’d never imagined and certainly never planned for. It was just me. Me alone to care for three children, a piano, a Honda Accord and a mortgage. Sitting in the Social Security office eleven days after my husband’s death, I felt—I admit—shame and disappointment; I felt overwhelmed, a strangeness in my belly. Mostly I felt shocked, numb. Honestly, I’d never thought twice about Social Security; it was just a line on the paycheck, a necessary tax. I’d never imagined, not once, that any of us would collect it so soon.

Now, I am so grateful…I can’t even begin to explain the extraordinarily deep and abiding gratitude I feel. I am grateful for a husband who loved his family and worked so hard. I am grateful for the money he paid to our government every month. I’m grateful for a government that takes care of its own, a country that testifies to the world: give me your tired, your poor... 

It’s true, the social security checks my children collect are an entitlement—yes—but they paid dearly for them, and I know they would rather their father was still paying taxes. They’ll wish that for the rest of their lives. But the thing is, my children will pay it back as they grow to be healthy, educated, creative, productive citizens, not so different from my husband—not so different from you. The taxes they’ll pay, eventually, will help take care of someone else, another American who needs a hand.

Certainly, I am personally thankful for every American who pays taxes, has paid taxes, and who will pay taxes. But I’m thankful for those who don’t, too. I don’t pretend to understand what it means to be truly poor, to be incapacitated by disability or illness or any combination of circumstances that makes living harder than it should be. But a lot of folks do. And I try to see them. I try to care. Mostly, I’ve learned that it’s best for me not to judge another’s character without truly understanding their circumstance, their heart, or how their life might be very different from mine.  I believe, as does novelist Ian McEwan, that  “imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.”

I want a president with this kind of imagination, someone who tries to know and understand every American, not just the ones most like him, not just those few—hardworking or lucky or both—who have membership in an increasingly exclusive club. We need a leader who respects people, regardless of their economic status, regardless of their employment. Regardless. In the United States of America, Mitt, every person’s supposed to matter. Just like every vote. 

Traci O. Connor

Traci O. Connor is the author of the short story collection, Recipes for Endangered Species (Tarpaulin Sky Press). She lives in Athens, OH where she is currently:  coaching the middle-school volleyball team, writing a couple of novels, attempting a cross-genre project about her Mormon childhood, and gutting a house. She lives with her spouse—the writer Jackson Connor—their four children, a labradoodle,  and a “cat.” CLICK HERE for more on Traci.

Jon Jefferson's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney –

You did not, in fact, build that. You inherited that.

The middle class and the working poor built it, while you and Ann were enjoying mouthfuls of silver spoon in Bloomfield Hills. Bloomfield Hills: One of the five richest towns in America, where the median family income is $200,000, and where half the houses are worth a million dollars or more.

I was lucky: I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I didn’t grow up with a boot on my back, either, the way so many of the less-lucky do in America.

I was lucky: I grew up in the socioeconomic bracket whose tax rates are higher than yours – the middle class you simultaneously court and condescend to. My dad never finished college, but he was smart and industrious. He worked in grain elevators, buying soybeans from farmers, selling soybean meal and soybean oil on the commodities market. My mom worked hard, too – cooking for six every night, sewing clothes for the family, doing clerical work every fall when the trucks lined up to deliver the soybeans and the farmers came to collect their checks.

I was lucky: The work ethic came entwined in my DNA. At 12 I was mowing yards; at 16 I was lifeguarding; at 18 I was shoveling soybeans at the grain elevator. Because my dad was “management,” I drew the dirtiest jobs; my nose and lungs oozed sludge that was black with soybean dust. Other laborers told me, “You work too damn hard,” but I couldn’t fathom not working hard, and I was grateful for the job.

I was lucky: I won scholarships that put me through a college and a graduate university my family could not afford. Other Americans opened their hearts and their pockets to create opportunities for kids with potential but not much money. People I never met, people who had no obligation to me, invested in my future.

People like that invested in my children’s futures, too, in the form of taxpayer-supported Pell grants and student loans, just as I now invest in other kids’ futures. Thanks to student loans and grants, my son has a bachelor’s degree, and my daughter is about to earn her Ph.D. They’ve both got good heads.

They’ve also got good hearts. Case in point: One Saturday when my son was 11, I took him with me to work on a Habitat for Humanity house in a mountain community two counties away. The new homeowners – the family buying the house – worked alongside us. The day was gray and bone-chilling; even with the car’s heater running full blast, I shivered the whole way home. That night, just before he fell asleep, my son murmured, “Daddy, when can we do it again?” His kindness moved me to tears and to action, and we started a Habitat chapter in our own county. Today the sleepy seed he planted has borne much fruit: half a hundred new or renovated homes for low-income East Tennessee families. Poor, but working poor. Forty-seven-percenters. Lazy, entitled “victims”? Not the proud, grateful folks I saw hoisting trusses and driving nails.

They didn’t inherit those houses, Mr. Romney. They built them, and we built them: forty-seven percenters, every one of us, at one time or another, in one way or another. Million-dollar mansions? Not by a long shot. But those houses, and the people who aspired and acquired and created? They’re every bit as worthy and respect-able as you and yours. By God and by gospel they are.

And when I look for a presidential candidate who’s earned the right to lead, I find one in a black man who overcame every obstacle that the pedigreed and privileged and prejudiced could put in his way. A man who is astonishingly successful and powerful, but who does not demean those who aren’t. A man who still values, still worries about, and still beckons to those who might yet – given a decent chance and a helping hand – follow his footsteps, dare to dream, and inspire us all to be bigger and better, not smaller and stingier.

A hard-working, thanks-giving, tax-paying 47-percenter,

Jon Jefferson

Jon Jefferson lives in Tallahassee, Florida. He is the author, in collaboration with forensic anthropologist Bill Bass, of two nonfiction books and seven crime novels, six of them New York Times bestsellers.