"...If you really want to know what those terms mean, you would do well to talk to the graveyard-shift janitor at a McDonald's in Bradenton, Florida. Then ask him about the quality if his health coverage.
"In 1991, that was my father, working all night despite his own poor health, supporting four children, one severely disabled..."
Dear Governor Romney,
I would like to thank you for your remarks regarding the so-called "47 percent" and especially for your subsequent clarification. Your remarks have, in fact, clarified an issue that I have wondered about since you served as my governor from 2003 to 2007. During that period and since, what puzzled me was how someone blessed with so much business acumen could be so thoroughly befuddled by even the most basic calculus of public policy. I do not mean to imply that you refuse to take policy positions, nor do I fault you, as many of your critics across the political spectrum have done, for changing your positions over the course of your political career. Where I do take exception, however, is in your repeated efforts to assume executive office without having first mastered the dynamics of public policy as it is formulated, implemented, and retooled over time. Your approach to governance, by which you simply articulate an ideal and impose it from the top down, seems to have a great deal in common with your approach to venture capital, as you yourself have repeatedly suggested. But public policy is a different animal: you cannot simply identify an underperforming unit (in this case, the "47 percent"), liquidate it, and pocket its capital resources. Or, rather, you can, but it is my sincere hope that we will not let you.
Please understand that I bear no personal animosity toward you, your family, or your supporters. On the contrary, your remarks--which I, for one, found neither clumsy nor inelegant, but refreshingly lucid--convinced me that the reason you have succeeded in persuading so many to vote against the interest of themselves and their communities, or to give your cause large sums of money that might otherwise maintain the infrastructure or retrain the workers who generate that wealth, is that you are similarly ignorant of how systems as intricate as our capitalist liberal democracy work. Clearly, you understand a simplified mode of capitalism, one that concentrates resources by circulating them among a small group of investors. It is entirely reasonable that, having been cloistered since birth among those whose experience of capital mirrors your own, you would think that this is how capitalism works. But when it comes to fostering sustainable, long-term, equitable growth among 300 million individuals, all with an equal stake in the success of this democracy, many with competing interests and concerns, you are simply unprepared. What is more, you have compensated for your deficiency not with a serious consideration of who your "47 percent" are, what role they play in this system, how they are both positively and negatively affected by both private enterprise and public policy, but with an utterly absurd fantasy of individual determination and bootstraps. If you really want to know what those terms mean, you would do well to talk to the graveyard-shift janitor at a McDonald's in Bradenton, Florida. Then ask him about the quality if his health coverage.
In 1991, that was my father, working all night despite his own poor health, supporting four children, one severely disabled. Today, thanks in no small part to his determination and mine, my little stack of university diplomas rivals yours, my family is squarely in the middle class, and I pay plenty in federal income tax. More to the point, I know a thing or two about how this happens. I have been the beneficiary of more kindnesses than I can name, from relatives and strangers, from programs both private and public, to say nothing of the kind of dumb luck that has also smiled upon you, though in different ways, from your first breath. I did not do it alone. I am not doing it alone now.
Anyone can be elected President. But to be the President, to govern effectively, you must be capable of recognizing the depth of our socioeconomic interdependence, especially when your own experiences have deprived you of the opportunity to see that interdependence on an intimate scale. I am not talking about the ability to empathize; I have no doubts as to your human qualities, and I put very little stock in a politician's appearance of ease with others. What I have in mind is something much more particular to the position you are seeking to assume: the ability to grasp how capital circulates, how policies operate, and how individuals behave within this matrix, all from the ground up. This recognition does not appear to rank among your many talents.
Still, I like to think that you and I are not as different as we may seem. We are both religious men, each in our own tradition, and so I hope I am correct in my belief that we share a common vision, that the world we wish to entrust to our children and grandchildren is one in which virtue is rewarded, and not where reward is held up as a sign of one's virtue.
Benjamin Paloff is the author of The Politics (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011) and the translator, most recently, of Marek Bienczyk's Transparency (Dalkey Archive, 2012) and Andrzej Sosnowski's Lodgings: Selected Poems (Open Letter, 2011). His next collection of poems, And His Orchestra, is forthcoming in 2014.