Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Caroline Leavitt's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

So you believe that 47% of Americans are freeloaders, do you? That if they just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, they could have jobs, feed their families, and well, be like you. And if they’re “too lazy” to do so, then there’s no need for anyone to bother about them.
“Those people,” you called them.

Well, I’m one of them.

Your statements made me think about the year I taught kids who were on parole, of all colors. I listened as they told me their stories, and the one thing I came away with was the feeling that these kids never had a chance. Most of them had only a single parent who was working three jobs to make ends meet. Some of them were struggling, at seventeen, to support their kids, because there was no education for them about abortion and they certainly couldn’t afford abortions. As far as pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, well, these kids had failing schools in drug and gang infested neighborhoods, with teachers too exhausted and overwhelmed to help them. How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have any boots?

Nobody does it alone. Even you.

You came with all the trimmings. Wealth, power, prestige. The idea that middle class is someone who makes $250,000 a year, when the truth is more like $40,000, is ludicrous and frightening. You have no idea what it feels like to worry about paying your rent, feeding your family or being able to send your child to college. I do. Both my husband and I work 12-hour days and weekends as writers. We pay our taxes, take out loans because we have to, and shell out a small fortune for health insurance that seems to not cover anything, and in fact, is getting worse. One year, when I was sick, my medical bills were over a million dollars and insurance refused to pay a sizable amount. It took us five years to pay them, depleting our savings, making us terrified about losing our home, and even then, we were saved because several of my doctors took pity on us and canceled our debt.

“A society driven by free people pursuing their dreams” sounds really nice, doesn’t it, but you can’t pursue your dreams when you have no training, no job, and no health care, when opportunities are narrowing right in front of you and stomping those dreams out.  I’m not religious, though I am spiritual, but one thing I know. Your religion seems important to you, but like the country, you’re reading it all wrong.  Jesus is all about helping others, spreading love, making sure that we all look out and care for one another. And that means gay people, Black people, Hispanics, everyone.

My family, including my 16-year-old-son, despair over the idea of the world you promote. It’s narrow, it’s bigoted, it’s full of hate and entitlement about who deserves what. And that’s why we’re working for and voting for Obama.

Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt is the author of ten novels, Pictures of You and, forthcoming in May, Is It Tomorrow. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Psychology Today, More, and more. She teaches writing at UCLA Writers Program online and lives in NYC's unofficial 6th borough, Hoboken, NJ, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin and their teenaged son Max.