Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Erin Belieu's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney,

I have a confession to make: that entitlement class you speak of? I admit it—I do feel entitled. Always have. Always will.

No doubt, I’m a product of my environment. With my father a public school teacher and my mother a secretary with no college education, I grew up skidding the edge of the middle class. We weren’t poor, but we sure didn’t have any wiggle room. So despite your cavalier advice, borrowing significant money from my folks was never an option.

Frankly, had you known me as a child, you wouldn’t have found me promising—in school, I did well in most classes, but never legitimately passed a math class after the 5th grade. Turns out I was born with a profound learning disability that affects my relationship to numbers. Despite the money my parents scraped up to pay for years of private tutoring, my math grades were always dismal. That is, like you, I didn’t excel academically across the board. No merit scholarships for this girl! But, unlike you, my parents couldn’t pay for my college. I started as an undergrad on federal student loans and worked a cavalcade of crappy jobs to make up the difference. 

And yet I still grew up feeling entitled—to my hopes, to my ambitions for the future. Not just entitled, but—even worse!—I believed I had an inalienable right to my dreams, to pursue the potential for happiness that is one of our country’s most cherished, founding principles. But importantly, I was also taught—in church, in Girl Scouts, in my home--to believe in the individual’s fundamental responsibility to their community—that everyone has something to contribute, that a strong society actively encourages its citizens’ personal genius. How else do we foster the necessary inspiration, creativity and innovation that make a nation fiscally and culturally strong? There’s a reason we’re called the United States.

I lived for many years in that 47% you sneeringly dismissed the other day. But it  was the support of my community—including federal assistance in a variety of ways-- that made it possible for me to move into the tax bracket that now pays the largest share of its income to the federal government. Fact is, percentage-wise, Mr. Romney, I’m paying your bills. But I know if I’d come of age under your imagined presidency, it’s likely I’d have lost my ambitions in the wake of your party’s contempt for those of us who’ve had to really work for what we have.  

Sadly, I can’t say this comes as a surprise to me. I see you, Mr. Romney. I lived in Massachusetts when you were governor. For years, I’ve watched you flip and flop with an increasingly sweaty desperation that would be heart-breaking if your positions du jour weren’t so dangerous for our country. I see who you are, Mr. Romney: you’re the kid in the locker room who assaults a boy for being gay. You grew into the guy who thinks it’s okay to tie your family dog to the top of your car for a road trip. You’re a man who lacks a basic empathy chip in your hard wiring, the essential character to experience other beings as more than percentage points or likely voters in swing states.  You have the suit. You have the haircut. You have more money than God. But you don’t have the soul to actually imagine others outside of your small and privileged experience. And this, I’m afraid, is your personal tragedy. Please, don’t make it ours.

--Erin Belieu

Erin Belieu has published three collections of poetry, most recently Black Box, a finalists for the LA Times Book Prize. She is co-founder (with poet Cate Marvin) of the organization VIDA: Women In Literary Arts whose mission is "to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities." Belieu is presently at work on a non fiction memoir detailing her experiences in parenting a special needs child.