Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jennifer Finney Boylan's Voice

Dear Mitt:

What with one thing and another, my family has done just fine in the last ten years, thanks for asking.  We took a hit in the recession, sure, same as everybody, but judging from our tax return, you might think we'd consider voting for you.  In fact-- holy cow!-- we pay a TON of taxes.  It's shocking, the size of the check the Boylans have to write, some years, to the IRS.

Would I ever vote for you, even if doing so guaranteed me that my tax rate would go down, even if it meant paying nothing?  Guess what:  Not in, say, a million years.

In my twenties, I spent roughly seven years working at minimum wage jobs.  I used to be that loathsome 47% you mention.  In the Eighties, I cleaned out the toilets in a bookstore.  Worked as an office clerk, a secretary,  worked the deep fryer at a hot dog stand.  I didn't have health care coverage, or quite frankly, so much as a doctor.  When I got sick, I went to the emergency room.  I was always self-sufficient, working all the time--because I had to. In my spare time,  I wrote a bunch of novels, all of them terrible.  

Eventually one of my stories was published, in The Florida Review. They paid me $15.  Later I published a novel, several of them.  In time things got better for me.   I got a job as a teacher.  I got married;  we had children. I kept working, all that time.  In my forties, I unexpectedly wrote a bestseller.  

I'm not sure you'd call me a job-creator, since the only job I ever created was my own-- author.  But this line of work, to my amazement and gratitude, has given me an income.  It's not a fortune, but our income is higher than that of most people, probably, who live in my part of Maine. I cannot tell you how unbelievably grateful I am for my good fortune, some of which was not good fortune, but the fruits of a lifetime of hard work.  Still: luck played a large role in bringing me to where I am now, just as it has (can we be honest?) in your life, too. 

I think about those days of working minimum wage, sometimes, when I write out my check to the IRS.  It might surprise you to know that I don't curse the government as I do this.  Nor do I curse people who need help.  I think of the people who need help as my neighbors and my friends.  I don't think of them as "victims", and they don't think of themselves that way either. The word I'd used to describe them would be Americans, people whose rely upon their President--no matter what party he belongs to -- to serve them with dedication, and courage, and humility.

I can't say I love paying taxes, but I have always thought of taxes, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, as "what we pay to live in a civilized society."  Those taxes go to build roads, and pay the salaries teachers and soldiers. They go to keep the water in the lakes of Maine clean.  I'm glad to do my part to keep the country going. 

People are shocked right now by your words, but I have to say I wasn't shocked at all.  The contempt you display for half the country is exactly what I expect from you, and the other members of the Republican party right now, whose only desire is to get the people who have prospered in this economy -- like me-- to shoulder less and less responsibility for the other half.  I can't understand anyone being surprised by you at all. This is what Republicans do:  in the same way that sharks are drawn to chum.  

Mitt, I'm in the 53%.  I pay a lot in taxes.  I don't especially want them lower.  Because the money our family provides helps keep the dream alive.   Because it's our responsibility. Because we are all in this together.   Because we love our country, and we love the people in it. All of them.

I'm voting for Barack Obama. 
-- Jennifer Finney Boylan 

Jennifer Finney Boylan is the author of twelve books, including the bestseller She's Not There: a Life in Two Genders, and I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted, both published by Random House. A novelist, memoirist, and short story writer, she is also a nationally known advocate for civil rights. Jenny has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Live with Larry King, the Today Show, the Barbara Walters Special, NPR's Marketplace and Talk of the Nation; she is a regular contributor to the op/ed page of the New York Times and Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Since 1988, she has been Professor of English at Colby College in Maine. She has also served on the judging committee of the Fulbright Scholars, administered by the U.S. Department of State. Her next published book will be Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, coming from Crown/Random House in 2013, along with an updated, 10th anniversary edition of She's Not There.