Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Julianna Baggott's Voice

[This is the post that sparked the creation of this upcoming collection of voices. 
Posted on the morning of Tuesday September 18th, 2012 on the Baggott Asher and Bode blog.]

Dear Mitt Romney, 

Last night, I saw the video tape on Mother Jones of you telling a room of wealthy donors what you really think. You said, "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing." You added that your "job is not to worry about those people."

There are so many disconnects here that it's hard to know where to start.

First of all there are Obama supporters who voted for him in the last election and will vote for him again. You seem to be saying that these 47% of voters are on government assistance, which is obviously illogical and it baffled me. But then I learned that the 47% is code -- it's the percentage that many Republicans have pointed to as those Americans who pay no taxes. And so you are saying that the 47% of those not paying taxes are voting for Obama, in their own self-interest, which is so incredibly wrong for so many sad reasons ... 

There's the sad fact that our poorest states -- those with the highest percentage of people on government assistance -- vote Republican. 

There's the sad fact that this 47% includes the elderly who are on social security -- a system they paid into all their working lives -- a group that often votes Republican -- and those are votes you desperately want and certainly need. Elderly white men? If you don't nail that demographic, you're done.

There's the sad fact that the global economy buckled, putting millions out of work, people who found themselves -- many for the first time -- on government assistance in the form of unemployment benefits, again systems that they had paid into all their lives. You surely want the unemployed vote. 

And there's the sad fact that your 47% includes households that end up owing no federal income tax -- they have jobs and pay payroll taxes but because of low income and deductions, they pay no federal income tax.

This was my family during our early years, Mr. Romney. My husband and I met and got married in less than a year. I was twenty-three. We started having children when I was twenty-five. We now have four. But it was a struggle at first -- that's the part that might not sound familiar.

In those early years, we scraped to get by. My husband's first job at a weekly newspaper in a small town earned him $17,000 a year. We also took in foreign students who rented rooms from us through a local language institute. Because we made so little, were paying back college and graduate school loans, and had children (tax deductions), we didn't earn enough to trigger federal tax payment.

We didn't feel entitled to anything. We were not victims. We were only dependent on government like everyone else is -- public schools, policemen, firemen, roads, sanitation, parks, safe food, safe medications ...

And now I pay taxes in the highest bracket. From what I've read, you don't -- despite the fact that you're part of the wealthiest 1% in this country and I am not.

If  you met my family at a rally, you would say that we are the ones you are trying to protect. But, in truth, we represent the ones you look down on, the ones you think of as self-proclaimed victims, the ones you don't have to worry about.

We are "those people." And the most chilling part of your speech is when you say that it's not your job "to worry about those people."

"Those people."

And there it is. Your divided view of our country. Us and those people.

And then, when asked about the video tape, you had an opportunity to show regret, to apologize to "those people". Instead you embraced what you said.

I read it on CNN. "Romney, in his press conference Monday night, said he could have stated his original comments 'more clearly' but said he was trying to point out the differences between the two campaigns. We have a very different approach - the president and I - between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams,' Romney said."

And so now 47% of the country are without dreams? That's a lot of the country to write off. Those are a lot of dreams to discount.

This was, for me, the moment when you proved that you have no idea who you've insulted -- and insulted deeply. You have no idea who the American people are -- our incredible diversity of life experience, our incredible ability to dream even during the hardest times.  

If those were the choices, Mr. Romney -- us and those people -- I would invite you to keep your us. I'd be with those people. Proudly.

But those aren't the choices. Not at all. An America made up of us and those people will fail. It is doomed. It's not the world I want for my children.

And whenever you want to swap tax filings, Mr. Romney, say the word. You show yours. I'll show mine. Unlike you, I'm not ashamed of what I've paid. 

Meanwhile don't worry about me, my husband, and our children. We are voting Obama.


Julianna Baggott, One of Those People, Proudly.

Julianna Baggott is the author of eighteen books, most recently Pure, and, as Bridget Asher, The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Best American Poetry, Best Creative Nonfiction, and NPR.