Thursday, September 20, 2012

Katie Cortese's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,
As a member of the 47%, I have to say, it’s uncanny how well you know me.

First, as you said, I am dependent upon government in many ways. As I write this, a battalion of orange construction vehicles are finishing work on the inky black strip of asphalt that now extends between curbs boasting brand-new storm drains. My husband and I cannot afford to fix the cracks in our driveway, never mind install drains in the street on our own dime. For this and so many other services, I have the City of Tallahassee to thank, as well as federal funds dedicated to maintaining the nation’s infrastructure.

You said I believed myself a victim, and this too is true. As a woman, my body has been made a battleground for political gain. I am facing the forcible disenfranchisement of my basic right to make choices about my health. When I was without healthcare, I was able to push through the ever-present protesters at my local Planned Parenthood to receive essential services such as pelvic exams, breast cancer screenings, and pap smears. When you say you plan to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, I feel not only personally victimized, but I fear for the women and men who rely on the organization for affordable preventative and palliative care.

You are right again when you suggested I believe that the government has a responsibility to care for me. That is not to say I believe anyone should take care of me. In Lincoln’s words,  the governance of the United States of America should be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It should be in no government official’s power to “stop worrying” about any subsection of them. Many of the 47% are elderly citizens who are finally collecting on the monies they’ve paid into Social Security and Medicare. I believe the government should care about protecting the rights of this “voting block” as much as I do.

I also believe it’s a matter of human decency to help to feed and house those who are (temporarily or terminally) unable to do so for themselves. What’s more—and please excuse me for getting personal, but your attack on the 47% was nothing if not personal—so do you, according to a recent poll in which 73% of 1,000 LDS individuals said working to help the poor is essential to being a good Mormon. 

Beyond polls and basic human rights, what I cannot understand is your reluctance to celebrate your father’s rise from welfare to wealth. If you owned the way he achieved success, instead of characterizing government assistance as an enabling drag on society, perhaps you’d win over those independent, thoughtful, undecided voters you spoke of at your dinner. I bet they’d have stories to swap. I could have told you about my grandfather, for instance. An Italian immigrant and WWII veteran, he worked his way from a crowded apartment in Boston’s North End to owning a two-family house in Somerville and a summer cottage near Cape Cod. After the war, his diagnoses of “nerves” (PTSD) earned him a small veteran’s benefit check for the rest of his life. He took what was his due, even if it was so little that combined with the social security he and his wife collected after retirement, they still didn’t trigger the lowest tax bracket. If he was alive today, he’d be one of your 47%. Or what about my mother, who lived in a government-subsidized housing project in Charlestown, sewed her own clothes through high school, and paid for college with a cocktail of government loans, scholarships, and part-time work? Her master’s degree landed her a job that enabled her to pay back all her loans as lump sums. For my family and yours, temporary government assistance led to success and self-sustainability, not dependency.

As for my own taxes, you were right there as well. I make less than $14,000 a year, which means that while federal taxes are withheld from each paycheck, I get most of it back every April. In my case, this salary represents my choice to pursue a doctorate degree that will position me to teach writing on the college level. While I hope to make a living wage soon—and will gladly pay federal and state taxes on whatever that figure may be—it’s a great comfort to live in a country with resources for citizens in need as the future is ever uncertain.

Finally, Mr. Romney, as you predicted, President Obama has my vote. I do want to thank you, though, for accidentally sharing your true feelings with us. I hope your words will give those independent, thoughtful, undecided voters something more to consider.


Katie Cortese, Card-Carrying 47-Percenter

Katie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and is currently a PhD student at Florida State. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative magazine, River Styx, New Madrid, Main Street Rag, Harpur Palate, Cimarron Review, NANO Fiction, Crab Orchard Review, Willow Springs, Passages North, and elsewhere.