Although my parents are not, I am part of the 47% of the population who will vote for President Obama without considering you for a split second. Although I do pay taxes (don’t tell Illinois, but I still owe them a couple hundred for 2011), I am part of a disturbing trend: Like many of my peers, I am more educated than my parents yet doing much, much worse financially than they are. When they were my age, my parents had four children (two of whom were in private school), two cars, a lovely four-bedroom house on two rolling acres in the exurbs --but just one job and one bachelor’s degree between the two of them. I have a master’s degree, a 1999 Honda Civic, a part-time job, and $15,000 in medical and credit card debt. (Children? Oh, I’ll never be able to afford those. I do have a cat.)
I inherited my dad’s work ethic, sense of humor, and integrity but not his entrepreneurial spirit. As a kid, I had a Kool-Aid stand, but it didn’t occur to me to charge for it. I didn’t have it in me to put it all on the line to make some scratch the way my father did. (And frankly, I don’t think he would have lent me money to start a business, anyway.) Instead, I channeled my energy toward education, earning my master’s degree with the idealistic goal of teaching English for an urban community college. I started at community college, Mitt, and I believe in them. They’re wonderful places for the 47% who don’t have the standardized test scores, relatives, or money to secure places in prestigious universities.
Unfortunately, the United States was not the same place when I finished grad school in 2002 as it was when I devised my plan in 1999. Now, ten years later, and even with twelve years’ teaching experience and several publications, I’m still continuously looking for work. I had a full time job for a while outside of academia, but I was laid off in 2009 after fourteen months. I collected unemployment for a while, too, Mitt. It wasn’t nearly what I earned at my job, and I preferred working, but I was able to keep up with important payments and COBRA, and I’m grateful for that. I’m lucky now to have health insurance through my domestic partner’s employer, but when I wasn’t insured, I needed an ankle x-ray that took me nearly three years to pay off. Can you imagine that, Mitt? I had three jobs at the time. Can you imagine having three jobs but still not being able to afford health insurance? After putting two more doctor visits and antibiotic prescriptions on my credit card to cover two bouts of strep that same winter, I cut off my phone (although, I admit, I still had a refrigerator) and found an HMO. It was overpriced, had an enormous deductable, and didn’t cover pre-existing conditions, gynecological exams, pregnancy, or birth control. In fact, in the two years I paid for that policy, I never submitted a claim. Luckily, Planned Parenthood was there for me. Can you imagine waiting for almost five hours in a crowded waiting room at Planned Parenthood for a pap smear because, of your city’s almost 600,000 people, a full fourth were living in poverty? Can you imagine being sent away at 5:00 without ever seeing the doctor, frustrated because you could have used that time to pick up a shift at one of the restaurants you work for?
Can you imagine waiting tables with a graduate degree, Mitt? Scratch that—can you imagine waiting tables?
I’m not sure if you’re capable of empathy, Mitt, but your actions and words suggest you aren’t. I don’t begrudge anyone for their success. Your money has nothing to do with why I’m voting for President Obama. I’m voting for the President because when I hear him speak, I can feel that he became a lawyer and chose to run for office because he genuinely loves this country and its people. When I see you speak, I see a man whose first thought upon waking up is “Me” and whose last thought upon going to sleep is “Me.”
You don’t represent people like me, Mitt, and you never will.
Denise Du Vernay
Denise Du Vernay is adjunct professor of English at St. Xavier University in Chicago. She is the co-author of The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield (McFarland, 2010) and has contributed to SpongeBob SquarePants and Philosophy, Breaking Bad and Philosophy, and the forthcoming anthology Homer Simpson and the Promise of Politics: Popular Culture as Political Theory (University Press of Kentucky, 2013).