Today, a number of news sites ran a story about a statement made by Mitt Romney at a private fundraising event. The event was secretly taped and the video was given to Mother Jones. Part of the statement runs as follows:
“There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. …”
What follows is an open letter I wrote in response to this statement.
Dear Governor Romney:
I am the 47% and I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced. Last year I was one of the thousands of American who, as you put it, paid no taxes. I received a refund on my federal income taxes equal to the amount I had paid in throughout the year as regular payroll deductions. I did pay state and local taxes for a variety of services that I did not receive a full refund for. (Side note: if you want to see my returns, I’ll be happy to share.)
Like most Americans who ‘pay no taxes,’ as you put it, I made very little money last year. As a college student and a member of the working poor, I came in well under the established poverty line. I work very hard for the privilege of being poor in this country. That’s not sarcasm. I acknowledge that people like me who were born poor to uneducated parents have a better shot here than they do in many places in the world. I admit my privilege. Because of this IRS verified poverty, I am able to take advantage of government services such as the Pell Grant in order to better my lot. That money isn’t free, Mr. Romney. That money comes at the cost of long hours studying, working to maintain an excellent GPA and stay eligible for that aid. It also comes at the cost of putting off starting a family until I am more able to provide for one. What the poor lack in money, we make up in oceans of lost time.
What I have received I have not viewed, ever, as an entitlement. I am not entitled to housing, as you pointed out. I work (sometimes two jobs at once) to afford housing that I share with four adults. I am not entitled to, and certainly have gone without, healthcare. California is not as lucky as your great state of Massachusetts, and no program covered my health insurance until I started at UC Berkeley. I do not feel like a victim. I feel like a citizen of a great and troubled country, and I reap the benefits and troubles as they come. I did not and will not vote for the president because he promised me a rose garden or a tax cut or an easier life through the wonders of welfare.
I voted and will vote for Barack Obama because he supported and will support the programs that make it possible for me to believe that class mobility is still a reality in this country and that if I am willing to take responsibility for my own life, as you so callously accused me of failing at, I can someday join the class of people who actually pay taxes and keep this great and troubled nation running.
Willard Mitt Romney, my name is Meg Elison. I am a hardworking liberal patriot who believes that healthcare should be affordable and accessible, education should be an option for anyone who can do the work, and I am not a victim of one damned thing. I am willing to put my money where my mouth is, do the grueling work it takes to claw my way out of generations of poverty so that my tax dollars can go to the next bootstrapper who can do it, and to programs that help create equality for those who have it harder than myself. I am the 47% of America you have derided and dismissed, and I don’t think you know me at all.