Let’s say you grew up poor. How poor? Let’s say 8 people in a 2 bedroom house poor; 1 bathroom by the way. Let’s say you know what it is like to drink powdered milk. Let’s say you know what it is like to have the gas turned off and be cold in the winter. Let’s say you know the humiliation of having the lunch tickets at school because you are poor. Let’s say you know the tension that surrounds Christmas and back-to-school clothes buying because you are poor. Let’s say that your high school was not in the highest tax bracket in your county and that said high school led the county in teen pregnancy rate. Let’s say that despite all this you become a first generation, economically disadvantaged student…and you graduate. Let us go further and say that you earn a scholarship to a master’s program and earn your master’s degree. Let us say you took out student loans because, of course, you were poor.
Fast forward to 2012 and Mitt Romney says that 47% of people in the U.S. won’t take responsibility for their lives. Are you now angry at Mr. Romney? Do you look at your retirement numbers and think that you didn’t take responsibility for your life? Do you hold down a job, pay taxes, have a wife and child, and think that you have not taken responsibility for your life because you are not wealthy? Do you, despite the urge to resist, despite your knowledge of self-fulfilling prophecy, THINK THAT YOU DESERVE IT? Do you? Has the message been said too many times to be false? Have you worn down, eroded your once held belief that you could escape, if not the financial poverty, at least the poverty of the mind, the belief that you are worthy and have dignity, despite your financial situation?
Do you believe them? Do you believe that the playing field is level? Do you believe that the past has no bearing? That not having is no reason for not getting? Do you now agree with them that circumstance is not a factor? Isn’t just the case that, as George Will postulates, that the cream rises to the top and you have not risen because you are not the cream? Are you now a social Darwinist and believe that, the less worthy are the poor, those that will not pass on their genes due to inferior constitution? Maybe you agree. Maybe you didn’t use to, while in undergrad, holding court in the classroom…or in grad school when your advisor mentioned an Ivy League school for your PhD.
Are you a Christian? Do you believe that all persons have dignity? That’s interesting; George Will doesn’t think that dignity rises to the top, the cream, the better people, the UN-POOR rise to the top. And why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t the rich have more dignity? Why shouldn’t the rich have more importance? Why?
Have you changed? Have you selected the history that supports your argument? Have you become, in Cornel West’s words, myopic? But don’t you wonder? Don’t you wonder how Wall Street can have lobbyists that spend 1 million dollars a day? Don’t you wonder how that isn’t fascism? Don’t you think that taking a race of people and enslaving them and cutting off their access (or right to) knowledge is going to impact their economic future? Of course you don’t wonder about those things and neither does Mitt Romney.
Is it ultimately about Mitt Romney? Of course it’s not. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I have anhedonia, just like in Franzen’s The Corrections. Maybe I’m cynical because life has beaten me down a bit. But maybe in spite or better yet, because of these things, I can face the truth. The shitty, unpleasant, can’t change without facing, set-you-free-but-fuck-you-up-at-the-same-time-truth. Hell, maybe it’s you.