Much metaphorical ink has been used writing about Romney talking to his people (rather than YOU people) and things just keep getting worse. I would be remiss in failing to point out how The Daily Show and The Colbert Report both ripped into him, and highly recommend them.1 Still, I am reminded of two sobering conversations I had in 2008 during the run-up to the election.
Working in Washington DC, I’ve had a lot of co-workers who are insulated from what is to most people a very painful set of realities:
- it really sucks not having money, and it gets worse the further we get from the days of the Welfare State.
- Fewer good jobs are being created, while more paycheck-to-paycheck jobs are opening up (at a slower rate than the good jobs are disappearing).
- The less money you already have, the harder it is to get money.
- Racism, classism, and sexism are still hugely powerful second-order effects regarding your income, because who you know socially, academically, and professionally trumps everything else except how much money you have (and race, class, occupation, and gender have a powerful impact on all of those things).
- If you’re homeless, you’re almost certainly fucked.
- If you’re homeless and an addict, you’re beyond fucked.
The first conversation could basically be summed up as “I worked my way up out of a poor neighborhood with no advantages, the rest of them don’t because they’re lazy.” The person saying this had very few privilege cards to play (if any)2, and they had indeed worked their way up from the bottom, taking advantage of some very lucky breaks that few people get. I do not mean to denigrate this person’s accomplishments, because they worked very hard to do (and to be qualified) to do exactly the right things when those breaks presented themselves. What I took issue with was the categorical judgement of people who had to work much harder to be comfortable than (shall we say) the scion of a wealthy family that had a history of attending (and giving money to) Ivy League universities. Plain and simple, inequalities resulting from the fact that life isn’t fair say absolutely nothing about whether or not an individual is lazy or industrious.
The second conversation was about a Fox News report about Acorn workers conducting voter registration drives for the homeless. My co-worker was aghast at how underhanded this was, and the only thing I could say (testily) was “they’re citizens too.” Yes, it is difficult for the homeless to document that they are who they say they are, but they get a vote just like the rest of us (and the line between them and us is much thinner than most uf us with homes would like to admit). I really am having trouble phrasing what feels like a very basic concept, but the person is more important than their papers and property. You can have a person who does not have the necessary documentation and that person still needs to eat, but there are lots of sets of documentation with no corresponding person attached to them (hint: read the obituaries). As such, if you’re going to run an election and consider the papers to be more important than the person, then what you are also doing is levying an implied poll tax. I’ll leave it to Dr. Benjamin Franklin to make the point very clear, just substitute “Photo ID” for “jackass:”
Today a man owns a jackass worth fifty dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the meantime has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers — but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?
I’ll wrap this up: Romney’s statement of contempt for the 47% of our citizens who owe no Federal income tax (but pay all sorts of other taxes)3) really hits hard, because it’s practically written into the GOP platform. People (in their eyes) just need jobs more than assistance. In this vein, the idea of worker’s rights that really only took hold in the 20th century is now “antiquated,” and we need to be worrying about union violence. I might be stating the obvious here, but this is looking at the interests of the people who Romney was speaking to as legitimate, while looking at those who he was speaking about as misguided regarding what their interests are.
This projection of characteristics upon people whose backgrounds you have no familiarity with in any way is like a living, breathing example of the Fundamental Attribution Error written in ten-foot high letters of fire. Now I’m no fan of the Democrats, as they are far too good at throwing people under the bus4, but I can not countenance the idea of voting for a party whose policy platform is deeply informed by such a flawed and egocentric perception of both human beings and reality itself.
1. Colbert’s “to the Russian Fuck Pit!” is now a meme among my friends that will probably endure for some time. Yes, my friends are as classy as I am.
2. Not giving any more details, because they aren’t necessary.
3. Like many of us, at points when I was younger I was one of the (currently) 47%. While I have indulged in my share of stupid and lazy, I’ve also done my time working at minimum-wage jobs, being a student, taking what work I could get as a temp, been an “independent contractor,” or just plain been SOL. While I’ve only collected about $650 worth of employment in my entire life, I’ve been grateful that it (and food stamps) were there to fall back on, especially for those single mothers among my friends who have relied upon them to survive and feed their children.