For those who know me, to say that I’m a Democrat and an Obama supporter is pretty much a given. I never took kindly to former governor Romney while he was in charge in Massachusetts; to say I agree with his policies or the current Republican party platform would merely be lies, fairytales, and fallacies. And I could sit here and say that a man who pays less in taxes than his secretary and shuttles money to off-shore bank accounts to avoid paying more in taxes has no right to speak.
But I’ll attempt to be bipartisan on this one (I’ve been trying that lately, although admittedly it’s not going so well) and give Romney the benefit of the doubt. Well, sort of. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if President Obama had said the same thing, I would be equally offended. And here’s why.
Saying that the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes are essentially freeloaders is, in fact, insulting and inaccurate no matter who says it. How can I make that claim you ask? Simple – I used to be a member of the 47% until last year. And while I was a member of the 47%, I was doing anything but mooching off the federal government. Those years were filled with studying in college and medical school and working part-time jobs in retail to pay for books, clothes, and a social life. Those years also included my first three years of surgical residency – with 80 hour work weeks and the at least weekly 24+ hr shift – while paying back student loans obtained to fund my medical school education.
It becomes more offensive when I think about those words in relation to my parents – two people who worked tirelessly to put food on the table and put three kids through college. Two people who came to this country with their parents in order to make a better life for themselves and their children. They were the typical mom and dad team – trying to make ends meet. My parents never made enough money to pay income taxes after all of the credits and deductions – they also never needed food stamps or unemployment benefits or welfare. My parents were small-scale economic contributors – through the staff that worked for them, providing health insurance benefits, purchasing goods from local companies in the Pittsburgh area. They also paid business taxes, property taxes, payroll taxes, state and local taxes, etc. My parents were solidly in the 47%, constantly working harder to make more money to provide their children with opportunities they didn’t have.
In fact, the great majority of Americans out there will belong to the 47% at least once in their lives. Most Americans have worked a minimum wage job as a teenager (or as an adult for that matter) that doesn’t make enough money to qualify for income tax payments. Or when they become elderly and no longer work, and therefore they don’t pay income taxes. Many Americans out there will at some point lose their job and file for unemployment, and not pay income taxes because their employer or the economy has decided they are no longer necessary.
But the former governor forgets one extremely important detail about why 47% of the nation does not pay income taxes (yes, I’m going to break my non-partisan rule for a second), because many of the tax breaks and credits that Americans qualify for were enacted by a string of Republican presidents… Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush (both of them). The idea behind those tax breaks and credits? Better to give people money back that they’ve already earned rather than a free hand out – and then insult them for getting that money back. And where do the majority of the people in the 47% live? In states the consistently vote for Republican (the “red” states) and happen to be some of the poorest in the country.
Not surprisingly, I’m not the only one who was offended. The traditional and social media certainly hasnt the let issue drop, and people on both sides of the political aisle have condemned the remarks. But to some people of the general public, the words were downright insulting. CNN conducted an unscientific poll on Facebook asking people to respond to the former governor’s comments. Interestingly they heard from both Romney supporters and Obama supporters; from those in the 47% and others in the 53%.
I wont detail everything they said, but one member of the 53% said “I find his remarks to be un-American, shocking and insulting. Elitism, silver-spoon arrogance and outright divisive statements, with undertones of racism, cannot be attributes of an American president.” I think that about sums it up.