It's Alright Mitt, We're Only Bleeding: An Open Letter to Mitt Romney
By now there have been innumerable responses to your comments uttered behind the closed doors of a posh fundraiser in Boca Raton earlier this year. When I first heard about the video, I was interested to learn you had finally stood for something. I hoped that you had finally awoke in the eleventh hour of this election and realized people find you, at worst, horribly dangerous to this country’s future, and at best, totally unrelatable. Then I read the transcript from the infamous “informal talk.”
Let’s be honest, I probably would have been offended by your comments, no matter what was happening in my life at the time. I’m a born and bred liberal. I spent the first decade of my life in Canada, that great nanny state that your ilk fear America will devolve into.
I should have had the same reaction I’ve had to all your many missteps and blunders of the past few months. You’re so out of touch with normal, average people, with their daily stressors and strife.
But this was different. In a horrible moment of clarity, I realized you were talking about me.
As we’ve all realized by now, the 47% is not a homogenous group. Many are existing on benefits for the “Working poor,” many are elderly (what an excuse, right?), many are underemployed and make less than $20,000 a year, and some, yes, are unemployed. The very same people you have repeatedly professed a so fervent desire to help. Just a few weeks ago in Tampa, you promised, if elected, you would create 12 million new jobs. But now your true feelings are clearer than ever: you find the poor repulsive, not worthy of your help or attention.
I don’t think you grasp how many kinds of “poor” exist.
I have been part of the 47% since I left home. You could argue, and I’m sure you would, the last three years were self-inflicted—I was in graduate school. I could have asked my mom for the money for school (per your suggestion), but I doubt she would have had it handy. So, it was loans for me. Plus, a Research Assistant salary of $800 a month.
I like to tell the story from my first year in graduate school, when I called my mom from the dentist’s office to tell her I had to have emergency surgery on an abscessed wisdom tooth. My surprisingly debonair dentist had just towered over me in the chair and told me it couldn’t wait. My jaw was totally infected, swollen to the size of a healthy mango. He told me they had to come out that afternoon, the abscess was pressing on my windpipe.
I have to go to class, I told him, attempting to swallow. I meant, I have nothing to pay you with. My school insurance hadn’t covered my trip to the emergency room the night before, so I was already out $500—probably all my money in the world. I had decided to go at 2 a.m., after fielding three or four haranguing calls from my family. I was reminded that I was responsible for my health.
I reckon there were some members of the 47% in that waiting room that night. I could have asked them, asked the two people huddled under a blanket on the floor or the Mexican woman holding a screaming and coughing infant, but I spent the whole time running to the bathroom to spit blood and pus into the bathroom sink.
I don’t want to scare you, the handsome dentist lied, the following day. But if I let you go home and sleep like this, there’s a chance you’re going to asphyxiate. Doctors are not often members of the 47%, but we pay them to watch out for us. If I was an idealist—or an idiot—I would say we pay our politicians to do the same.
I sobbed on the phone to my mom. While she is not in the 47%, she is miles away from the 1%. She told me to put the procedure on her credit card. She raised me and my sister on her own. Put herself through school and eventually earned her doctorate with two little kids in tow. I believe her when she tells me, We all need some help, sometimes.
A few months ago, I found myself in a different portion of the 47% pie chart. Two weeks after I graduated, I got an entry-level editorial job at a prestigious literary magazine. Minimum wage, but in the industry I have been training and working to be in for the last years of my life. Six weeks and a handful of personnel changes later, the job vanished. It left me and my boyfriend stranded in the town we were already prepared to leave behind. The very thing we were working toward had vanished before we even became familiar with the feeling of it in our hands.
While we attempted to regain our footing, Matt, whose vision has been failing for the past year due to Type 1 diabetes, suddenly lost total vision in his left eye and most of the vision in his right. He was forced to go on disability leave from the job that provided our only steady income up to that point.
My life since then has been drastically different from anything I had ever known. It has meant hours spent looking for jobs in a town where there are precious few. It has involved many empty bottles of Pepto-Bismol, because any food I eat hits my stomach and turns into lava. Nights lying in bed, when my brain will not stop running, spinning worries and calculations that cause me to sweat and itch and feel my heart dance around my chest.
It has meant a mind-numbing game of seeing how I can create a meal from less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes. Coupled with crushing guilt at having to spend the same money on something as unnecessary as cigarettes—a habit I’ve only returned to because of stress. It has left me exhausted and edgy, sending my mother half-joking emails with links to Craigslist ads that offer to harvest my ovum for $3,500.
It means telling Matt that I am unsure if he can get the surgery he needs so he can go back to work, because I’m not sure we can pay for the pre-op office visit. The surgery itself is ok because it will be billed in a later month, in the unknown future, when, we repeat to ourselves as a mantra, things will be ok again.
Do you see how well we are living, Mitt?
In the doctor’s office that morning—I put the visit on the credit card—the nurses pulled out plastic tubs full of arcane and outdated medical equipment. Their fancy computers and sensors couldn’t see behind Matt’s eye because there was so much blood. I knew, once again, we had made the responsible decision.
In the waiting room, an elderly man in a worn plaid shirt and dingy khakis sat patiently as the medical assistant explained his Medicaid payments to him. She explained to him the form she held in her hand, as she had to us. It said we understood we would have to pay for the surgery in full if our insurance company or his Medicaid denied the claim. He nodded quietly and signed—as Matt had—his signature far above the dotted line, crookedly dancing into the white space.
Do you see, Mitt, how much fun we’re all having?
Some people in your campaign are angry that this person snuck into your private meeting and recorded you actually speaking your mind. Somehow, because you intended those words to only be heard by people who could afford to pay $50,000 to hear you speak honestly, that means that the other majority of the country has no right to hear them. That we have no right to be hurt by them.
I doubt I will ever be one of the people in that room. I doubt you will ever be one of the people outside. That doesn’t mean our dreams are equally American. Perhaps you will someday understand that people do not feel entitled to have food and jobs and healthcare and housing handed to them. Perhaps you will someday understand that they simply feel they are entitled to not go without when they are needy.
After the abscess debacle, the much-weakened Affordable Care Act was passed. It allowed me to return to my mom’s insurance, which could, any day, save my life. Forgive me if I feel like I am entitled to this. Forgive me, if I fear losing this small reassurance at the moment I need it most. Can you honestly call that entitlement?
Mitt, I could tell you how much I spent on toilet paper this month. I could tell you what the price of collard greens is when they’re in season in North Carolina, and how much I’ve grown to love them. I could tell you how much it costs to have the lens of an eye removed and replaced with an synthetic one; how much it costs to drain blood and restore hope and a chance of sight.
You stood in Boca Raton and said that half the country doesn’t understand personal responsibility.
I can assure you that I, along with every member of the 47%, am personally responsible for every single dollar that escapes my bank account; for every vial of insulin we buy. I am responsible and thoughtful about every morsel of food that enters my body.
Because each of these decisions is of great consequence.
I am well aware our money behaves very differently. What is a resource to you is a necessity to me. While mine gets closer and closer to depletion, to nothingness, your money acts like two chinchillas in a cage. It sits silently in domestic and foreign bank accounts, and reproduces endlessly. Your total worth is probably not something you think about on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps if you had ever stared at $67.81 in your bank account and not known what would replace it when it inevitably disappears, you would understand why I am so angry with you.
I feel fortunate that I’ve only suffered, so far, through what amounts to a brief moment of living with unemployment and disability. Of coping with the crushing terror and hopelessness that is part and parcel of living in this fashion. I promise you, no one wants to live like this indefinitely.
So Mitt, I close by saying I hope you don’t think I hate you because you’re rich. You dared to paint half the country with one broad brush and deem the poor not worthy of your worry. And so, I have deemed your candidacy not worthy of mine.
Millions of people have been underemployed or unemployed for far more weeks, months, or even years than I have. I have no right to speak for them, nor do you. Just as you have no right to utter the words my fellow Americans and expect any of us to buy your myth for one day longer.
I am praying for the first time in a long while. I am hoping that things will improve, that this struggling and needfulness will stop. That the daily effort of throwing all my hope in someone’s face for $8 an hour will produce some results.
We all have hope because we know we have the power to change our own futures. I think you underestimate our power to affect yours.