Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Invisible 47%

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of those Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me."

Ralph Ellison, 'The Invisible Man'

I was trying to sort out how horrible I think Mitt Romney's secretly taped fund raising speech is.

The problem I have is that it is terrible on so many levels.

Polls show he has completely lost the black vote (94-0); losing the Hispanic vote and the women's vote, he is left to try and depend on a narrow base of white voters to propel him to the White House.
I'm not sure it will work, but stranger things have happened - hardly any that I can think of now, but I'm sure there are...

No, the video in which he disparages 47% of the country as dependent, self defined victims who pay no taxes, includes an almost imperceptible, and I think horribly shameful moment.

Watch that video and you will see someone crossing in front of the cellphone camera. I thought it was the person with the camera moving around. Then, when the figure crosses the camera again, it's clear that it was a member of the wait staff. The immediate reaction was this is what Romney said in front of rich donors, but that's not entirely true. The wait staff was serving while making these remarks.

I think that is simply callous.

They would fall in that 47% he was talking about. Hard working people, whose job - even if it not their only one - would bethe Americans that the GOP candidate denigrated as those who aren't taking responsibility for their own lives' and/or 'not paying taxes'. If they were students, they might be on on Pell grants - 'dependent' upon government assistance. Whatever the case, they are the ones that Romney was saying he wouldn't be trying to appeal to.

They're invisible. Romney didn't see him. The people in the room didn't see them. Heck, I didn't even see them until they backed off from the camera. Until then they were an obstruction. For those in the room they were an abstraction.

When you don't see the people who serve us and make us comfortable, and help our evenings be more enjoyable. says quite a bit about us. These were the employees of the country club who set up the room, who served the meals and drinks, picked up the dirty dishes and cleaned up the room. Some working those jobs need government assistance of some sort: free and reduced lunch for their children; CHIP and/or Medicaid; they may have had to go to the emergency room instead of a private doctor because those jobs usually don't pay health benefits. Some may be on food stamps if they are only called to work jobs like this when there's a large enough event or if someone calls in sick. Perhaps they take advantage of the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit). They may live in a subsidized apartment. Some our teachers working second jobs. And, no, they don't pay income taxes.

My point is, this 47%, stereotyped and comfortably objectified, are easy to talk about so disdainfully because they are invisible. We look through them to see the politician, the celebrity, our children or simply because we are preoccupied by our own lives. And when we talk about 'the poor', it's easy to imagine that the reason why they work as wait staff in hotels, or country clubs, or McDonalds, or the grocery store, is because they can't or won't do any better for themselves. Or, at best, we often believe that they are working there until they become 'successful'.

But these members of the 47% are our fellow citizens. They are not 'problems' or drains on our society. Yet because we are becoming (if we haven't already become) a country of individualists who are now willing to shred what's left of our social compact, these are the jobs that are not worthy of respect. And the people who take those jobs are not worthy of respect or notice. They are the 47% who don't work as hard as the rest of us. If we make the type of money that enables us to avoid paying all of the taxes we owe, we are 'successful'; if they don't make enough money to pay all the taxes we think they ought to pay, they are 'moochers'.

But the 47% are citizens. And if we don't allow barriers to be placed in their pathway to the ballot box, they'll vote for the candidates who actually see them...

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