A couple Fridays ago, I was sitting in an over-filled Panera Bread over on the East Side with a group of co-workers we jokingly call The Young Fogies.
We’re the youngest workers at my company, the most recently hired and all close enough to being in college to have some sort of sense of idealism left. In an effort not to discuss about a work week that had left us all desperate for 5 o’clock, the talk turned to politics.
Despite our disagreements (Dems, Independents, Reps and a non-voter all at the same table, oh my!), we all seemed to agree on one thing: “I don’t want someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor to run my country.”
Now, this may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of presidential qualifications, but as young voters we all coalesced around this one point.
The reason we thought Mitt Romney is a bad idea isn’t his lack of plans, his refusal to release tax returns, his Mormonism, his time at Bain Capital or even the fact that he can’t seem to keep to a given opinion for more than a day at a time.
It’s that you can’t know what it’s like to be poor until you’ve been there. It just doesn’t compute.
“Most of us won’t be more than middle-class in our lives and that’s if we’re lucky. How can someone who places $10,000 bets understand that?”
The resounding answer? You can’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I would love to be in a monetary situation where I could place a bet that large and have it be a normal day.
But considering that a few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to go to Panera for lunch without putting off paying my bills for two weeks, I doubt that will ever happen. My young coworkers agreed as well. Right now, we’re just all glad we have jobs at all. All we’re hoping for is enough money each year to pay off our loans and eventually afford the lifestyle our parents were lucky enough to have. We all have friends who haven’t been so fortunate, who are stuck in their parent’s basements staring at fading Obama posters, as Paul Ryan put it a couple weeks ago, wishing even one company would call them back.
And yet, I don’t understand that very well, myself. I was lucky enough to get an internship right out of school, to get one job with low pay and then another one that bumped me up to a higher tax bracket less than a year later. I had a legitimate major, two or three jobs, and the lucky ability to be in the right place at the right time.
While I wasn’t getting paid much for a while, it’s difficult to understand how someone couldn’t be getting paid at all.
However, when a couple kids with a dog and hippie clothes approach me and ask to bum a cigarette or for a couple cents to get them on down the road, I give what I have. It seems to surprise some people, but I spent much of my life on the road, picking up stray hitchhikers and asking strangers for change to fill our tank again. I still buy my clothes at Walmart and thrift stores out of sheer force of habit. So I get why they might need some extra help.
My point is this: If I can’t understand how someone can’t find a job when I’ve been further down the road to poverty than almost any of my friends, how can someone who has never had to worry about finding a job and can lay off an entire workforce without a second thought understand my problems?
If Ann Romney can’t understand why raising children and volunteering doesn’t count as being a working mom, how can her husband help single or working mothers?
If Mitt never had to learn about the problems of paying back student loans, how is he supposed to understand how important Pell Grants are to the average college student?
The answer is while he can in theory, he will never truly get it.
And while I freely admit that I don’t understand the problems of the upper classes, I’d like there to be someone in the White House who started where I am and became president anyway. Maybe then I’ll actually have a fighting chance of moving up myself.