Tag Archives: GOP

Perspective vs. Experience: A Presidential Conversation


So I published a post titled A Lack of Perspective on Monday about why I believe that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be president because he can’t understand what it’s like to be poor. That’s dumbing it down a bit, but that’s the general premise.

In response, one of my favorite Facebook critics, Mark Ashley*, asked me whether I really believed that someone had to be poor to understand what poverty is and stated that a person’s actual policies show a lot more about a politician than their life experiences.

I’ll restate his argument here:

Had this been written in 2004, it would have been a great argument against John Kerry. Of course, the alternative was Bush, who also came from wealth, but you have effectively disqualified the likes of JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents.

The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me. How poor is poor? Does one’s family have to have begged at one time to qualify? Been on government assistance? Or is simply struggling to make ends meet enough? I’m not being facetious in asking these questions, and I am well acquainted with living below the poverty line. My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty–nobody is interested in electing a person who has never been successful in life–and many up-from-the-bootstrap people are not particularly sympathetic to the poor either.

Ultimately, there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same. Likewise, many who have been poor and who have never been poor have genuinely good perspectives on poverty and even sometimes good policy proposals. What matters more is how a person has processed those life experiences and what a person chooses to do with them.

I’m not about to offer any defense of Romney, and I do think that life experiences matter, but I am skeptical of the notion that someone has to be/have been [poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, female, male, etc.] in order to empathize with, represent, and lead people who fall into those categories. Show me a person’s actual policies. That, to me, is much more revealing of how a politician thinks.

First, let me address the idea that this argument would have disqualified JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents. On its face, that’s a valid argument, but I believe that there is one important factor that makes this argument moot:

Thanks to Mother Jones for the graph

The income equality gap is higher now than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.

When FDR came to power, despite coming from old New York money, he set out New Deal Legislation, got us through World War II (I am not going to debate the wisdom of either New Deal legislation or his policy decisions in WWII right now) and worked with civil rights organizations like the NAACP. Point being: He wanted to help.

On to JFK. Was he wealthy? Yes. Was he from a wealthy family? Great. But he seemed to understand the problems and priorities of this country in a way that Romney does not. (Kennedy also wasn’t a draft dodger, but that’s another kettle of fish.) Kennedy genuinely wanted to better the lives of his countrymen. I can’t say I’ve seen any indication of that from Romney since his campaign began.

When Mark says “The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me,” I have to say that it’s not to me. He goes on to say that “My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty” and that “there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same.”

Does my argument come down to attitude and life experience as much as it does money? Absolutely. But there’s such a huge gap now between rich and poor that I really feel that Romney and other people in his income bracket just simply don’t get it. He has not ever had to worry about a single thing I do on a daily basis.  And his comments about the 47% being “dependent on government” and that a middle class income is “$200,000 to $250,000,” just for a few examples, show how out of touch he truly is.

This baffles me, considering healthcare and gay marriage in Massachusetts, but I don’t trust that he’ll revert back to being a ‘progressive moderate’ once he takes office.

Obama came up from relatively nothing. His mom, while educated, was not rich. He lived in parts of the world where not many people are rich by anyone’s standards. He went to prep school on scholarship and then to Columbia and Harvard the same way most people in my income bracket would, by shelling out for student loans. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago and organized African-American voter drives.

I could go on and on, but my point is that he gets it. He gets what my problems are. He’s worried about money. He’s had to pay off student loans. He’s worried about health care for his family. He’s experienced the problems of being a minority in this country. And the policies that he’s tried to implement (again, the merits of those are a different argument) reflect that.

So while, yes, a lot of it comes down to empathy and policy, I don’t believe Romney has enough of either to lead our country.

Maybe, until the income gap goes down to levels that make sense, we should only allow people who came up from nothing to run. It might help.

*Mark Ashley is a buddy of mine who is also working to be tenured at a university and so doesn’t want his name associated with silly political blogs at this time. Due to his needing to use a pseudonym and then coming up with one as silly as Mark Ashley, I am dubbing him Professor Who, Master of Mystery. (Feel free to insert a booming voice worthy of that title here.) Prof. Who for short. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, as he’s been set into a contract to write me 8 blog posts by the end of the year.

A lack of perspective


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.

I’m in a memes phase. Sorry y’all.

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.

Yup

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?

And how many nannies did you employ?

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.

Fixin What Ain’t Broke – Voter ID Bill


So yeah, its been a month or so since I’ve posted. Oops.

I don’t really have much of an excuse, except that working full time over break and then starting school has taken a lot out of me. Also, normally I take my politics break over winter break, (there’s only so much I can take before I need some time off and this election cycle was rather insane), and didn’t do so this time. So I’ve been a bit out of the loop. Confession: Still have not watched/listened to/read the State of the Union address. That’s how bad it is. At least I’m still Tweeting.

I’d like to focus on something a little closer to home than national politics today. Shocking, I know! Instead, I want to focus on Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen’s proposed Voter ID bill.

To give you some background: This bill is intended to cut down on Wisconsin voter fraud. An admirable goal, for sure. For example, in the 2008 election, there was a huge stink over ACORN in the US and other smaller pieces of fraud in Wisconsin. But in reality, according to a study from Van Hollen’s office, there were only 18 fraudulent votes out of all 3 million votes cast in the state. Big deal? Maybe, but not huge.

So before we beg  the question of whether this bill is necessary at all, here’s how he wants to do it: by requiring all users to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote. And not just any photo ID, but only drivers licenses, state IDs and military IDs.  For example, UW students could no longer use their UW identification cards along with proof of a current address to vote.

Now, we all already know that getting voters to the polls is a problem. If you’re poor, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re a minority, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re young, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re too old, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re disabled, you’re less likely to vote. Less than half of the people in Wisconsin voted in the 2008 election, and even less in the 2010 midterms. So now, all of a sudden, if you decide, “Hey, I might go vote today!” but you’ve been too poor to get a state ID, you can’t.  If you’re a student from out of state and your license hasn’t been switched over, you can’t vote. If you’re elderly and don’t have a license anymore because you don’t drive, you can’t vote. And if you don’t live close to a DMV or work during business hours? You’re SOL.

One Wisconsin Now keeps pointing out the problem, as does the Government Accountability Board.

See the problem?

But it gets even more confusing. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, to make sure this doesn’t amount to a poll tax, state IDs will no longer cost money. But wait, you say, isn’t there a budget deficit? Doesn’t even that small amount of money help the state? Well, yes, yes it does. Thanks for noting that. You forgot to mention cost of training for state employees to learn the new rules, training for everyone else to make sure it’s enforced, and special exceptions for students, elderly, etc.

In fact, according to the Sentinel, in 2009 this was estimated to have an annual 2.9 million dollar price tag. That’s not counting the training costs (estimated at 2 million by the Government Accountability Board), the loss of DMV revenue, or anything else. That’s just the cost of the program itself.

So while I know the Republicans are trying to put some trust back into the political system, I don’t see how this is going to help. You know that saying, if it’s broke, don’t fix it? Here’s another, if it’s broken, don’t spend money to make it worse.

You can’t get something for nothing.


“America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed, that each of us is endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America is the belief that any man or woman can – given economic, political, and religious liberty – advance themselves, their families, and the common good.”

Boehner Unveils GOP "Pledge"

Boehner Unveils GOP "Pledge" photo courtesy of USA Today

Good enough. Fair enough. Absolutely right. Also the introduction to the G.O.P.’s new “Pledge to America,” a 48 page manifesto that states what the GOP hopes to accomplish if/when they take back Congress.

In their introduction alone you’d think the Republican half of Congress would have agreed with Obama’s policies and pushed things through in the last two years. For example, even if you ignore the fact that “any man or woman” includes the poor, the uninsured, the homeless, immigrants, minorities, or the LGBT community, you’d think that helping the middle class  and small businesses with stimulus money or controlling big spending that killed the middle class in the first place would make sense. Let me give another example:

“America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny.

“Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.”

True. And guess what? With 66% of the vote, in 2008 we did just that. We elected our first black president. We overwhelmingly elected Democrats to Congress. We wanted our elected officials to cooperate for once and finally GET SOMETHING DONE. We believed that those of us that ‘yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine our own destiny’ would get health care, would get help getting an education, would get help finding jobs, would get help with housing so that we could figure out our destiny. That’s hard to do while living hand-to-mouth. We wanted our sons and daughters home and for the billions of dollars we’re spending building other country’s economies to benefit us.

And guess what you did, Republicans? You stalled everything! You made sure there was so much misinformation, so much infighting, so much sheer ridiculousness that people still don’t know how the health care bill works. (Now granted, that’s not all your fault. Obama wasn’t helpful either. But he was busy trying to get the damn thing through in the first place.) People honestly think that Obama isn’t an American citizen. That he’s a Muslim even though he goes to a Christian church (not that that should matter in a country built on religious freedom). That he’s going to send old people to “death camps.”

And even those of you who know this isn’t right, know that laws like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discriminate against those brave enough to serve our country, won’t stand up! (I’m looking at you Senator Susan Collins of Maine.)

And you want to issue a manifesto?!?

So here’s what it says, in brief: They want to repeal the health care bill. They want to extend the Bush era tax cuts for those making over $250,000 a year. They want to freeze stimulus spending. They want to freeze hires in government departments. They oppose taxes on carbon fuels. They oppose government regulation of Freddie and Frannie.

How will this help our economy?!?

So, you’re going to take health care away from children with incurable conditions that are no one’s fault. From those, like me, working 3 jobs and still unable to afford health insurance. From kids finishing college and looking for a job in this horrible economy who get sick or hit by a car, that under the new bill are now allowed to stay on their parent’s health insurance another few years. I think you get the idea.

You want to extend tax cuts from the old administration that got us in this mess in the first place. That’s not going to help the disappearing middle class. I hope they realize the wealth gap is reaching Great Depression era standards.

You want to freeze spending, and freeze hiring? You really, really, truly want to stop the government from HIRING PEOPLE THAT NEED JOBS? Wow.

And oh, you want to stop regulation of the banks that got us into this mess in the first place. Double wow.

Here’s a newsflash: You can’t get something for nothing. You can’t take away health insurance and expect people to be able to contribute to a thriving economy. You can’t be a world leader when others are pushing ahead with green initiatives and we’re not giving companies the economic push they need to do it. You can’t have a healthy economy by taxing those that currently have no money and foreclosed mortgages. You can’t stop hiring people and expect your economy to grow. You can’t ensure this doesn’t happen again without some oversight into those who got us here in the first place, since they obviously can’t be trusted to read the signs themselves.

As you say yourselves: “In town halls and on public squares, in every corner of this country, people have gathered and spoken out – in small groups and larger crowds, through phone calls and in letters, through websites and new technologies.

Though these petitions come from different walks, their message is uniform: Washington has not been listening.”

Hey GOP, it’s time for you to listen.