The Hard Days As A 47-Percenter

I have a thought about the infamous “47 percent” remarks by Gov. Mitt Romney, which were secretly taped at a private fundraiser back in May.

In case you don’t know what he said or have forgotten, here is the quote:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it – that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

“When people say the poor should pull them selves up by their bootstraps, where do they think those bootstraps come from?”

I will admit to you here and now that I was once a member of the 47 percent club.

It was many years ago. I was on my own, having fled from an abusive relationship and struggling to support myself and attend school at the same time. Although I had very little in the way of money or possessions, I did have something more important: a burning certainty that getting an education would be my stepping stone to a better, more independent and expansive life. That vision of success was what propelled me forward for the next few years.

That, and significant help from Uncle Sam. My salary at the time was so meager that I was exempt from paying federal income tax. And I also relied on government help another way: in the form of Pell grants, which paid for huge chunks of my tuition. I could not have afforded school otherwise.

Did I enjoy being poor? Did I squeal with glee at having evaded the taxman and taking free tuition money from the government?

Hell no. Not for one bleeping second.

And did I consider myself a victim? And not just a victim, but one who refused to take personal responsibility for my life?

What do you think? The truth is I hated being poor. I was ashamed. I wanted out of what I saw was a potentially hopeless life path. I took responsibility in all the ways I could, and that included government assistance.

When people say the poor should pull them selves up by their bootstraps, where do they think those bootstraps come from? The help I received – from both the government and from people who cared about me – were my bootstraps. I grabbed them and hung on and used them to climb up, and I have never, ever stopped being grateful.

And after I graduated and finally found work that paid enough so that I could file federal income tax … well, I celebrated.

Hallelujah! Bring on the forms – I was officially not poor anymore!

So, yes, I was once part of the 47 percent. I’m not ashamed of that. I would be more ashamed to turn my back on people who need a safety net and a helping hand to put their lives on a better path.