Over the last few days, I've gotten a real life view of what a Romney-Ryan world would actually look like -- and it's not a pretty picture.
On Tuesday night, I went to a fundraiser for a local community leader whose kidneys have failed. He lost his good job and now he could lose his life because he can't afford to continue his insurance. Oh, and he may lose his house, as well.
Even as I wrote my check at the crowded bar, I was shaking my head in sadness that in 2012 in the United States of America, Dave has to rely on the financial ability and generosity of his friends in order to get the life-saving care he needs. I thought about the donation cans one sees at convenience stores that carry the sad story of a child with cancer and encourage shoppers to drop in their change. And I realized that this is Romney-Ryan World.
Last Saturday, a glorious fall-like day in Chicago, I went to a suburban Farmer's Market to meet voters and buy tomatoes. I met a woman named Darryl whose first words to me were, "I'm in a bad mood." Why? Because, despite endless applications and many interviews, despite a burning desire to work, Darryl has been unemployed for four years. Her home is in foreclosure, her furnace is broken and, though she has nine more months to keep her home, she said she will move to her car when it gets cold if the furnace isn't fixed. This once solidly middle-class woman spent her 401(k), never imagining she wouldn't find another job. She has no family; there aren't going to be any fundraisers for her. She looked at me with frustration and some amazement at her circumstances and said, "I just can't take more rejection." But what really animated her was her fury at "politicians who look at me as someone who doesn't want to work!" This was before the Romney video, but she anticipated his words. Welcome to Romney-Ryan World.
Friends helping friends is a good thing. But it is no substitute for public institutions that keep people, in this richest country in the world, from dying from treatable illnesses or living in their cars.
Of course, my office is determined to find them the help they need, but in Romney-Ryan World that obviously makes me an enabler of "freeloaders" like Darryl and Dave. And if Dave had simply waited until 2014 to get sick, ObamaCare would have been in place so he (and everyone else) could afford needed health services. Unless, of course, the Republicans are successful in repealing ObamaCare, which Romney promised to do on his first day.
By now most everyone has heard Mitt Romney at a $50,000 per plate fundraiser (about the amount an average American household makes in a year), answering a rich man's question: "How are you going... to convince everybody you've got to take care of yourself."
Mitt was ready with the answer, part of which is worth repeating. "There are 47 percent of the people... who are dependent on government, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it... These are people who pay no income tax. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Shame on all those "moochers" -- minimum wage workers, children, old people, unemployed -- who get an average food stamp benefit of $4.50 per day. All those homeless Veterans should get off their lazy, and maybe injured, butts, get a lucrative job and pay some income taxes. Mitt Romney wants those greedy students who need a Pell Grant to complete their education to "shop around" for an affordable school or break down and "ask your parents for a loan." Or maybe they should do what he did -- sell some stock. Great advice, Mitt.
Lucky Dave. Now that he's so sick, he won't have to pay income taxes. Darryl is one of the 47 percent. She took early Social Security and on top of her $16 in food stamps, she gets $1,600 every month -- a benefit she earned but one that doesn't cover her bills. She and all the others have also earned Mitt Romney's contempt. He said, "My job is not to worry about those people." Romney-Ryan World is a comfortable place for him.
Let's be clear. You don't have to be poor to earn Romney's disdain. The 47 percent includes millions of middle class Americans who benefit from public programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid to pay for nursing home care, Pell grants and student loans, Veteran's health care, the GI bill, and unemployment compensation -- successful programs that make our country better and stronger.
There are other Americans who paid no income taxes that Mitt Romney failed to mention, maybe because some of them were in the room with him, and maybe because he is likely one of them. According to the Tax Policy Center, there were 7,000 individuals with income of one million dollar or more in 2011 who paid $5 or less in taxes. In Romney-Ryan World, these are not "entitled" people; they are the smart ones who most definitely "care for their lives."
I simply refuse to believe that Mitt Romney's cold, selfish, self-satisfied vision represents the views of most Americans, and not simply because so many of our brother and sisters, friends and neighbors today are looking to government for just a little help.
Lt. Colonel Tammy Duckworth, a true American hero now running for Congress in Illinois, told me a story that exemplifies the best of American values.
Tammy was piloting a helicopter when it was shot down in Iraq. A young, injured gunner in the unit she was commanding, rather than running to the evacuation helicopter, further risked his life by guarding the perimeter in the ongoing firefight until Tammy was evacuated. She later asked him why he didn't run. He said simply, "Because we don't leave anyone behind." Tammy, who lost both her legs that day, adds, "That's the America I love."
And that's the America I believe most of us love -- the one that doesn't leave the frail senior, the veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury, the child who goes to sleep hungry, the aspiring student, the single mom with cancer -- behind. We don't leave them behind, because it would just be wrong. It's not what we do on the battlefield or in our neighborhoods.
I am repulsed by Mitt Romney's words, but they inspire me to work even harder to make sure that after November 6, no one in this great nation is forced to live in Romney-Ryan World.