THE BLOG
10/01/2012 05:09 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

Who Works Hard in America?

Mitt Romney was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

Romney's recent comment about how he and Ann gave up their inheritances was yet another pathetic effort to distance himself from his aristocratic roots. He seems unaware of the immense social, political and economic capital he enjoyed as a white male from a wealthy, influential family.

Perhaps the most glaring manifestation of this blindness is found in his now-famous denigration of the 47 percent who pay no income taxes and, in Romney's view, feel entitled to government support for their comfortable lives. He paints a caricature of people in poverty or near poverty, portraying them as shiftless and dependent.

Of course there is no monolithic 47 percent. Those to whom Romney sneeringly referred include active duty soldiers, disabled veterans, lifelong Republicans struggling to get by on Social Security and, most ironically, surprising numbers of millionaires who take advantage of the system they created to avoid contributing to the commonweal. And, of course, nearly all of the folks lumped in this 47 percent group pay other taxes, most of which are sharply regressive, thereby further disadvantaging the poor.

But here's what really gets my dander up: Romney and his fellow class warriors insult the integrity and courage of the poor and near poor Americans who work hard every day of their lives just to survive. This includes millions of people who are unemployed and underemployed. Romney knows nothing about this kind of work.

You see, privilege has its privileges. Mitt Romney has never had to take an overcrowded bus for 90 minutes each day to work. He has never ridden in a dirty, loud, subway car with an infant and toddler, carrying heavy grocery bags. Romney has never had to take a bus to drop two small children at daycare so he could travel another hour to his minimum wage job. He's never had to sit in the lobby of a crowded, frightening emergency room for hours, pleading for a sick child to be seen by overwhelmed staff. He's never suffered the humiliation of having the electricity shut off. He's never had to ride a bus for an hour to get to the utility's office, take a number, wait another hour or more and then endure the scornful haughtiness of an underpaid clerk who has had a similarly miserable week.

Romney evidently believes these "shiftless" folks have it easy. He and running mate Paul Ryan not only seek to reduce the meager "entitlements" poor and unemployed folks receive. They would also eviscerate the already understaffed agencies and departments that provide this bare subsistence support, leaving fewer social workers, fewer case managers and fewer places to get assistance.

Romney never lost a job because of missing a few days caring for a disabled relative living in his home. He has someone else register his car and make his appointments. He doesn't have to stand in line at a predatory check cashing facility to get enough money to pay for dinner. He doesn't have to endure the humiliation that accompanies all the simple things you can't do if you don't have a credit card.

I doubt that he's ever changed his own oil or a flat tire. He's never suffered that utter panic that comes when your old car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and you can't notify work that you'll be late. He's never had to look his children in the eye and explain why there isn't enough money for new school clothes or a simple toy.

I watch the poor and near poor in Manhattan every day, including the women who work as nannies or cleaning women in my neighborhood. They are on the buses, subways and dark streets long before hired cars pick up their employers. They have often -- too often -- already dressed and made breakfast for their own children, dropping them off at schools or care facilities that neither Mitt Romney nor most of my neighbors will ever see. I see men in their 60's or older who deliver food on bicycles for less than minimum wage, then go home to small apartments in Queens and the Bronx occupied by several generations of their striving, immigrant families.

These people are invisible to Romney, Ryan and the conservatives who believe they live in a meritocracy, where they deserve everything they've gotten. I'm disgusted by loud, rich white men complaining about the meager "entitlements" received by the silent poor. Who exactly is "entitled" here?

The truth, Mr. Romney, is that the Jamaican nanny from Harlem, who works 12-14 hour days caring for children in affluent families, doing their dirty diapers and a bit of house cleaning on the side, is probably working a lot harder than you ever worked in your life. She has remarkable dignity, compassion and wisdom. She quietly endures life circumstances that you, in your smug privilege, can't even see. She's in your 47 percent.

The Central American immigrant who works in my building has more drive, ambition and talent than many of your prep school classmates. (And I'm sure he speaks better English than you do Spanish) All he wants is a life of simple dignity and opportunity for his small family. He's in your 47 percent too.

You should try walking a mile or two in these shoes, particularly through the increasingly inhospitable environment that your political party has created.