Sometimes my colleagues at work worry my blogs might make it seem like I'm going after one political candidate more than the other. That's not my intent. But when someone gets caught in a humdinger, I have no qualms going after what he said. And what Mitt Romney said about the 47% is a humdinger.
Some of the coverage brewing about Romney's gaffe -- granted, a gaffe made to a group of people for whom he assumed it would not be a gaffe, and by whom he assumed he was not being taped -- has focused on this idea of 47% of people not paying income tax. The tax discussion is not what nearly made me pull my car over when I heard the quote, though.
What nearly curbed me was a much deeper set of fallacies in which it appears Mr. Romney believes. The first is that nearly half of people are content right where they are and don't want to rise. The second is that we live in separate economic camps in this country, and you're either in one, or you are in the other. Both are wrong. The truth is, we are all part of one rising class.
Let's look at some of what Mitt Romney said:
...there are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims...[M]y job is is (sic) not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
The low-hanging fruit on this one is that Romney just basically said he doesn't want to represent half of America's population, and that he kind of thinks they are losers. OK, he apparently really thinks they are losers. I'll spare you my general disdain for that point. David Brooks of the New York Times did it much better than anyone else could, and debunks some entitlement myths to boot.
Where I'd like to expound on Brooks and others, though, is in this social fallacy that says people want to be reliant on government, and that they don't want to rise. That's patently wrong, and part of a long-standing American narrative with strong racial undertones in its history. In its earlier forms, that idea was directed at "welfare queens" and what was perceived to be a lazy, undereducated minority class.
Am I calling Mitt Romney racist? Absolutely not. Am I calling out the fact that this view of America is one originally born, at least in part, out of a racial narrative? Yes, I am. And it's a social fallacy because the truth is that America is full of people of all races who want to rise. The truth also is that it's easier for some people to get a hold of what it takes to rise -- an education that gives you a shot at a job, a job that lets you build assets, and strong social connections -- than it is for others. That's not about ambition. It's about access. Damning all those who haven't "made it" yet to the pits of laziness and dependency misses the point egregiously.
Which brings us to the second fallacy -- that Americans are in two separate economic camps. Either, you are hungry, ambitious, and able to pull yourself up by your boot straps, or you're part of the dependent class. One group rises and should be rewarded for doing so. The other, well, I don't really even understand what the argument is about the other.
But I do understand that we're all in this together. Our economy is stronger when everyone is thriving. Your prosperity is driven by mine, and vice versa. We do no one any favors when we divide the country into two warring groups at a time when, in reality, our economic troubles have lumped more of us together than at any time in nearly 50 years.
My organization, Boston Rising, recently launched a web site called www.risingclass.org. It's a site that invites people to tell their own stories of rising and share them with each other. The stories on that site are living proof that people both inside and outside the "47%" are trying to rise. Watch the stories of black musician David Howse, Indian/Canadian/American entrepreneur Asheesh Advani and white college Professor Theodore King. Their stories have so much in common -- someone believing in them and showing them the next step along the way, how that launched them to where they are now, how they act themselves as a result.
Read about Colombian caterer Daniel Cordon and listen to the men who work for his company as they leave prison. They all want to rise, and are working hard at it. Watch Portuguese entrepreneur Elizabeth Ventura. She built a business on a single question, "Why not?" Be inspired by black foundation program officer Robert Lewis, Jr., who took a physical attack on his home as a child and turned it into a lifetime of making a difference for others.
When I see these stories, and so many others like them, I know people want to and are rising, often despite some impressive odds against them. I know they are all part of one rising class, and must not be separated -- rhetorically or in truth -- by their income, tax status, or even race. And I know that they call us not to figure out what part of the population our next president should represent, but how our country can support them as they continue to rise and blaze a trail for those who come after them. Because they will continue to rise, no matter how far they've already come. And they'll blaze that trail whether anyone helps them to or not.
They know we're all in this together.