By now you’ve heard about Mitt Romney’s “leaked video”.
You’ve probably heard analysis, debate, fact-checking, and Twitter jokes. This is a day or two late. I know. I’m sorry. But yesterday I was too frustrated to write something meaningful, and instead wasted several braincells arguing in the comments section of a political blog, which never ends well. Today, after a bit of reflection, I’ve realized why I was frustrated with Mr. Romney’s “47 percent” comments.
It has nothing to do with Romney and his politics, but rather it reminds me of my own journey, and my attitudes in the not-so-distant past.
This is what has sparked the conversation:
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….[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” -Mitt Romney (source)
As a follower of Jesus I simply cannot embrace this “Us vs. Them” narrative.
In this narrative, the hardworking “real Americans” drive big trucks to hard jobs where we give our muscle and sweat to support our families and don’t take no help from nobody. We come home to our families and family values, where we pledge allegiance to the flag, read our Bibles, and clean our guns. At the end of the day we look at our work with pride and declare “WE BUILT THAT.”
But when we get our paychecks Obama grabs a big chunk and gives it to “Them”. These are illegal Mexicans who are sneaking into our country to take our jobs and get free government benefits. These are the people who spend all day playing video games and doing drugs and would rather have food stamps than jobs. These are the “white trash” who roll through WalMart on electric carts, using their welfare checks to load up on junk food and cigarettes. These are the 47 percent – dependent upon government, victims, entitled, irresponsible.
To my shame, I confess that I believed this.
Listening to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, I’d nod stupidly as the “Us vs Them” wedge was driven deeper into my own heart. As I’ve written about before, I ended up hating my neighbor. Sadly, when Romney’s statements were released this week, I saw that same ugly narrative rear it’s head in countless conversations. And having rejected it myself, I can’t bear to see my fellow Christians repeating it over and over again. Because as long as we hold “Them” at an arm’s length – or dismiss them as irresponsible, dependent, entitled – we will never love “Them.”
Yes, I’m sure there are some who are lazy and who choose to accept government benefits in perpetuity rather than work. However, I refuse to believe that this accurately describes half of our country. The face of Romney’s 47 percent is not slouching through Wal-Mart in pajamas. It’s a young dad working hard every day to support a stay-at-home mom and a few young kids. It’s a divorced mom, abandoned by her husband, courageously trying to keep her family together. It’s a teenage mom who chose life. It’s a veteran. It’s your neighbor. It’s your grandparents.
I want to have a different attitude now.
Regardless of your stance on government programs and the election, please don’t hate your neighbor. Don’t make the mistake that Romney made when he painted half the country with a broad, ugly stroke. Don’t make the mistake that I made when I believed that “Us” was somehow different, better than “Them”.
Don’t forget that “the 47 percent” is not a statistic, it’s millions of people with struggles and stories and hopes and dreams. If we open our eyes and our arms, we might find they are not so different from us. They are our fellow Americans, our fellow humans – created and loved by Jesus.
Disclaimer: If you want to discuss what Mr. Romney meant, whether or not it’s true, how many people are on welfare, Obama’s economic policies, or any number of related issues, go for it. I wrote and then deleted several paragraphs addressing those points, but I personally have no interest in pursuing that debate anymore. I want MY conversation here to be personal, spiritual and relational – not political. But all civil conversation is always welcome.