REASON 89: I’m voting for Barack Obama for my sister.
I have a sister. She lives in Pensacola, Florida. She lives there with my nephews—boys of mixed race, half black and half white, one seven and the other eleven. My sister is 34 years old and works as an English teacher at a public high school. She makes $29,800 a year, or roughly $2,500 a month. That puts her squarely within the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal taxes and who, according to Mitt Romney, “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.”
Here’s what my sister does with the money she earns teaching English to high school seniors. First she pays her mortgage—that’s $1,300 a month. Then she buys groceries. That’s another $900. Those two things alone nearly consume her monthly paycheck. That’s before her electricity, cable, and phone bills. The gas she puts in her car. Insurance, oil changes. School supplies and soccer expenses for the boys. Clothes. Shoes. Haircuts. Then there are the countless sidewinders that regular life is always serving up—a broken toilet, a new cavity. Any one of these unexpected outlays can set her back months. Then there might be the penalties and late fees. These are among the many ways those who consider themselves victims might apportion their incomes.
Here’s what my sister does with her time. Her day starts at 5:30 AM. She’s up to make breakfast for her kids and get them ready for school. She’s at work by 7 AM, where she prepares for class. She teaches six periods with an hour for prep. Her days usually end around 5 PM. On a day when she has to grade papers or attend meetings, she’ll leave school at 9 PM. That’s a ten-to-fourteen-hour workday. Then she goes home, makes dinner, helps her kids with their homework, and after putting them to bed, grades or prepares for classes the next day. Around 11 PM, she breaks open her own school books on subjects like biological statistics and nutritional health, because at age 34 my sister has decided to go back to school. She wants more opportunity and better pay. She wants to set an example for her kids and improve their lives and save for their college educations. She studies as much as she possibly can every night and then falls asleep. Then, at 5:30 AM, it starts all over again. This is one of the many ways those who believe they are entitled to you-name-it might spend their days.
And here’s the kicker, if you need one, if it’s not already obvious. It’s an old, tired kicker, but it still kicks good and hard: she’s a teacher. Who doesn’t love a teacher? Who doesn’t support a teacher? By my estimation, a teacher stands just below veteran, but above police and fireman, in our universal bipartisan hierarchy of support. But there’s one problem. She’s also an employee of the state. Her livelihood, like those of soldier and beat cop, is literally dependent on the government. Everyone might love a teacher, but state employees add to our tax burden. Budgets across America are bursting at the seams, and these state employees are partially responsible. That must be why Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott's 2011 budget (which also stripped 1.3 billion dollars in K-12 funding) made my sister partially responsible for paying her health insurance. For being a teacher, my sister gets $2,500 a month and the undying praise of politicians on both sides of the aisle, but because she’s a state employee, she receives the disdain of Republicans everywhere and is denied the benefits commensurate with those offered by the private sector. On account of a magical and expedient shift in perspective, from unimpeachably noble educator of children to entitlement-hungry, resource-sucking state employee, she has been made to pay an additional $200 a month to keep her health insurance. That’s almost ten percent of her salary. This is one of many ways a Republican administration under Mitt Romney might further discipline America’s entitled, irresponsible, self-regarding victims.
Every month my sister is forced, for her kids’ wellbeing and her own survival, to take money from more financially stable family members. Her pride vies at the first of every month with her poverty, and is always the loser. My sister is five-foot-eleven, with catwalk looks and a personality that can bear down like a hurricane, but with an eye of southern charm. In conversation, my sister might reach out and, with a radiant smile, touch you on the arm, a prepossessing little gesture, and for a second or two put you beyond doubt that you are an elected child of God. She can also be intimidating and to-the-point, because she is a mother of two with no time in the day for error or bullshit. Yet when my sister and I talk, if the conversation happens to turn to the money she must take from her family every month—to stay current with her mortgage, which she does regardless of Citibank’s refusal to offer her a badly needed refinancing; to keep her kids fed, which she does with careful attention to their good health; and to prevent herself from going on welfare … in other words, to refuse to play the government or corporate victim—she can revert like this
from a bad-ass mom to a little girl trying to catch her breath during a crying jag because she is so sorry, so bitterly and shamefully sorry, that at 34 years old, she still must depend on her loved ones to support her. It is the same little girl who said to me one day, when I was planning to “borrow” all the dimes and quarters in her piggybank, that she was saving that money “for when I grow up and have to buy a job.” That’s what she does, now: she buys her job. Many of those who consider themselves victims must buy their jobs every day.
I’m voting for Barack Obama for my sister. Not only because I trust Obama to give public educators like my sister more than lip service; and not only because any hope for meaningful mortgage relief for people like my sister will come from an Obama White House, not a Romney one; and not only because my nephews can look to Obama and find in him a role model for the father missing from their own lives and a compass by which they might chart their paths to manhood; and not only because I fear for the government-assistance programs that my sister is buffered from, for the time being, by a concerned family, unlike millions of single moms less fortunate than her; and not only, or even especially, because Barack Obama has made it easier for my sister to take out federal student loans so that she can go back to college and work her way into
the middle class, or because he signed a law that will make it easier for her to pay those loans back after graduation—a law which Mitt Romney has promised to repeal. No, I’m voting for Barack Obama because victimhood is a state of mind, not a tidy demographic, and by calling my sister a victim, Mitt Romney showed that he knows nothing about her or the struggles of average Americans or what it really means to be in pursuit of the American Dream.
New York, New York