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Gary Horton: America needs a 47% solution

Posted: September 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.

“O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!”

Last year, America was fixated on the “1 percent” — those folks who comprise just a tiny fraction of America but enjoy a disproportionate 40 percent of our wealth.

Now, courtesy of the most serious political gaffe in memory, America turns its attention to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” — the nearly half of Americans who, Romney insinuates, are freeloaders sucking the lifeblood out of an otherwise productive America.

Just as slinging the 1 percent label at rich folks doesn’t tell the full story of who they are or what they do or how they accumulated wealth — slandering 47 percent of Americans as “unwilling to take personal responsibility for their lives” overlooks what’s really going on with nearly one-half of our great country.

Clearly, Romney never intended his volatile quote for the general public. Mitt was fundraising at a $50,000-a-plate dinner stacked high with cash and old, rich folk. Attempting to fire up the donors and open their wallets, Mitt plied time-tested baited social imagery:

“There are 47 percent who are with (Obama), 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. ... 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.”

I suspect Mitt intellectually understands who really comprises our “47 percent.” I also suspect that in this fundraising setting, he was intentionally manipulating bigotries.

Read Mitt’s quote and Reagan’s famous “Welfare Queen” quickly comes to mind. Mitt is speaking in code to his crowd of old-guard contributors — manipulating angst, selling the need to “donate now” so he can cut down these freeloading anchors on American Exceptionalism.

We can forgive Mitt for the gaffe, because at that fundraiser it wasn’t a gaffe; it was targeted sales strategy. Other candidates do it all the time. Obama hones his pitch depending on whom he’s speaking to — but Mitt inadvertently went further, disclosing a bias and bigotry against the poor.

In doing so, he also unintentionally launched a debate about American standards of living, the treatment of our poor, care for our elderly, and the condition of our quality of life versus our peers. Mitt earned his expected $50K a plate, but unexpectedly pulled the scab off a wound on our American ego.

Can we really be the “greatest country” when 47 percent of our folks are so poor they don’t pay taxes, when 47 percent are victims and won’t take responsibility for their lives?

If this handy statistic is true, we should quietly lay down our claim to exceptionalism and get back to the basics of nation-building here at home. Surely 47 percent of us can’t all be freeloading victims, unwilling to care for ourselves — fit to be discarded.

Thankfully, we’re not. Mitt’s marketing ploy overlooks that most of our 47 percent are the working poor, are students, veterans, retirees — and that relatively few are “welfare queens” or anything like them.

I’ve a confession. “I was a teenage 47-percenter.” Forty-five years ago, my mom kicked my alcoholic dad out of the house. Mom had to get a drivers license, get a job and fend for four kids. First, she worked at JCPenney, and later at Farmers Insurance as a data-entry clerk.

Things were tight. We got veterans benefits. We got Social Security supplements. Mom worked her butt off. I mowed lawns and had a part time job in high school.

Later, I went to a “redistribution of wealth” state college — Cal State Northridge — and earned a finance degree. Mom become head of the data processing department where she served until her retirement 20 years later.

When mom died, her house was paid off and she had saved $100K in the bank. I went on to build a large company and paid taxes like those guys in that other handy statistic.

Still, for a few years we were part of Mitt’s despicable 47 percent. Thankfully, government aid helped us rise above it, and we paid it all back, perhaps hundreds of times over.

Funny. Mitt’s own dad, Gov. George Romney, was a 47-percenter. A nice video showed up on YouTube with Mitt’s mom arguing for Social Security, explaining that before George Romney got traction, he, too, received government assistance.

Many have, at some point, in some setting.

In our dynamic economy we will always have folks ascending or declining through the 47 percent. The question is, “Is there reasonable hope, is there opportunity, is there equality, and is there the compassion that American Exceptionalism should afford our lesser 47 percent?”

Should we just cut these “lazy freeloaders” off, as Romney implies? Or do we thoughtfully, prudently strive to raise up all of America?

If you choose the later, there’s much soul-searching and hard work ahead. If you choose the former, there’s only more suffering and decline.

Mitt opened the discussion: America needs a constructive solution for our struggling 47 percent — but not for the false 47 percent he cynically evokes.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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