I'm an Obama supporter, so I guess I'm part of Mitt Romney's storied 47 percent. Just to be clear, I don't feel like a victim and I think the record shows that I have been responsible for my life.
What's shocking about Romney's words is not that he said them, but that he apparently believed this was what the wealthy donors in the room paid $50,000 each to hear. It seems we have come to a point in our nation when we can only hear the voices from the fringes. Our society becomes defined, erroneously, as an either-or: You are a giver or a taker, you are an independent job creator or a dependent victim.
I refuse to believe that this harsh spectrum, painted in black and white terms, reflects America. As I have said in this space before, we are a moderate people, a people with views that coalesce at the intersection of common sense and compassion. In the spirit of my old geometry teacher, Mrs. Hiatt, I'd like to present of few of the "givens" to prove my equation true:
Given: Most Americans understand that everyone can end up in a bad situation at any time, often through no fault of their own.
Given: Most Americans do not want to see anyone go hungry. However, most Americans do not want to see their hard-earned money support irresponsible food choices that might lead to health problems.
Given: Most Americans have an innate sense of fairness: we know it when we see it, and we don't like a system that appears "rigged" for anyone's benefit.
Given: Americans are woefully ignorant of the relationship between the tax dollars they send to federal and state governments and the benefits generated by those same dollars.
At some point, we, the people, have to stand up and demand that the correct conversation take place in our nation, and that the right questions be asked of those running for office.
Question: Can we design a safety net system that helps in emergencies, but does not create a cycle of dependency?
Question: What is a "fair" amount of tax for each person to pay?
Question: Can we improve our communication and education systems to the point that Americans understand the role of government in their lives?
Ultimately, we have truly lost our sense of the journey toward a more perfect union started by our founders. Statements like the one made by Romney push us further off the path; they divide where unity is required. Every day, I teach students about the great challenges our nation has faced, and about the great efforts taken to rise up to meet those challenges. Along the way there were small, petty moments, and for the most part our nation was able to move beyond and progress.
Our best moments are found when we compromised, came to the middle, agreed to disagree and move forward; our darkest moments involved a dichotomy of belief with a gap that we found hard to span. Where are we now? I believe that the loud voices on the fringes can and will be drowned out by soaring voices of compassion and compromise found in the middle.
Many of the people who were in that room last May listening to Mr. Romney undoubtedly have a small, petty view of the America I know; maybe Mr. Romney does, too. Thank goodness there are other voices out there to tell the real story of our nation, its hardworking people, and the things we can accomplish when we set our hearts and minds to the task.
Terri Richmond of Bakersfield is a social studies teacher at Golden Valley High School. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.