Posted by: MC | September 24, 2012

“47%” Cuts Lots of Ways

I saw my highschool friend Tim Taylor at a reunion a few years ago.  Last time we’d spoken we were both 15 year olds.  When we chatted this time, it was September in Kerrville, TX – homecoming weekend.  The world class heat of the Texas summer had softened so we could stand around outside catching up on where the decades had taken those fresh-faced teens who will forever populate the halls of my memory.

The experience was supremely blog worthy.  I get a lot of hits on that post this time of year.  For a while I feel complimented, curious that so many people would show interest in a blog titled What the Land Holds Up.  Then I remember the photo half way down the page of Tivy High School homecoming-mums-on-steroids.  When I check the search terms, sure enough the hits are coming from #homecomingmums.  Oh well – if not literary magnetism….

But back to Tim.  Naturally, it being the early 10’s and all, we’re now facebook friends.  That’s made it pretty simple to see that when it comes to ideas of government, the two of us see the world REALLY differently.  As you know, if you read this blog at all, it’s neither news or particularly problematic (in my observation and experience) that Americans have differences of opinion about government.  You also know that I’m very interested in being in conversation, in dialogue – mostly in listening-to-one-another.

Tim and I haven’t done a lot of speaking and listening, but – well – the picture this week is an example of how I’m paying attention to what Tim has to say.  I saw it on the facebook feed.

This man considers himself part of the 53% Romney wishes to serve – according to his now famous secret statement to the gathering of donors for a $50,000 a plate luncheon back in May.  You can read this man’s moving chronology describing how he is a hard worker — a man of  independence, responsibility and heart.  He served his country, plays by the rules, maintains no debt other than his mortgage.  He wants to be heard.

I read his story and don’t know if he uses the Veterans benefits to which he has access.  It does seem safe to guess he accepted his tax-free income while he was in the Air Force.  But that was then and, really – I mean REALLY – so what?  The pay military receive for placing their lives on the line is minimal by any measure.

But this is the game we play – discredit this reporter by revealing how he has benefitted from government; discredit poor people by concluding they are lazy and languishing in self-serving victimhood.  Nobody listens, no relationships form.

It’s not a very useful game.  Its purpose is unclear.  The game is suspicious, however.  Especially when you ask the question of who benefits from splitting the people against themselves.

Jason Linkins is a journalist who does a weekly summary of the Sunday morning news shows – while he’s watching them….  The first show he tuned in to write about yesterday was Fox News Sunday.  A bit over half way through the focus of commentary had shifted from the Lybian Embassy bombing to the campaign in general and on to the “47%” speech.  Fox anchor Chris Wallace was greeting his new guest and, as he sat watching it all on TV, this is what Linkins wrote.

Now here is Scott Walker, who will answer questions about the whole “47%” thing. This is a shrewd deployment by the GOP because a) Walker is not personally touched by this mess and b) he has been extremely successful at convincing poor and middle class people to enthusiastically impoverish other poor and middle class people. So if there’s anyone who can talk to the “47%” and convince them that they are not the “47%” but in fact need to put the “47%” to the torch, it’s Walker.

This is the game.

The question remains who it serves.

Another question is whether the game is the only option – whether it’s playing us or we’re making more considered choices than the media and leadership (public and corporate) give us credit.

A few days ago, I was walking home from Laurelhurst Park – passing the murals painted on the east wall of Music Millennium.  Standing on the corner of 32nd and E Burnside was a man I hadn’t seen in over 10 years – a man I’ve rarely talked with, but one my daughter and I loved seeing off and on from when she was a preschooler to when she left for college.  Elvis is that kind of guy.

We first encountered him on a downtown street corner near the Portland Saturday Market.  Dressed in a suit of gold sequins and wielding a cardboard electric guitar, Elvis would entertain the passersby with his awkwardly gyrating hips and play list of memorized Presley tunes.  His glasses were already so thick that it was difficult to see his eyes.  His hair was generally matted and oily from too long between showers.  But his enthusiasm and awe, his kind innocence and his bodacious performances made for a person beloved by many over the years.

Elvis didn’t recognize me the other day, but he spoke nonetheless.  “I just saw my first music teacher in there.”  His eyes defied contact through the thickness of his glasses but his voice let me know they were dancing.  “Right inside that music store, right over there.”  His hands at odd angles, his arms waving around his shoulders and head.  Today Elvis was in tattered jeans and a stained white t-shirt, his hair the same as ever, his face a good bit older.  “My very first music teacher.  I saw him again.”  He smiled a huge smile of coffee stained teeth and pure joy.

The light changed and we crossed the street together.  “It’s a good day,” I said.  Elvis, still waving toward the music score, took a gangly left turn toward the bus stop.  “The best in the world,” he shouted over his shoulder, his face entirely occupied by that smile.

So, here’s the thing.  Game or no game and no matter how you cut it, we’re related.  That fact can feel really good to the 47% – to the other 53%, too – especially when it’s about being seen and respected and, at the bottom of it all, loved.

A government that claims to be a democracy does not have to love us, but in this connection — this interdependence that none of us can avoid — democratic government IS responsible for seeing, listening to and respecting the people for and by whom it serves.


  1. I love your mindfulness Mary. Thanks for continuing your efforts at listening and dialogue. Today I am thinking that it’s dangerous for any of us to solely vote our own short term interests. We do need to think about the commons, the other. GOP policies do not do this, but they need to convince us that’s okay by inflating the risks of debt and taxes.

  2. while wandering around, found Tim’s picture and profound message
    Still miss you here & TX hill country
    with good Lord’s help finally got some rain after 4 months of nada, nada!
    take care, God bless, on through the fog
    will this bickering ever be over with? what a waste of time, money, effort; all in the name of democracy. peace, Stan et al

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