You asked me a question—whether or not I thought I was better off today than four years ago. I’ve thought about it, and I am finally ready to respond.
I was born three years into President Reagan’s first term of office, so I’m not as familiar with the folksy charm that made him into the Republican God he is today—what I do know of Reagan is “trickle-down” economics. We learned about it in high school. In college I learned that this economic theory didn’t work—and as a UCLA student I saw the evidence of its failings in every homeless veteran wandering outside the gates of the Veteran Center and sleeping in the streets of Westwood.
Four years ago I was hired to work at an Internet start up in Santa Monica. I remember seeing 170 open positions under the Online/New Media category on MediaBistro when I began my job search, where just a year before that number had hovered around 290 (as I write the number has grown to 484). The opportunities were few and the good opportunities—the kind that grow your career and not make you want to give up on the world, renounce all worldly possessions, fall of the grid and live on a commune—were far fewer. This was before LinkedIn became the ultimate source for jobs in the tech industry. The success of LinkedIn—a social network created for the purpose of professional networking—should in itself be an indicator of job growth. I found my new job after some searching, but I found it. This was in July of 2008.
Since then I have had a successful career. My salary has increased 23 percent since 2008, and the startup where I worked went public. I received stocks as part of my yearly reviews and was lucky enough to leave that company with some extra money. My 401K is doing well, I’ve invested it in alternative energy and it continues to grow. I bought a new car, a motorcycle, a new TV. I’m not saying these things to brag, it is shameful consumerism, but I’m saying this because four years ago, I was not able to afford any of these luxuries.
I know that I am extremely lucky. I was able to go to college at a good school, a public university, and my parents are helping me pay for it. I am grateful that I can afford to pay my student loan, which at $40,000 with 7.75% interest costs me $350/month. I am lucky to live in Los Angeles where the job market is large and diverse. I am also young, which means I was able to take the low-paying entry-level jobs with technical requirements that older individuals with more experience would not be considered for, or afford to take. I say this knowing that both of my parents were unemployed for a large period of time during the last four years. My father has since gotten a new job, and my mother is enjoying early retirement—although she complains that her social security checks are small, “33 years of work and this is what it amounts to?” I say this with a brother in Las Vegas who lost his construction job and with another brother who is working as a Real Estate broker in Southern California and doing really well. I know I am also lucky to be married. My husband came to the states when he was 19 because opportunities in Bulgaria are ever shrinking. He came close to being penniless and now has a successful career, and is taking classes at community college so he can go to a 4-year school and study computer science. Last year he became a citizen of the United States and this will be the first time he votes in an election.
Life is easier for us than it is for most people.
So in terms of my career and my income things are indeed better for me than they were four years ago. But there are things that still seem completely out of reach, like owning a home. I don’t know how my husband and I will ever be able to save for a down payment, but we’re trying. We also want to have children someday soon—and the question, “Can we afford it?” is something we have to consider.
I want to close by telling you why I was frustrated with this question in the first place. Asking whether or not people are better off than they were four years ago, is the same thing as saying the economic crisis could have been solved in four years. I studied English Literature in college and openly admit I am not an economist, but I know that repairing and rebuilding economies of scale takes time. People say that anything worth doing takes time. I want to publish a book someday—writing a book, and writing a decently good book takes time. A lot of time. It takes writers years—sometimes decades to write a book, but these are the books that are loved and revered for generations after the author’s passing. Creating a good marriage takes time. Raising a responsible child takes a lot of time and hard work. Fixing a debt crisis that was created not just in the Bush administration, but with the deregulation of banks and the crash of the derivatives market, is going to take time. Asking me if I’m better off than I was four years ago is an appeal to the impatient, impulsive child inside of me that screams, “I want it now!” You are assuming that America is made up of Veruca Salts. I don’t believe that to be true.
I know that there are people who responded to that same question with screams of NO! People who are pulling their hair out, desperate people who can’t feed their families; people that just want to work. So when you ask that question you are also playing on their fears and their will to survive. You ask that question and then propose tax plans that would only make them poorer and you richer. You tell them you are going to reform welfare when you know it’s going to make it harder for people—people like them who are not lazy, and are not freeloading, who want jobs just as badly as they do—to get help. What you are doing, sirs, is playing of the fears and prejudices of the people to gain power, and there’s a word for what that makes you—a demagogue.
I think the question you should be asking, which is the question that Fareed Zakaria brought up last week is—Would I be better off in four years if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are in office? I have to say I don’t know much about the specific details of the policies you are proposing—we, the American people are still waiting for you to tell us—but I do know that giving the richest 1% a tax cut isn’t going to help. I know that my reproductive rights would be in jeopardy. I know the people I love won’t be able to marry because it doesn’t fit in within your religious beliefs. I’m worried what will happen when you make it easier for people to buy guns. I wonder if my children will be able to afford to go to college. I fear what would happen if I got cancer—how I would afford radiation and chemotherapy. If your party was in office, I couldn’t.
I think you didn’t ask this question because you know what the answer would be.
So now I’m asking you—do you think we’ll be better off four years from now if you are in office? Take a moment to think about it. If the honest answer is no then I hope you will reconsider some of your policies. If it is yes, then I guess we’ll have to see if the American people agree.
I hope you ask me again. Ask me. Not the white, Christian, neoconservative audience in Tampa bay, Florida. Ask me, or my mother, or my brothers, or my friends who live in St. Louis and are going to business school. Ask my friend Brandon who is veteran, or my grandfather who is a retired teacher. Ask people who aren’t planning on voting for you and then listen. And when you listen if you can’t find compassion or empathy, then I don’t know what that says about the future of the leadership of the Republican Party. Because I know Republicans, I have family members who are registered and vote republican—they’re not bad people. They’re just like everyone else, and whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, white, black, brown, yellow, gay, straight, transgendered, young, old, rich, poor, homeless, disabled, employed, jobless, insured, uninsured and mentally ill, we are all trying to do the best with what they have. We are all Americans, even if we don’t vote for you. We all hope for a better future. This is why President Obama’s message is so powerful. We all need hope.