I’m out of charity and out of patience with you and your husband, Mrs. Romney. I’m especially fed up with your attempts to prove you have a grasp on real life as lived by most Americans. You repeat over and over again how you and Mitt had such a hard time when you first got married, living in a basement apartment and eating pasta and tuna fish for 5 years, while you stayed home and raised three boys. Neither of you worked during this “difficult” time. You lived off Mitt’s stock portfolio.
Let me give you a hard dose of reality. Most students today work their way through school, even if they have wives. They either hold menial part-time jobs or do work study at the college, or they hold down full-time jobs and attend classes at night, They also graduate deeply in debt because they rely on student loans for tuition—unlike Mittens, most of us don’t have stock portfolios. Their wives usually work, because they have to, and student loans and part-time minimum wage jobs aren’t enough for a couple to live on. In other words, Ann dear, most of us don’t have a choice.
As for being forced to endure the indignities of pasta dishes and tuna casseroles, those are often a staple in our diets long after graduation. We have student loans to pay off. A lot of former students survive on ramen, which is even cheaper than pasta. Many military families never get past the stage of planning the month’s meals around the staples of beans, rice, pasta and the like. Young military families are often on food stamps because the salaries and housing allowances don’t stretch far enough. Imagine sending your husband off to war whule hoping the food budget will stretch to the last day of the month. I’m the wife of a retired Navy vet, and I know lots of recipes that involve lentils, kidney beans, dried peas, and pasta; most are delicious enough to be something we look forward to even now. So shut up already about how poor you were. You never had to decide between feeding your kids or paying a bill, and you weren’t on food stamps.
As for how hard it was for you as the mother of two young boys—sorry, you get no sympathy for me. You chose to get married young, much younger than most people who wait until they’ve both finished college to tie the knot. And no one forced you to have those kids. Again, most families postpone childbearing until they can afford kids. There’s this marvelous invention called birth control—that thing the Republican Party doesn’t want insurance to be forced to cover-- which makes that pretty easy to manage. You made those choices. No one made them for you. Hmmm, you seem to be seeing yourself as a victim here. How very unrepublican of you.
I will grant you that you have had major health issues. MS is a terrible disease, unpredictable and devastating. Breast cancer is life-threatening and the treatment options all have ghastly side effects. I wouldn’t wish either of them on anyone, not even Karl Rove or Todd Akin. No one is making light of your very real physical suffering.What you don’t seem to grasp is that even in your illnesses, you had advantages most people don’t.
When you were too exhausted from MS to get out of bed, you had the money to hire a housekeeper to handle the everyday tasks. If you were bedridden, you had professional nurses available if you wanted them. You had you dressage horse to keep your spirits up. When you were being treated for cancer, you had the best options, the best hospitals, the best doctors money could buy. You didn’t have to ask your insurance company for permission to undergo a treatment. You weren’t limited to physicians in network in your area. If the best options were out of town, you had private jets to fly you there (or at least you flew first class), and you stayed at the best hotels or in the private hospital suites reserved for platinum patients. You could hire a driver to take you to treatments, rather than having to rely on friends and family members who had to take time off from work to get you there. You never had to drag yourself out of bed the day after chemo to go to work, when all you wanted to do was spend the day sleeping and puking. You didn’t have to go to work because you couldn’t afford to lose the job and the health insurance that went with it. You never had to worry about lifetime caps or being unable to get insurance down the road because of a pre-existing condition. You didn’t have to file for bankruptcy because the hospital bills were so overwhelming. No, that’s for the Rest of Us, the little people who don’t count, the 47%.
Let me tell you a story about another couple who had to face MS.
Laura (not her real name) was my best friend for many years. I met her on the bus on my first day of high school. She was on scholarship. Her CNA Mom and firefighter stepfather couldn’t have afforded the tuition, but Laura was very smart and had aced the entrance exam. We had most of our classes together and ate lunch together and talked on the phone. We’d have spent more time together, but she lived in another town. My private Catholic school attracted girls from all over the state of Connecticut, and bus and train rides of an hour to an hour and a half weren’t unusual. We knew we were damned lucky to go to a very good school and worked hard to get a good education.
By sixteen she had a part-time job working weekends at Yale’s hospital as a desk secretary, answering phones and directing visitors. She kept that job when she went to college at a local Catholic women’s colleges, only she now worked week nights as well. Scholarships and student loans paid her tuition. Her mother expected her to pay rent for the tiny attic room (no, I am not exaggerating; it was a room in the attic) she occupied as well as to drive Mom to her job (she was now a nurse). Money was always tight, but she graduated with honors and got a fellowship to a prestigious woman’s college—one of the Seven Sisters to the Ivy League (this was just at the time the Ivies were admitting women as undergrads). She worked as a lab instructor for the undergrads, and scrimped as much as she could.
When she got out, she returned to her home town and was able to get a job as a research assistant at Yale. She would have liked to get Ph.D. but she simply couldn’t afford to rack up any more student loans, even though she knew that without a doctorate, her prospects in her field of science were strictly limited. Even with a degree from a prestigious school, she wasn’t paid all that much. I’m pretty damned sure that Mittens’ first paycheck was a lot bigger than hers. She ended up renting the vacant apt. over her grandmother’s flat. Furniture was sparse and secondhand or found on the street, but she was out of her mother’s home. And she had met Daniel, who also worked at the hospital as a research assistant..
Daniel was a tall young man, broad-shouldered and athletic. He loved hiking, running and swimming, and he had an infectiously dry sense of humor. His blonde hair was shaggy and he resembled John Denver as a Surfer Dude, though far better looking. There was just something about him that drew people to him. His broad smile never faded nor did his good cheer or his kindness. He was definitely one of the Good Guys. They fell in love, and for the first time in her entire life, Laura had someone who loved her unconditionally, who accepted and supported her, who would have given her the moon if she’d asked for it. Being Laura, she didn’t. I remember her telling me about him, her soft voice, filled with wonder that he loved her. They married, and I was a bridesmaid. They bought a house, but decided to wait to start a family; they wanted to get out from under their student loans.
Two years after their marriage, I got a phone call from her. Laura was in tears, sobbing, almost incoherent. Since this was completely unlike her—she tended toward stoicism and preferred to see the ridiculous side of life rather than to cry over its casual cruelties—I knew something catastrophic had happened. When she finally got enough control of herself to be coherent, she told me that Daniel had been having some motor function problems, weaknesses in his legs, clumsiness that wasn’t normal for an athlete like him. He’d finally gone to a doctor, and after many tests, they reached a diagnosis. The doctor told Laura, not Daniel, and left it to her to inform him that he had multiple sclerosis. The doctor, you see, didn’t want to deal with Daniel’s emotional reaction to being told he had an incurable and not very treatable illness.
Daniel was able to work for several years, and they enjoyed whatever they were able to do together. They stopped talking about kids because they knew that they couldn’t afford them. Eventually Daniel’s symptoms reached the point where he could no longer work, and while he qualified for disability, it was a struggle for them. A few years after that, he reached a point where he needed someone with him full-time, and Laura couldn’t be that person. Someone had to pay the bills, and to keep the health insurance which covered him. So Daniel went to live with his parents (Dad was a retired Air Force Colonel and businessman, so they were comfortable), while Laura sold the house and moved into an apartment. At that point, they both realized they would very likely never share a home together again. She spent weekends with him whenever possible.
Then came the day when Daniel began to have seizures. At first they were infrequent, but in time they began to happen more and more frequently and to increase in severity. His parents, a couple in their late sixties, simply couldn’t handle it. He needed more than non-professionals could give him. He needed to go into a long-term care facility where trained nurses could monitor him 24/7.
The problem was, Laura’s entire annual salary wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of keeping him a nursing home, even if she didn’t spend a penny on her own needs. She had to make an agonizing decision. For Daniel to get the kind of care his illness demanded, he had to be on Medicaid, and their combined income from his disability check and her salary was too high to qualify him for this government assistance. Her only practical choice was to get a divorce so he would qualify. With a broken heart, she filed for divorce. I remember that phone call, too.
She spent every weekend visiting him, putting her own life on hold. Yes, she was divorced and could have turned her back on him, as many spouses do, but she loved him with all her heart. Her only consolation was that Daniel had suffered major short term memory loss from the seizures, and forgot that there had been a divorce. In his mind, they were still married, and he was going to get better and come home. He remained cheerful, funny, kind to the very end, which came ten years after his diagnosis. That was yet another agonized phone call. We cried together, she a new widow and I someone who had lost her first husband to an undiagnosed heart condition two years earlier.
For this couple, there wasn’t a dressage horse. There wasn’t a spouse who could take time off from work if Daniel needed her because she needed to keep her job in order to have health insurance coverage for his medical bills. . There weren’t private nurses or a plush private room or a housekeeper to help out. They lost their house and their dreams of having a family, and even their legal relationship. But they never lost their love for each other. She loved him just as much the day she buried him as she did the day she walked down the aisle to him as a radiant bride.
THAT, Ann, is what a real struggle looks like.
So, until you’ve gone through what Laura and Daniel went though, I don’t want to hear any more complaints about how hard you had it. I know you’re trying to make yourself more relatable, but frankly every time you open your mouth, you just make the cavern between your experiences and that of the rest of us, even deeper. So sit down, shut up and count your blessings, and stop trying to convince us that you understand what it is to live paycheck to paycheck, because you don’t have a clue—and, Ann, you can’t buy a clue, no matter how much money you have socked away in that Swiss bank or the one in the Cayman Islands.