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I grew up in a small town in Ohio populated by blue-collar, middle-class families. I own this upbringing. So let me share with you what it was like growing up with lots of love and little money.
My dad, after serving in World War II and marrying my mother, worked for many years in Ohio's vital auto industry until he quit to start his own business.
Mom was a stay-at-home mother, like most women in that era. But as dad and his business partner struggled as small-time home builders, mom went to work in a factory that made quilts and other bedding items. My sister and I would ride the school bus home and go next door to stay with our grandmother until one of our parents arrived from a hard day's work.
We weren’t starving, but our parents often shopped for bargains at outlet grocery stores that sold food with “best eat by” dates that were expiring. We planted a large garden each summer to raise our own vegetables and fruit, and mother was the queen of canning, making jellies and freezing leftovers. She served up pot pies with regularity, and I grew so weary of them that I would eat the crust and dabble at the veggies until everybody left the dining table and I could toss what was left in the trash.
We didn’t have many luxuries in life. We didn’t even own a television until I was a teenager. My sister and I didn’t get all the latest toys or the fashionable clothes that many of our classmates enjoyed. But we were shown much love in our extended nuclear family, and we were encouraged to study hard and make something of ourselves.
The college years and the struggle to make ends meet
For many years, my parents saved money so that my sister and I could go to college. This was a big deal to mom especially, since she dropped out of high school when she fell in love with that handsome soldier who visited her church one Sunday.
Still, despite their earnest efforts, I didn’t have money to pay for a dorm room at Miami University. All I could afford was to rent a tiny room in an old boarding house without central air, sharing a common bathroom and a small kitchen with a bunch of creepy older men and a couple of drunks. I made sure my door was locked every night I went to bed.
I also had to work during college, to afford books and myriad other expenses associated with attending college. My first weekly paycheck totaled $90, equal to my monthly rent.
The phony "struggles" of Ann and Mitt
I share my story because these ancient memories came flooding back to me as I watched Ann Romney give a phony and profoundly insincere speech at the Republican National Convention trying to explain to America how she and Mitt Romney as newlyweds “struggled” while attending Brigham Young University and lived in a basement apartment and dined off their ironing board.
Poor Ann and poor Mitt. The terrible suffering they experienced … until Mitt would dip into his stock investments to make ends meet. Mitt’s daddy – the wealthy George Romney, head of American Motors – would generously award his son “birthday money” amounting to “a few thousand dollars,” and sonny boy would invest in stock in daddy’s car company.
Listen closely to Ann’s quotes:
“We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time.
“The stock came from Mitt’s father. When he took over American Motors, the stock was worth nothing. But he invested Mitt’s birthday money year to year — it wasn’t much, a few thousand, but he put it into American Motors because he believed in himself. Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education.”
In my small town in Ohio, no parents I knew could afford to give such lavish birthday gifts. I was lucky one year to get my first – and only – bicycle from my parents. It cost $29.95 in those days, about $230 in today’s currency, according to an inflation calculator. It was an amount of money that seriously pinched the family budget.
Flash forward to 2012 and the Republican National Convention, and Ann Romney is telling Americans that she related to them. Really, Ann? Really? Just when did you worry about paying your monthly bills? When did you struggle to put food on the table? When did you worry about paying medical bills? When did you have to worry about money?
Victimized by corporate raiders
Let me tell you about a couple of times when I worried about money.
Like when corporate raiders, like Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, bought the newspaper I worked for in Florida, eliminated our health insurance and other benefits, bled the company's assets dry, cashed out everybody's pension plan for pennies on the dollar, then folded the company. On Christmas Eve. And just a couple of days before my 40th birthday.
Like when an equity company bought The San Diego Union-Tribune from David Copley, forced all workers to "quit" the old company in order to be hired by the new owners, then promptly began terminating hundreds and hundreds of loyal and skilled employees who deserved a better fate. I survived until the fifth round of permanent layoffs, then headed to unemployment, and struggled to find work again.
So it sickens me, and many people with similar blue-collar backgrounds, that the Romneys are pretending to understand the struggles of the middle class when they have spent a lifetime of wealth and privilege. Own your background! Don't pretend to be something you are not! This is why many of us scoff at Mitt Romney’s obtuse plan to provide tax cuts to America’s extremely wealthy on the backs of the middle class and the poor.
Since I wrote this commentary, all hell has broken out in the Middle East and Mitt Romney has tripped all over himself politicizing this tragedy. Even members of his own political party are condemning Romney for his reckless and hasty response that shows precisely what he is unfit for the highest office in the land.
Seriously, who can vote for this man for President?
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.