There are a lot of things deeply wrong with the vision of the world Mitt Romney laid out for a group of fundraisers in May in remarks recorded on video released by Mother Jones. There’s the idea that the very poor are sponging off the labor of the very rich. The misplaced idea that people who receive any form of government assistance inevitably vote for Democrats. But one of the things that stuck with me, as it always does, is that everyone receiving government assistance, whether in the form of tax credits, Supplemental Security Income, or help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program likes it, that help from the government is something people develop a taste for and want to continue consuming. It’s a narrative that doesn’t allow for the idea that needing help actually becomes a substantial spur to success for a lot of people. I’m sure these five people—and many others—might be able to enlighten Romney about the impact of getting help from the federal government on their lives, and what they do and don’t think they’re entitled to.
1. Natalie Hawkins, mother to Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas: Hawkins is on long-term disability, something that doesn’t seem to have prevented her from helping raise an Olympic gymnast. Shockingly, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t enjoy having had to declare bankruptcy, or the fact that her daughter’s endorsement earnings after her Olympic all-around gold medal will probably be the thing that can lift her out of it.
2. Tobey Maguire: The actor told Barbara Walters in 2002 that “Me and my Mom would go into a grocery store and get groceries and pay for them with food stamps, and I would run out of the store embarrassed.” That doesn’t really sound to me like someone who believes “that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”
3. Oprah Winfrey: Winfrey’s mother, Vernita Lee, sometimes relied on welfare to supplement her income during Winfrey’s childhood—in fact, she gave up Winfrey’s half sister, Patricia Lee, for adoption because she was afraid the burden of raising another child would make it impossible for her to get off the welfare rolls. The experience doesn’t appear to have bred in Winfrey a love of government assistance. During the debate over welfare reform, Winfrey declared she wanted to “destroy the welfare mentality,” and gave $6 million for a program run through the Jane Addams Hull House Association to help Chicago families move off the welfare rolls.
4. Cecil Fielder: While Fielder worked his way up to the big leagues, his family couldn’t make ends meet on minor-league paychecks. His wife Stacey got the family food stamps to cover the gaps. Fielder finally made it in the bigs, and his son followed him to a Major League career. Taking some public assistance doesn’t appear to have given the family a multi-generational taste for the culture of dependency.
5. Whoopi Goldberg: Before she was an actress, she sometimes relied on public assistance—People reported that she worked however she could while trying to make it as an actress, including a stint as a morgue beautician. That doesn’t sound like someone who would have preferred to be supported by the government to winning an EGOT.