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JP Grace: Trip offers chance to slum with the nation's 47 percent

Oct. 08, 2012 @ 11:30 PM

Up in Chicago for a class reunion, I found myself riding buses and subways packed mainly with people who looked for all the world like those infamous 47 percenters that GOP hopeful Mitt Romney's been talking about: senior citizens, college students and working-class types.

"Victims," as Romney called them in a closed-door chat with Big Money donors in Boca Raton, Fla., "dependent on government," "people who don't pay any income taxes."

Nobody on my subway car was dressed to the nines. My companions were black, white, Latinos, Asian, all going about their humdrum 47 percent day. Probably not a white-hot entrepreneur or rocket scientist or investment banker in the bunch. Nor anyone with a net worth of a million bucks.

However, if you'd asked any of them "Do you feel like a victim?" or "What's it going to take to get you to assume some responsibility for your life?" you would no doubt have gotten some strange looks, sharp remarks or an unfriendly push in the chest.

At a weekday mass at my wife's family's Catholic parish, St. Thecla, on the far northwest side, the pews too seemed to hold mainly 47 percenters. These were retirees, many on fixed incomes. If they were lucky, they had a company pension to go with their Social Security checks. Their Medicare cards were probably an important asset.

En route to and returning from the Windy City, we stayed in Red Roof Inns, which are notably pet friendly these days. If you travel with a dog or a cat, they'll take you in, no questions asked. And at no extra charge. We always travel with our cat "Cleo," who is on anti-seizure medication, so we really appreciate "the Roof."

Here, too, we ended up mingling with the 47 percent crowd. Young people getting a start in life, retired military and more of those working-class folks who'd never figured out how to cash in on the right stock tips or else win the lottery.

They seemed real enough, however. And a number smiled and said "hello" on the grounds as they walked their dogs.

Driving back home across the flatlands of Indiana and western Ohio we passed field after field of shriveled corn stalks. Victims, all right, as were their farmer-owners, of the worst drought to hit the U.S. Midwest in decades. That drought had likely turned many farmers into 47 percenters for 2012.

Some may even have had to file for bankruptcy. Not that they wanted to. And thanks to our government-run courts, they may have an opportunity to get through the process and relaunch their ag business with more favorable weather.

Deservedly, in my book, Romney has taken a lot of flak for his cavalier disparaging of nearly one half of the U.S. population, including quite a bit from fellow Republicans. National Review editor Bill Crystal called Romney's remarks "stupid and arrogant."

Conservative doyenne Ann Coulter probably had it right long ago when she moaned:

"If we don't nominate Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee -- and he will lose."

John Patrick Grace is a former Associated Press reporter, editor and foreign correspondent. He is now a book editor and publisher based in Huntington and teaches the Life Writing Class.

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