Historical essay
“My Job is Not to Worry About Those People”

“My Job is Not to Worry About Those People”

There is a lot of controversy over Mitt Romney’s latest “off the cuff” comments he made to a room full of donors:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. These are people who pay no income tax. My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Let the memes commence!  Of course, there have been a lot of reports refuting these so-call facts and rightly attacking Romney for his misconstrued perceptions of who does not pay what. (BTW, Romney, how much did you pay in taxes for the last 10 years?  Just asking.)  I’ll let them hash out how wrong Romney is and always will be.

I want to concentrate on one line: “My job is not to worry about those people.”

It may only be one sentence, but it not only sums up the man Romney is (no matter how much David Brooks still believes he is a nice guy), but also the GOP overall.  It sends shivers down my spine to imagine if presidents from Washington to Obama had also expressed the same sentiment. (And believe me some of them did, though not as articulately as Romney)

So I want to play the game, “what if?” Yes, I know it is not really something historians do, but let’s play the game anyway.

What if Abraham Lincoln had muttered, “My job is not to worry about those people.”? 4 million slaves would have remained in bondage, and who knows, maybe slavery would still exist today.  Well at least Romney wouldn’t have to pay illegal immigrants to clean his house or mow his lawn.

What if Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had both exclaimed, “Our job is not to worry about those people!”?  Well let’s see, the 19th Amendment, the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts, the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Acts would have not have been passed, which effectively means women would not be able to vote, corporate monopolies would flourish, and we all would be eating spoiled food and taking “Uncle Harry’s Cure All,” made of 80% grain alcohol for every ailment we have.

What if Franklin D. Roosevelt had declared during his three terms, “My job is not to worry about those people!”?  The 25-35% unemployment rate would have remained during the Great Depression, leaving millions without jobs.  Banks would have continued to fold.  The Tennessee Valley would have remained a poverty and malaria stricken region. And old people?  Eh, screw them.  Why would they need Social Security?  Oh and those pesky dictators?  You know Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini? Yeah, imagine if Roosevelt had tossed his hand and said, “my job is not to worry about those people.”

What if John F. Kennedy had said, “My job is not to worry about those people”?  The Russians and Castro would have been overjoyed.

What if Lyndon B. Johnson had stated, “My job is not to worry about those people.”?  There would be no Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.  No Economic Opportunity Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Medicare and Medicaid, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and expansion of consumer and environmental protections. (Republicans would have loved if LBJ had said those words because they wouldn’t have to work so hard to tear down some of these successful programs.)

What if Richard Nixon had said “My job is not to worry about those people.”? Well maybe the Vietnam War would have ended a hell a lot sooner and over 20,000 men would still be alive today. (and yes, I do wish the previous three administrations prior to Nixon would have said the same thing.)

What if Bill Clinton had announced, “my job is not to worry about those people”?  Well maybe the rich wouldn’t have had to pay 3% more in taxes and we would not have experienced a period of growth and economic stability during the 1990s.  Wow, I now see how horrible the 1990s were for the rich.  My apologies.

(Now imagine if Bush had mumbled the same sentence, raised the tax rate, and then proceeded not to attack Iraq and only concentrated on Afghanistan?  Wow, I wonder what the last 12 years would have looked like?)

Now imagine if Obama, pandering to right-wing conservatives for votes, conceded “my job is not to worry about those people.”?  Well, there would be no health care reform, a country still mired in the Great Recession, and Americans would be trying to figure out whose job it is to worry about them.

I know I skipped over administrations and I am sure some of you will yell, “but you didn’t mention, …!”  But if you do, you are missing the point.  See what Romney said speaks volumes about who he is and imagine if other men, who were indeed presidents (not presidential candidates), had articulated this one sentence during their tenure.  What would this country look like now?

There have been many other presidents who have indeed said “my job is not to worry about those people.”  They were cowards and so is Romney.

This nation does not need another coward.

Cheryl Lemus earned her PhD from Northern Illinois University in 2011. Her dissertation, “‘The Maternity Racket’: Medicine, Consumerism, and the American Modern Pregnancy, 1876-1960,” examines the rise of the modern pregnancy in 20th-century America. She is mainly interested in gender and women’s history, the history of medicine in America, and the rise of consumer culture.