JASON WESTER: Standing on the shoulders of giants

By Jason Weter

Mike, a former teacher of mine who I now count among my good friends, told me once that if he had achieved anything in life it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants. That phrase has stuck with me because it is beautiful expression of humility. Mike understood that he didn’t do it alone.
Growing up, my family, like most families in Mississippi, was purely working-class. My mother and father got us by paycheck-to-paycheck. I was lucky. I was lucky to have parents who loved and cared for me. I was lucky that they taught me a solid work ethic, a drive to never quit, and a love of learning that has sustained my soul ever since.
But my parents didn’t raise me alone. I was lucky to attend the outstanding Pontotoc City Schools and get an excellent education from excellent teachers. I was lucky that there were school buses and paved roads. I was lucky that Mississippi has an excellent system of community colleges and universities. In short, I, like Mike, stand on the shoulders of giants. I did not do it alone.
Among Republicans, it seems that anything to do with government, aside from the military of course, is nothing less than the vilest evil. The Republican mind’s eye sees government, and by extension taxes, as obstacles to be overcome, as impediments to success.
In previous election years, by this time in the season, I have felt pretty worn down by the incessant media coverage, the day-to-day battles and gotcha sound bytes, but this election has kept my interest because the two candidates, President Obama and Mitt Romney, have personified the differences between their party’s ideologies with unusual (sometimes unintentional) clarity.
Recently, Romney was criticized for remarks that revealed his thorough disdain for the poor and the working class. Remarkable about Romney’s comments is the gall of an extremely wealthy man, a man who has never had to worry about paying his bills, about going bankrupt after an illness, to blame the ills of the nation on people who lack similar means. The fundamental delusion among Republicans is the belief that the nation’s problems should be blamed on the powerless and voiceless poor.
But Republicans take it one step further. Not only are you on your own in the Republican fantasy world, but if you look at his proposed budget, he intends to gut the very social programs that help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Charter schools, championed in this state by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, are nothing more than a Trojan horse meant to gradually dismantle public education. Social Security, if the Republicans had their way, would be privatized and placed in the hands of the robber-barons of Wall Street. And health care? Forget about it. You are on your own.
President Obama’s rhetoric of togetherness, that we are all Americans, in this together, that we are, in fact, our brother’s keeper, is what we need in these tough times. Mississippi is the poorest of all states, which means that the citizens of Mississippi benefit from public programs more than any other state. In a very real sense, then, a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote against Mississippi and Mississippians. Take away the social programs in Mississippi and it would resemble a third-world nation overnight.
And so, this November, while it is a foregone conclusion that a majority of Mississippians will vote against their own interests by casting a ballot for Mitt Romney, perhaps some of you will remember you didn’t get that right to vote on your own. You got that right because people before you fought for the public good. When you stand at the voting booth, you are standing on the shoulders of giants.
Jason Wester, Ph.D., is a Tupelo resident who teaches at Northwest Community College. His email is jason@jasonwester.com.