Each evening this week, I have sat and watched the Republican National Convention. Though such a focus upon the RNC might be construed as a large waste of my time – as I know that I am voting for President Obama – watching the event allows me to focus in upon what drives the Republican Party. Though I could talk all day about my perceptions of the GOP, one aspect of the Convention has really stood out at me, and surprisingly, it is not the party’s stance on LGBT issues. Instead, it is the popular catchphrase that Republicans have been using for the past month that has irked me, the phrase “We Built It”. This phrase which conjures up the rugged individualism of “pulling one up by their bootstraps” to do something great and hearkens us back to an era when the government was little and the world was much, much smaller. Yet, even though the speeches at the RNC have all echoed this theme, the rugged individualism that is the underlying premise of this theme is actually an extremely arrogant position to take.
All of us depend, in some way, upon other people as well as government. We might not like to admit that, as it may pop the bubble of belief in how we create our own success, but a denial of this reality does not make that reality any less true.
I can use my own story to emphasize this point. By any objective level of analysis, I am doing pretty well for myself. Yes, I am still a student, yet I graduated from undergrad with absolutely no debt and am currently a student at one of the United States’ great law schools. To achieve this result, I put time, energy, and countless hours into my studies. While other friends were having fun, I realized the future goal of what I wanted to accomplish and I focused upon that instead of the temporary benefits that I would receive from spending time with my peers. I also, during that period, worked almost full-time hours to support both myself and my husband. By Republican standards, I should be considered a “model”…I worked hard and am being rewarded for that work.
My story is not a complete picture of the successes that have accompanied my pursuits. Each portion of my tale has parts that can be conveniently left out if I chose to do so. But to do so is not only intellectually dishonest, it is unfair to all who have assisted me in being where I am right now. Two things stand out at me when I look back at my life over the past five years.
First, I would not have been able to succeed academically in University without two things. 1. A mother that taught me how to study, what to focus my energy upon, and how to apply my knowledge and 2. Professors and Administrators at Memphis, Saskatchewan, and Brock (I did a few exchange programs) that had interest in me as a student and dedicated time and energy in ensuring that I was successful in my studies. But, some might say, that is not what we are talking about, because the RNC position is not that other people cannot help you succeed, but that Government does not help you succeed. This gets to my second point.
After I did my months in “gay camp”, I thought that a college education was a pipe dream. I had no idea how I could afford to go to the University of Memphis, work full time, and still survive; in fact, I was struggling just to make ends meet. Additionally, I was not able to get student loans to go to school because my parents would not fill out their portion of the FAFSA. But what happened? I was given a scholarship by the University of Memphis so that I might attend their university – and subsequently, the Universities that I went on exchange too. Though this scholarship did not cover the entirety of my tuition, it was a substantial amount, and allowed me to go to school debt-free for all four years. Without this scholarship, which should actually be considered “government money” as the University of Memphis is a public institution, I would not have been able to prove myself academically, and be where I am today.
What the GOP miss in their claim of “We Built It”, is that Democrats and Liberals do not believe that Government should be able to take the credit for what individuals, small businesses, or corporations achieve. Instead, Democrats and liberals recognize that government investments – whether they are roads, bridges, police, military, research, or yes, even scholarships – allow each of us to achieve our full potential. Governmental investment is just that, investment. It is our society – through our tax dollars – investing in our nation’s future. Without investments in things such as higher education, many Americans would not have the ability to achieve their dreams. I know that I wouldn’t have.