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Mr. President: You Underestimate Americans

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On Friday, President Obama was speaking at Rhode Island College. There was a lot of press given to his remarks about women who choose to stay at home to raise their children (it was a doofus remark), but I believe his entire speech was one in which he underestimates Americans.

I know that many of you are working while you go to school.  Some of you are helping support your parents or siblings.

Well, yes, Mr. President, that’s what we do. Many of us choose to support our families, our parents, our siblings. We choose not to rely on the government, but to work hard not only for ourselves but for those we love. We believe it is our responsibility.

So earlier today, I met with a group of women business owners and working moms, and Lisbeth and your president here, and they were sharing stories that probably sound familiar to a lot of people — studying for finals after working a full shift; searching for childcare when the babysitter cancels at the last minute; using every penny of their savings so they can afford to stay home with their new baby.

Yup, it’s tough. But that’s nothing new. My parents shared both babysitting shifts and building skills when they, my aunt and uncle worked to build houses and work. When my family’s house burned down, my father and uncle would work at their full-time jobs, and then rebuild our house until it got too dark to swing a hammer. And then they’d do it again the next day.

When my own family was young, my sister took care of my kids while I taught for a few years. When her husband left her with three children to raise, they moved in with us. She worked; I stayed at home with my kids and hers.

Moms and dads deserve a great place to drop their kids off every day that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg.  We need better childcare, daycare, early childhood education policies.  In many states, sending your child to daycare costs more than sending them to a public university.

What we really need is tax breaks for parents. We pay an enormous amount to the federal government to pay for things like free birth control for everybody. The number of people on food stamps has exploded; we are paying for that. The government is a machine that eats as much money as we’ll feed it. And we are the forced to work for its substantial and growing appetite.

And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result.  And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.

I thought that is what America is all about: being free to make moral choices. If you want to stay at home to raise your children (whether it’s mom or dad being at home), that’s great. If you choose to work, that’s okay too. We are also free to debate, kindly, with each other as to which choice is best for our children and our families. Mr. President, it is not your place, as political leader of our country, to lessen our choices. It is your job to broaden our choices. Trust us to make the choices that are best for us, even if it means we knowingly choose to create a career plan that has us learning a lower wage.

Mr. President, you underestimate Americans. We are smart, savvy and willing to work hard. We learned from our parents, our grandparents and our mentors. We are fine with hard work. We just want that hard work to benefit ourselves and our families. Let us keep our money, let us make our own choices, let us profit from our hard work.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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