Before Romney’s 47%, there was Nixon’s

Al Kamen
Columnist September 19, 2012

Some people find certain numbers to be of great significance. For example, the Chinese find the number 8 to be very lucky. Americans find 13 to be very unlucky.

The big number this week is 47, as in the 47 percent of irresponsible, freeloading voters that Mitt Romney decided months ago he can’t and won’t try to win over.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Turns out 47 percent has a historical place in presidential campaign history. President Richard M. Nixon may have been the first to employ it, using it to great effect 40 years ago in his 1972 reelection campaign against Sen. George McGovern.

A Nixon commercial showed a hard-hatted construction worker perched on a beam in an unfinished Manhattan high-rise, munching on a sandwich.

As the worker looks down on the traffic below, an announcer intones that “Senator George McGovern recently submitted a welfare bill to the Congress” that “would make 47 percent of the people in the United States eligible for welfare — 47 percent.” To help the arithmetically challenged, the narrator adds: “Almost every other person in the country would be on welfare.”

The construction worker appears increasingly concerned when the announcer asks rhetorically: “And who’s going to pay for this? Well, if you are not the one out of two people on welfare, you do.”

The hard hat stops munching and looks unhappily, perhaps angrily, into the camera.

The 56-second spot was sponsored by “Democrats for Nixon.”

President Gerald R. Ford, who was Nixon’s vice president, signed the earned-income tax credit into law in 1975. That, over the years, has increased the number of low-wage working people who don’t owe federal income taxes — and thus are in the pool of those moocher 47-percenters.

A bipartisan moment. No, really.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke Wednesday afternoon at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda at which Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was presented with Congress’s highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Clinton recounted a discussion she had with the speaker of the Burmese parliament, who told her about work to promote democracy in that country, which is still dominated by a military junta.

“He went on to tell me that they were trying to teach themselves by watching old segments of ‘The West Wing,’ ” Clinton said as the crowd laughed.

“I said, ‘I think that we can do better than that, Mr. Speaker.’ ”

(Maybe we could send some episodes to the Russians.)

Others there included Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who spoke emotionally of Suu Kyi’s extraordinary courage during her 15 years under house arrest; former first lady Laura Bush; House Speaker John Boehner ; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell .

Some were surprised when Reid effusively praised McConnell for his steadfast effortsto promote democracy in Burma. Shouldn’t have been surprised. The praise was well deserved.

Background Check

Presidential elections come but once every four years, but for Caroline Hunter , elections are a year-round matter.

She heads the Federal Election Commission, which was established to ensure that candidates — presidential and otherwise — adhere to campaign finance laws.

Hunter came to the FEC from the Election Assistance Commission and before that, toiled in the White House of George W. Bush.

She chats with the Loop about what she thinks about campaign-finance laws and why she still bleeds Nittany Lions blue.

Which Cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — I would love to travel to the Middle East with her.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/app/magazine?

It’s hard to pick one. I’m a political junkie — I like Real Clear Politics, Drudge and the Daily Caller.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I _____.

Think federal campaign finance laws are overly burdensome and complex.

What’s your dream job?

I would love to work for my alma mater, Penn State. It’s been a difficult year, but the university is committed to supporting the prevention and treatment of child abuse and improving its governance and structure. Penn State is and will continue to be a world-class academic and research institution for which its students and half a million alumni have deep-seated pride — go, Penn State!

What motivated you to go into public service?

My parents instilled in me a sense of community spirit and involvement. Public service typically allows one to have an impact on public policy and a sense of purpose.

Favorite TV show?

“American Idol” — no matter what the judges say, it’s the votes that count!

What subject, other than your work, do you know the most about? Raising grade-school girls.

What’s the best job you ever had?

Deputy counsel, Republican National Committee — fast-paced and exciting, with a broad array of issues.

I’m scared of _____.

The federal debt.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Fair.

You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

[Reporter and columnist ] John Stossel to head OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] — he’d shake things up!

Background Check is a Loop feature in which we ask various government types about their lives on and off the clock. Please send suggestions for future subjects to intheloop@washpost.com.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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