Memo To: Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Future file for Jerry Brown, David Eisenhower, Chuck Robb, Fritz Mondale.
Subject: Winning (or losing, choose one) the hearts, minds and and votes of six to 10 million government-military personnel and their families.
(Since personal journalism is in flower, this memo will be in the form of a column about columns. In this column on Sunday, April 13, federal workers, retirees and others were asked how they felt about plans to deliberalize their retirement system. They also were asked whether they would vote against Carter if he trimmed cost-of-living raises or supported a merger with social security).
The first answer to the questionnaire was hand-delivered on the same Sunday morning the column ran. A neiighbor handed it to me in the laundry room of our building. He had taken the time to answer all questions.
The second "ballot" was also hand-delivered next day, Monday. A Post reporter said his girlfriend wanted to be registered in opposition to mandatory social security.
That day, Monday, 64 letters mailed the day before, arrived. Someone suggested we put them in a box. Somebody else suggested we get a couple of boxes ready.
Tuesday, a couple of thousand letters.
Wednesday, more than that. The mail was becoming an office joke (I loved every minute of it). The guys in the mail room said I should apply for my own zip code.
Thursday, still more mail. Telephone calls from people in California, Texas and Utah asking if it was too late to send in ballots. Some very angry comments about President Carter's attitude toward bureaucrats, as the bureaucrats perceive that attitude.
Friday, more mail. We stopped the count at just over 14,000. Saturday, Sunday, more mail. We will keep track of it and report again.
A few points:
Unscientific as the poll was a professional polster concluded his critque with the comments: "Nevertheless, that is a helluva lot of mail!"
Washington Post officials said it was the most mail this paper had ever received on ANY issue. This paper has handled a lot of controversial issues in its day..From bribes and bungled burglaries to tape recordings and the downfall of a president.
Eighty percent of those responding said they would vote against Carter or any politician who tampers with their pension system. That issue alone, they said, is enough to sway their decision in a presidential election.
Perhaps you should operate under the assumption that this outpouring of mail is not a Washington-area freak show. Suppose federal workers, retires, everywhere are this upset?
The Pennsylvania primary is at hand. Philadelphia has about 70,000 federal workers. Pennsylvania feds tend to be a little skittish about President Carter for hometown reasons.(In the fall of 1976 vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale in Philadelpia attacked the Republicans for planning to close the Frankford arsenal and its thousands of jobs. Mondale emotionally promised that the Democrats, if elected, would keep the arrsenal open. The state went for Carter. The arsenal was closed anyhow, despite Monale efforts to save it).
California, which also has a primary -- some say critical -- coming up soon, has more federal workers than Washington, more military and more retirees. Cities like San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego consider Uncle Sam a major employer. Lots of votes there.
Conclusion: The long-standing political wisdom has been to kick the bejezus out of Washington and bureaucrats at every chance. Ridicule the drones, make'em wiggle and hear the taxpayer's applaud. Be advised that bureaucrats are taxpayers, voters and the majority group in some areas. Kick and cut if you must. But make them beliveve it is for the good of all mankind, not just for a few votes.
Or you may get just a few votes.