[Jonathan Alter, author of the new book "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies", is joining us as a guest blogger this week in the Editor's Blog highlighting and discussing some key findings and revelations in his new book. - jmm]
A great pleasure of the book for me was getting to know the bartender who videotaped Romney making his comments about the 47 percent. I was fascinated by his motivation for his historic act. In September of 2012, TPM dug up an old TV ad from 40 years ago that had an uncanny relevance to the class-based arguments of 2012.
"In 1972, as the Watergate scandal was unfolding, Richard Nixon's reelection campaign attacked the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern, for his position on welfare. In one ad, sponsored by Democrats for Nixon, the Republicans went after McGovern's 1972 proposal for a negative income tax aimed at ending poverty with tax refunds of up to $1,000 per person. The idea of a negative income tax had originated with Milton Friedman, the godfather of conservative economics, and was proposed by Nixon himself (with the help of his aide Daniel Patrick Moynihan), as recently as 1970. Two years later Nixon, mobilizing resentments, saw political opportunity. The ad showed a construction
worker (so-called hard hats were the core of Nixon's base) eating his lunch on a steel beam. 'McGovern's bill would make 47 percent of people in the United States eligible for welfare,' the narrator intoned.
"Then he repeated the number: '47 percent.'
"It is impossible to know exactly why an unassuming blue-collar worker, a man not unlike that hard hat eating his lunch on the construction beam, decided to expose Mitt Romney's private comments at a Florida fundraiser and change the course of the 2012 campaign.
"Some clues may be found on an inky black September night seven years earlier in the Everglades. The visibility on the highway that evening was poor, and a car plunged into a ten-foot-deep canal. A six-foot-three man in his early thirties who worked selling motorcycles at a dealership nearby, heard the crash and sprinted hundreds of yards to the canal, where a passerby had already broken his hand punching out the passenger-side window of the quickly submerging car, trying to free the woman, trapped inside by her seat belt. When he arrived at the scene the man plunged into the murky water several times and was finally able to unlock the door from the driver's side, but he couldn't pull the un-conscious woman free. The passerby with the broken hand and otherbystanders yelled, 'Dude, she's gone. She's gone.'
"The man would later say that he had slept well ever since because he kept trying. He knew from having done volunteer EMT work that the woman could live minutes longer. With the help of a bowie knife he was finally able to cut through the seat belt and free the driver, who floated to the surface. He remembered smiling to himself when he was underwater, knowing that he had saved her. As a coworker administered CPR, onlookers peering
into the water yelled "Baby seat!" The man dived down several more times, feeling in the pitch black for a baby, but fortunately found no child in the car. The driver, a single mother, survived. Later the mayor and town council of nearby Davie, Florida, gave the man a watch, and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company awarded him its 'Life Savers Award' for 'outstanding courage and humanity.'
"The man's name was Scott Prouty and he later said the experience
convinced him, 'If you can jump in, you should jump in.'"