Vice President Richard Nixon showed Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev around a model showcase of a middle class American home, part of the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow.
The kitchen design display, with built-in washing machine, cost $14,000, Nixon said in a transcript. But a government-gauranteed veterans mortgage plan let steelworkers earning $3 an hour to purchase their home for $100 monthly payments.
According to eyewitness and columnist William Safire’s account, Nixon thought he had the leg up in the acrimonious dispute. America was breeding a better society because in Nixon’s telling it provided, nourished and promoted better consumer products and choices when compared against the USSR.
So Nixon clung to the washing machine as the unscripted and exasperating debate unfolded. Extolling the American-made washing machine, automated brooms and color television set, Nixon explained how, “What we want to do is make more easy the life of our housewives.”
Women comprising half the nation’s labor force. They’re the pivotal demographic in the election. Today’s date also marks three years since the most recent raise in the federal minimum wage law. Toss in some Dick Nixon and you have some wry observations to make about the American middle class and its values.
We’re still fighting about the role of government in society 150+ years after the Civil War put it to rest. In the 40 years since Nixon’s spiel, we’ve seen the middle class promise of home ownership and a better life generation to generation on trial as family income falls and the top-earning 1 percent of households receive about 20 percent of the total income. (See 2000-2010 above).
Nixon made his capitalist pitch as the top 1 percent of American households enjoyed less than 10 percent of the total national wealth. Like washing machines or color televisions, that too has proliferated across American society.