For an interesting perspective on how the politics of welfare has – and has not – changed, check out this 1972 campaign ad by “Democrats for Nixon” (couldn’t have been a very large group). It accuses George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee, of backing a bill that would have expanded welfare to 47% of the population.
Compare that with today’s debate where Republican Mitt Romney accuses the Obama administration of gutting the work requirements for welfare.
Incidentally, the Nixon ad, though it sounds hyperbolic, isn’t that far off in terms of how many people would come to be dependent on government assistance. The Wall Street Journal said last year that more than 48% of Americans lived in a household that depended on some form of federal assistance, like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps or some other program.
Even putting aside Social Security and Medicare, about 100 million people currently depend on some form of federal welfare.