Monday, April 11, 2016

"Race for the White House": Clinton leverages the 1992 recession and then changes gay history after beating Bush and Perot

The last episode (6) of “Race for the White House” on CNN presented the history of Clinton v. Bush #1 and Perot in 1992, with the best link here.

I remember the race well.  I was working for USLICO (now Voya-ING) in Arlington at the time. H. Ross Perot (founder of EDS, at one time a very strict and controversial IT employer in Dallas)  entered the race as an independent, dropped out for ten weeks, and came back in and got 20% of the popular vote.  I even voted for him. Had he not dropped out because of a tantrum, he might have won.  Perot had become a somewhat disciplined liberal or pragmatist, talking about “the American people”, saying “trickle down didn’t trickle” and even supporting pro-choice positions.

The episode started with the end of the Persian Gulf War (on Feb. 28, 1991), and a national celebration in Washington on June 8, 1991.  George H. W. Bush was at the top of his popularity then. But his popularity slumped with a quick “post-war” recession which saw professionals doing “grunt work” and “depending on friends and family” as a moralistic US News article then advised, about the same time that another issue ran “cycling’s best legs” – the boys and the girls were the same.

By early 1992, Pat Buchanan even challenged Bush in the NH primary, trying to bring back social conservatism. Before the primary, a mistress scandal almost derailed Bill Clinton, who became “the comeback kid” – even as Hillary said she wasn’t just a housewife who would “stand by my man.”

I remember Barbara Bush's speech on family values in the 1992 Republican convention. "You don't have to be married or have children to have a full life," she said, "but if you (choose to) have children, they have to become the first priority of your life,"  Yet that didn't seem to be enough.
Clinton became popular as the recession worsened, and Bush played catch up.  A new wrinkle appeared on the horizon which the episode didn’t cover.  In May 1992, Navy sailor (who flew helicopter spy missions around Iran as a regular military job, and had been called “the best submarine hunter in the Navy) Keith Meinhold, came out as gay on ABC news.  I found out about it the next day.  While the Navy processed his mandatory honorable discharge, which he would challenge, Joe Steffan’s story of expulsion from the Naval Academy, including his book on the subject (“Honor Bound”) would circulate in the late summer and early fall.  Gays in the military was becoming an issue that was probably made more likely by the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, and then by a perception that a more liberal president would probably be in office in 1993.  Indeed, that would lead to “don’t ask don’t tell” for 17 years.  Perot had said he didn't think lifting the ban was "realistic", but obviously had softened his attitude on gay rights compared to times past.  Clinton was unable to gays complete equality on his own ("You're part of us") but would solve the problem with security clearances in 1995.

The episode mentioned Clinton's "draft dodging" which is a pretty complicated narrative, such as this account from PBS Frontline, and this from the New York Times.  This raises questions about morality (are people to be judged for actions policies that no longer are in the law) and ties in to the arguments I made in the 1990s about gays in the military. 

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