Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is it 1993?

Sen. Hillary Clinton dismissed critics of her new health care plan today. Clinton, D-New York, told CNN, "I feel very good and quite confident that the parts of the plan that I have put together will find a lot of favor among people who know what we have to do to get to universal coverage.”

This all seems to harken back to Clinton’s—Bill, that is—first term as president when Hillary was first lady and universal health care was her mission. But before Bill was elected pres, he was running against the first George Bush in 1992. (Hey, remember H. Ross Perot?)

William Jefferson Clinton vs. George H. W. Bush

“All I’ve been asked about by the press are a woman I didn’t sleep with and a draft I didn’t dodge.” –Bill Clinton

Just after the successful completion of his one-hundred-hour Gulf War in the fall of 1990, George H. W. Bush approval ratings reached an astonishing ninety percent; he seemed unbeatable in a second term. After twelve years of prosperous Republican rule coupled with extremely weak Democratic presidential candidates, some pundits began to wonder whether the Democratic Party was heading toward political extinction like the Whigs or the Federalists.

But as the Bush Administration progressed, the approval rating slowly started to fall. War may have made Bush a hero, but he never earned the fanatically loyal following of a Ronald Reagan. He broke his famous 1988 pledge of “Read my lips: No new taxes,” which left him open to Democratic attack. Reagan’s legacy of a staggering four-trillion-dollar national debt (up three trillion since 1980) didn’t help much, either. There may have been an explosion of wealth in the top one percent of the American population, but one in ten Americans was living on food stamps, and one in eight lived below the poverty level.

The relatively obscure field of Democratic candidates included Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas. But Bush had more than Democrats to worry about. Conservative Christian columnist and former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan ran well in the primaries, showing that the religious right would not be denied its share of the action. And the fourteenth wealthiest person in the United States, billionaire Texan H. Ross Perot, decided to hell with Federal matching funds, he’d pay for his own campaign--and mounted the most successful third-party challenge since Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull Moose Party in 1912.

The Candidates
Democrat: William “Bill” Clinton
If there could be such a thing as a “log cabin” presidential candidate in the late twentieth century--an era when nearly every candidate was born with a silver spoon in his mouth--that candidate was William Jefferson Clinton. He was born poor in Hope, Arkansas, in 1946. His father had died in a car accident when he was only three months old, and his stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. Clinton triumphed over all these circumstances to become a Rhodes scholar, go to Yale Law School and, in 1978, become the governor of Arkansas at thirty-two years old.

Married to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton was extraordinarily charismatic--six-foot-two, handsome, empathetic (“I feel your pain”), and a brilliant “policy wonk” with an impressive memory for details. However, according to Republicans, there was the little problem of his being “a pot-smoking, philandering, draft dodger.”

Clinton’s running mate was another southerner, Tennessee Senator Al Gore.

Republican: George H. W. Bush
By the time the election heated up in the summer of 1992, Bush’s approval ratings had dropped to roughly forty percent. Twenty-one years older than his Democratic opponent, he tried to run on his success in foreign affairs, while glossing over his tax increase and the country’s huge deficit, but he lacked both charisma and empathy. While Clinton “felt” the country’s pain, Bush said, in his weird verbal shorthand, “Message: I care.” Focus groups commissioned by the Republican National Committee found that his wife, Barbara, now had higher approval ratings than the president--and his dog, Millie, wasn’t far behind. Even though Bush was told that dumping his hapless vice president J. Danforth Quayle, would generate a net gain of as much as six points in the approval ratings, Bush wouldn’t give up the guy.

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