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The 1992 Presidential Election

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The 1992 Presidential Election

"We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It's pretty simple: If you're paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, ... have no health care—that's the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don't care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south." -Ross Perot, Reform Party Candidate for President, October 15, 1992

1. Change vs. more of the same
2. The economy, stupid
3. Don't forget health care

Under those three guidelines, particular the now-famous slogan of "the economy, stupid", William Jefferson Clinton, Bill to supporters and Slick Willy to detractors, overcame a year of instability and change to unseat a sitting President and become the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter had himself been unseated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan. It was a moment not lost on a battered Democratic Party, who had endured years of their own party members voting in line with Reagan and Bush after him, only one Presidential election victory from 1968 through 1988, and watching as Ronald Reagan's cabinet full gurgling over with blood and miasma had been pardoned by the well-liked George Bush. Bush, the same who had then led the United States into the most popular war since the Second World War—even if leaving the Kurds and others to die by Saddam's hand in Iraq only made a later confrontation worse, but the voices raising the point were few in 1991—and saw the fall of the USSR and Eastern Bloc under his tenure.

The average bystander in late 1991 through early 1992 would have been forgiven for thinking Bush was a shoe-in for re-election, and the refusal of Democratic titans like Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo would have only confirmed that idea. But 1992 was not a normal year, nor one with normal candidates or a normal world anymore. Normal was the Cold War, Capitalism opposed to Communism, a world on the brink of nuclear war seemingly all the time, and then suddenly it...wasn't. Because then it was, well, it was

Like, fuck, guys. That's a lot. Because screw the academic writing for a little bit, alright? I'm a 90s kid; all I ever knew was President Clinton and an economy that was decent and living in a little bubble that every kid had. The 90s are flashes of TV and music and video games and school to me. It's too easy, sometimes, for us to look back at it like that as people like, like us as I suspect a lot of people reading this are similar, and forget what it was like then. Because forget about the election for a moment, alright?

1992. Unemployment was the highest it'd been in a decade, the Cold War was over and Yugoslavia was ripping itself apart like a meat grinder. In Los Angeles the L.A. Riots consumed the city in anger at racial injustice and then just at one another while Rodney King, whose beating began the whole thing in the first place, begged everyone to just get along. AIDS was still burning through the gay community and the government treated them, treated us like fucking trash. The NAMES Project, a massive memorial quilt for the victims of AIDS/HIV, was displayed in Washington D.C. every year starting in 1987, because for a lot of people who died, that was their funeral while their families turned their back. Meanwhile Pat Buchanan was talking about a war on religion and scaring people up, and starting the polarization that we "enjoy" today. People worried about their jobs disappearing overseas and the imminent signing of NAFTA, while every workplace steadily got more digital. Stability was a luxury that we afford ourselves looking back on it because we just couldn't understand it, those of us too young, or who remember but choose to pick only the good and leave the bad.

People tried to make a difference in their own ways. Bush ran on standing with the President and said the worst of the recession was over. Clinton ran as a new kind of Democrat, one that he said was going to need people to put effort into getting benefits and entitlements in a more centrist position closer to what we'd call neoliberalism now. Ross Perot ran on beating the three party system and changing the budget and keeping jobs in the country. One of them won the Presidency. Ordinary people worked to make things better whose names we'll never learn, to give us a world better than the world they were stuck in. Did we win?

I don't know. I still don't. Maybe you do. More factory jobs left the country. Health care wasn't reformed and became the nightmare it is today of diabetic people begging for their lives on GoFundMe to buy insulin. The economy boomed for a time, but ended up raising inequality for those who couldn't catch up with it. Those who benefited from it in the short term were kneecapped when the bubble burst in the early 2000s or smashed in the face when 2008 and the Great Recession came.

I Don't Know, Do You?

Writing about Presidential elections is hard. You can write about facts and figures and be super objective, or you can get angry and pick a side and make heroes out of someone and write it like it's some heroic struggle. But what the fuck do I do here? Clinton won, but he and the Democrats signed on to welfare reform that only made the divide between rich and poor worse, and crime bills that filled our jails further with people who don't fucking deserve to be there for so long or on such trumped up charges. But the guy he ran against pardoned people who were partly responsible for genocide in Central America. How the fuck do I write about that?

I guess this is how. You decide for yourself, reader, what you make of it all. You make of the world what you want it to be. That's all we could do then, that's all we can do now. Elections are easy to make sense of, but the world is harder, and every one of you who is figuring it out for themselves is so brave. Just like everyone who made their own way, little by little, in 92 while the whole world overturned around them, you can do it too. I believe in ya.


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