Get ready for the 1996 election
“The truth is more important than the facts.”
---Frank Lloyd Wright
The presidency of Bill Clinton was in serious trouble after the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. That meant he had to do something to turn his fortunes around. Caller after caller wanted him out.
The State of the Union address of 1996 laid the groundwork for a comeback from a deficit in the polls. Welfare reform became the first arrow in his election quill.
Prior to 1996 welfare payments were distributed through a program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The program drew heavy criticism throughout the 1980s, but enough votes could not be garnered in congress to reform the system. Stories of “welfare queens”, the women who cheated the welfare system, who receive multiple checks each month while not working were regular fodder on all talk shows. You may recall some of the “she drove a pink Cadillac to the welfare office” calls. I do.
Welfare as we knew it bred a poor work ethic among recipients. The system lacked incentives for recipients to get off the system. It was a endless circle of generation after generation of considering the welfare check as an entitlement.
Toughening the rules for receiving welfare was the third point in the Republicans’ Contract with America and the tide of public opinion favoring some change to the welfare system was considerable. All the forces were right to finally get it done.
Bill Clinton was adept at jumping in front of a parade coming down the street. He would get out there as though it was his parade and he led it. He sensed the public animosity toward welfare and made it appear he took the lead to reform it. After all he gave it lip service in the 1992 campaign.
Many liberal Democrats were upset with him but he knew he had to get “out front” on the issue and begin to repair his severely damaged image. As usual he had it both ways.
With the public in general it was Bill Clinton who came up with the idea, crafted the legislation, and pushed it through congress. That was hokum said some of our talk show callers. But it didn’t matter because he put on a great show during the signing of the legislation.
To placate his liberal base of supporters he twice vetoed reform bills which reached him. The Republicans, however, were adamant about reform and made only superficial changes to the original bill. Finally on the third attempt Clinton signed the legislation saying he was now satisfied there were safeguards for the truly needy. Very little had been changed because of his two vetoes.
One of the bill’s provisions was a time limit. Under the law, no person could receive welfare payments for more than five years, consecutive or nonconsecutive.
We got welfare reform and Bill Clinton got the credit.
Slick Willie was becoming the comeback kid. Again.
It had been sixty-two years since any major changes had been made to our telecommunications policy. The original act had been passed in 1934, it was known as The Communications Act. In January 1996 congress made major changes in the original act which now became known as The Telecommunications Act of 1996. It made many changes to the original act.
The act affected (and continues to affect) the following:
Most broadcast companies favored deregulation. The argument is that it would encourage competition.
The 1934 act was based on some basic assumptions. Among them was the airwaves were in the public domain and there were only a limited number of potential frequencies. (The limits were due to the available technologies.)
By 1996, there were more places on the radio dial than companies seeking frequencies. There also had been a fear a powerful interest in any given community could literally dominate the local scene by “cross ownership” in different mediums. For example a company could own the dominant newspaper, radio and television outlet and therefore unduly influence the distribution of information.
With the advent of cable television, the Internet and the expansion of the radio dial, those dangers ceased being a major concern.
As a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, by 1999, nearly all U.S. homes had more than one choice of local telephone service providers.
Access to the Internet is nearly universal and cable, with its multitude of program choices was available in nearly every corner of the country, even the most remote (via satellite).
Some major mergers occurred as a result of the act:
Major mergers and purchases continue in the radio and television industry. There is virtually no radio or television station in major or medium size markets and a large number in small and rural market areas that have not been affected.
The 1934 act attempted to protect small communities to make certain they could have local broadcasting. This was especially true in agricultural communities where local stations broadcast the commodity prices early each day. I recall as a boy listening to a radio station in New Bedford broadcast the morning prices for different types of fish. The stations signal was received by fishermen at sea who would then decide to stay at sea or return to take advantage of favorable prices.
Another portion of the act was aimed at online pornography and dealt with “decency”.
That part of the act was defeated in the courts on the basis of free speech.
[I’m sure Jimmy Madison and Tommy Jefferson had porn in mind when they wrote the first amendment.]
One of the most ardent supporters of William Clinton was the women’s and “reproductive rights” groups. All of those centered on the single issue of abortion. The National Organization for Women (NOW), Planned Parenthood (the worlds largest abortion vendor) and the National Rights Action League (NARAL), were full supporters and excuse makers for the president.
An interesting aside, NARAL’s founder, Dr. Bernard Nathanson who performed thousands of abortions, is now a leader of the Pro-Life movement. Dr. Nathanson was converted when he watched the Pro-Life produced documentary “Silent Scream”, which shows clearly the baby being aborted is in extreme pain and fully alive.
President Clinton twice vetoed legislation aimed at outlawing the practice of partial birth abortion. That is the procedure where the baby is partially brought out of the womb and the baby is killed by using a suction instrument on the baby’s brain.
The vetoes helped ease the anger of the radical and extremists on the abortion and welfare issues felt toward him for signing the welfare reform legislation.
In his original bid for the presidency Bill Clinton was once again dubbed the “Comeback Kid.”
Shortly after receiving his law degree from Yale in 1973 Clinton returned to Arkansas. There he taught law at the University of Arkansas.
While teaching there he ran for the Arkansas legislature, losing to the incumbent 52% to 48%.
In 1976 he ran for attorney general and won.
In 1978 he moved up to governor and at age thirty was considered by some a wunderkind. His first term was fraught with difficulties. An unpopular motor vehicle tax coupled with anger over the escape of Cuban Mariel boatlift prisoners elevated the anger of Arkansans. The Cubans had been detained at Fort Chafee in 1980.
Adding to his electoral problem was the Ronald Reagan success in Arkansas. The Gipper carried Arkansas by a wide margin.
The problems of 1980 caused him to lose his bid for reelection. His political consultant and guru Dick Morris said he was crushed by the experience.
By 1982, Bill Clinton ran again for governor of Arkansas. He was still young as governor’s go at age thirty-four. Chastened by the events of the past he resolved to reverse his fortunes and mount a comeback.
Clinton made the comeback a reality returning to his old job.
For the next ten years Governor Clinton mimicked the Reagan Administration by moving to the political center and supporting usually Republican issues. Chief among the changes was welfare reform, reduction in the size of state government and gaining control of state spending. He was a mini-Reagan in many ways. He was also Pro-Life in those days.
The failures of his first term as governor of Arkansas became a distant memory.
However, something which would come back to dog him during his presidency was his and his wife Hillary’s involvement in an investment which would later known as the Whitewater scandal.
No indictments were ever issued against either Clinton over Whitewater but numerous friends wound up in jail for the failed investment scheme. It came to light because of the failure of a savings and loan company whose deposits were federally insured. It was a $60 million failure along with a phony $300,000 Small Business Administration loan.
The investigations resulting from Whitewater led to something else completely unexpected and William Clinton becoming only the second president in history to be impeached. (More on the impeachment later).
Bill Clinton as president became something to everyone. Lots of people and they stood by him even during his most difficult times. Though liberals were angry and disappointed in Clinton because of welfare reform, but he changed his stance on abortion which made him their champion.
He placated some social conservatives because he was a supporter of capital punishment.
He satisfied the liberals again because he favored gun control.
Placing a label on Bill Clinton was difficult indeed.
Hence the nickname columnist Paul Greenburg pinned on him, “Slick Willie”.
As president he talked a good game on the issue of reducing the federal budget. He accomplished the reductions by severely slashing military spending. The cold war was over so only a few objected to the wholesale reduction and depletion of our military assets, such as missiles, aircraft, the “Reagan Star Wars” program, and other costly elements of our national defense.
Even the Kosovo War was later conducted mostly with bombs and missiles and further depleted our supply of them so much our arsenal was very limited by the time Clinton left office.
Nevertheless, he looked very much the fiscal conservative when the congress balanced the national budget for the first time in decades.
Between the cuts in spending and the tax cuts, especially capital gains cuts, Clinton benefited from a sizable increase in tax revenue. This was generated by the economic expansion of high tech developments.
The image of Bill Clinton was approaching the level of a genius. What went without much comment in the mainstream media, but well noticed by talk radio audiences, was the reason for the improvement in the economy. The congressional refusal to grant the Clinton Administration any more than it was already spending was his biggest asset. “Aw shucks, I want to give you more but those stingy Republicans………”
An interesting example of classical William Jefferson Clinton duplicity was his issuing executive order #12,834, his very first such order. It was entitled the “Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees”. The order limited the ability of former senior political appointees to lobby their former colleagues after they left office. He received credit for being a reformer when he signed the order.
One of his last acts as president, along with many pardons he would issue in his closing days, was executive order #13,184. It rescinded the original order #12,834. Super slick.
One day I asked on air, “Will the real Bill Clinton please stand up?”
This was the man challenged for president by former senate majority leader, Kansas Senator Robert Dole in 1996. Dole had served in the senate from 1969 and been Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976. There he gained a reputation for being tough talking and somewhat bombastic for his comments during the 1976 campaign about Jimmy Carter and his running mate Walter Mondale.
Dole was a disabled World War II veteran, the last one ever to run for president. Dole had been part of the legendary 10th Mountain Division. In the Spring of 1945, while fighting in the mountains of Northern Italy, Lieutenant Dole was hit by machine gun fire on his position. He was hit in the right upper back and right arm. He was so badly wounded his arm was not recognizable. It took many hours to evacuate him to a filed hospital to receive treatment for his wounds.
For his efforts Bob Dole was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with combat “V” for valor. The Bronze Star was for his attempt to help his wounded radio man.
His recovery was at an Army hospital in Michigan. The future candidate for president lost the use of his right arm. His arm is completely paralyzed.
When I met Senator Dole in Kansas City in 1976 I noticed that on introduction he shook hands with me using his left hand. He had a Bic Pen clenched in his right hand, a practice he continues today.
Whatever we may think of Bob Dole’s politics, most of our listeners liked his pluck. That trait he first demonstrated on the battlefield served him well in politics. In 1976 he was the third choice of Gerald Ford as his vice presidential running mate. His first choice, Nelson Rockefeller was considered far too liberal by most Republicans. Nominating Rockefeller for vice president could have brought down the wrath of the conservatives who may have voted down his nomination. That would have been a very bad thing for Ford.
Ford’s second vice presidential choice had been Tennessee Senator Howard Baker who would later emerge as senate minority leader until succeeded by Dole in 1985. Baker withdrew when stories of his wife’s drinking problems were made public in the mainstream media.
Only then did Bob Dole become the choice.
Dole unsuccessfully ran against George Bush for president in 1988. It was a bitter race in which Dole, in frustration, when asked by a reporter what he’d like to tell George Bush, responded, “Tell him to stop lying about my record.”
Finally in 1996 it appeared Bill Clinton was on the ropes.
The Republican Revolution of 1994 and the successes of the Republican Congress in welfare reform, improvement in the economy as well as tremendous strides to balance the budget, attracted a large field of Republicans.
As was the case in 1988 when the Democrats smelled political blood in the water with the Reagan Administration coming to an end, we had the experience of interviewing of all the candidates on WRKO.
Bob Dole was seventy-three and many wondered whether he could withstand the rigors of a presidential race. He was considered the establishment candidate for the Republican nomination for president.
Phil Gramm, a champion of conservatives because of his hard line on budget and tax issues was, at first, Dole’s primary competition.
However, Gramm was undercut by the candidacy of Pat Buchanan, who upset him and Dole in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire north country came out very strong for Buchanan.
The race had be one of many strong candidates. Besides Dole, Buchanan, and Gramm, in the race were Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and multi-millionaire Steve Forbes, who spent a substantial amount for negative ads.
The rigorous campaign caused Bob Dole had to spend precious resources to secure the nomination. In the meantime President Clinton spent little money because he had no meaningful opposition in the primaries. He was able to save it for the general election.
In an attempt to sway conservatives to join him, long before the convention, Senator Dole did two important things:
The Kansas senator pledged a fifteen percent across the board income tax cut.
He tapped Jack Kemp as his running mate. Kemp, a former National Football League quarterback with the then Los Angeles Chargers and more notably, the Buffalo Bills. After his very solid career, he ran for congress as a Republican in a Buffalo suburb which was split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Like Ronald Reagan, Kemp had been a union chief as he headed the football players union. The Reagan tax cuts of the early 1980 had been authored by Kemp as a member of the House of Representatives where he served for eighteen years.
Both moves, at any other time, might have propelled him into the lead in the polls. The problems and nastiness of the primary disabled his campaign against Clinton from the very beginning.
First, Dole was out of money.
Added to all that was Ross Perot’s late entry into the race.
As was the case in 1992, Perot seemed most angry with the race of Bob Dole. While the convention in San Diego was went fairly smooth, the spirit was not there. That lack of spark worked against Dole throughout the remainder of the campaign.
The general election featured Bill Clinton campaigning on Republican issues such as his success with welfare reform. Back in January, in his State of the Union address of 1996 he said he was going to introduce the welfare reform. He said it would end welfare as we know it.
When he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 into law he took full credit for the Republican’s initiative. Bob Dole and Jack Kemp had been two of the strongest proponents of the reform and had introduced similar proposals for many years, yet it became “Clinton’s” baby.
Clinton guru, Dick Morris called that tactic triangulation.
The election was pretty much settled long before November 5, 1996. Jack Kemp was a poor vice-president candidate since he would not engage in the hard type politicking one expects from the running mate. Al Gore certainly was hard nose in the campaign and in fund raising.
Clinton was re-elected with 49.2% of the popular vote over Bob Dole’s 40.7%. Ross Perot slipped to single digits with just 8.4%.
Clinton’s victory, however did not translate into many changes in the congress with Republicans losing a few house seats and gaining one in the senate.
On election day 1996 little did anyone even suspect the drama which was to unfold daring the next four Clinton years.
On election night, one of our callers who described himself as a decorated World War II veteran made some interesting observations on Bill Clinton and the election.
He said he viewed President Clinton as a draft evader and traitor for demonstrating against the Vietnam War. He did so while he was a student in England and for participating in demonstrations against the United States at least as a spectator in Moscow. The Soviets were the primary supporter of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who were killing our soldiers in battle.
The old man could not understand how a man with Clinton’s background and history could have defeated two men, who in their own right were war heroes.
I don’t understand it either.