A step back in time

by Michael O. Allen on October 7, 2008

Prior to the debate in Tennessee, C-Span re-broadcast the Oct. 15, 1992 debate between incumbent President George H. W. Bush, then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, and crackpot businessman H. Ross Perot. Some of you will recall that debate as the town hall style debate where Pres. Bush doomed his re-election by impatiently looking at his watch, as if he had somewhere better he’d rather be.

What the re-broadcast made evident 16 years later is how phenomenal a candidate Bill Clinton was. He was so young but so wise and so brilliant. He played the audience masterfully, like a master violinist playing a rare Stradivarius, connecting many questions he answered that night to many members of the audience.

Carole Simpson, the ABC News correspondent who was the moderator that night, asked a question that I did not remember until I saw it again tonight but which struck me as important:

“We have very little time left and it occurs to me that we have talked all this time and there has not been one question about some of the racial tensions and ethnic tensions in America. Is there anyone in this audience that would like to pose a question to the candidates on this?”

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What I’d like to know, and this is to any of the three of you, is aside from the recent accomplishment of your party, aside from those accomplishments in racial representation, and wit-hout citing any of your current appointments or successful elections, when do you estimate your party will both nominate and elect an Afro-American and female ticket to the presidency of the U.S.?

SIMPSON: Governor Clinton, why don’t you answer that first?

CLINTON: Well, I don’t have any idea but I hope it will happen some time in my lifetime.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: I do, too.

CLINTON: I believe that this country is electing more and more African Americans and Latinos and Asian Americans who are representing districts that are themselves not necessarily of a majority of their race. The American people are beginning to vote across racial lines, and I hope it will happen more and more.

More and more women are being elected. Look at all these women Senate candidates we have here. And you know, according to my mother and my wife and my daughter, this world would be a lot better place if women were running it most of the time.

I do think there are special experiences and judgments and backgrounds and understandings that women bring to this process, by the way. This lady said here, how have you been affected by the economy. I mean, women know what’s it like to be paid an unequal amount for equal work. They know what it’s like not to have flexible working hours. They know what it’s like not to have family leave or childcare. So I think it would be a good thing for America if it happened. And I think it will happen in my lifetime.

SIMPSON: Okay. I’m sorry. We have just a little bit of time left. Let’s try to get responses from each of them. President Bush or Mr. Perot?

BUSH: I think if Barbara Bush were running this year she’d be elected. But it’s too late.

(Laughter) You don’t want us to mention appointees, but when you see the quality of people in our administration, see how Colin Powell performed — I say administration —

AUDIENCE QUESTION: (Inaudible).

BUSH: You weren’t impressed with the fact that he —

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Excuse me. I’m extremely impressed with that.

BUSH: Yeah, but wouldn’t that suggest to the American people, then, here’s a quality person, if he decided that he could automatically get the nomination of either party?

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Sure — I just wanted to know — yes.

BUSH: Huh?

AUDIENCE QUESTION: I’m totally impressed with that. I just wanted to know is, when’s your-

BUSH: Oh, I see.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: When?

BUSH: You mean, time?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah.

BUSH: I don’t know — starting after 4 years.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Laughs)

BUSH: No, I think you’ll see —

SIMPSON: Mr. Perot.

BUSH: I think you’ll see more minority candidates and women candidates coming forward.

SIMPSON: We have — thank you.

BUSH: This is supposed to be the year of the women in the Senate. Let’s see how they do. I hope a lot of —

SIMPSON: Mr. Perot — I don’t want to cut you off any more but we only have a minute left.

PEROT: I have a fearless forecast. A message just won’t do it. Colin Powell will be on somebody’s ticket 4 years from now — right? Right? He wanted that said — 4 years.

SIMPSON: How about a woman?

PEROT: Now, if won’t be, General Waller would be — you say, why do you keep picking military people. These are people that I just happen to know and have a high regard for. I’m sure there are hundreds of others.

BUSH: How about Dr. Lou Sullivan?

PEROT: Absolutely.

BUSH: Yeah, a good man.

SIMPSON: What about a woman?

PEROT: Oh, oh.

BUSH: (Inaudible) totally agree. My candidate’s back there.

SIMPSON: (Laughs)

PEROT: Okay. I can think of many.

SIMPSON: Many?

PEROT: Absolutely.

SIMPSON: When?

PEROT: All right. How about Sandra Day O’Connor as an example?

SIMPSON: Hm-hm.

PEROT: Dr. Bernadine Healy —

SIMPSON: Good.

PEROT: National Institutes of Health. I’ll yield the floor.

BUSH: All good Republicans.

PEROT: Name some more.

(Laughter)

SIMPSON: Thank you. I want to apologize to our audience because there were 209 people here and there were 209 questions. We only got to a fraction of them and I’m sorry to those of you that didn’t get to ask your questions but we must move to the conclusion of the program.

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