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There are a multitude of factors that justify and rationalize Bill Clinton’s election successes in 1992 and 1996; in 1992 his rhetoric capability and empathy, in stark contrast with his opponent’s, George H. W. Bush, aloof, distant manner contributed somewhat to Clinton’s Presidential election. In 1996, it seems it was Clinton’s unfaltering charm and his talent for oratory that secured his second term in office against Bob Dole’s poorly calculated proposed economic policies. However, as always there are a plethora of reasons as to how Clinton achieved his two electoral wins.
Clinton accused his adversary, George H. W. Bush, of not doing enough to help the middle classes and of being “out of touch” with the average man, a notion reinforced at the second presidential debate when an African American woman asked the candidates how the national debt had affected their lives. If it had not, she asked, how could they expect to find a cure for the economic problems of ordinary people? Bush failed to understand the question and was unsuccessful in his attempts to answer the query coherently.
Clinton, however, empathized with the woman and directly asked her how the economy had affected her; he then proceeded to talk of the problems he encountered as governor of Arkansas. His public speaking skills and understanding of the average person’s hardships earned him the respect of the people. Clinton’s ability to identify with the mass electorate, in distinction with Bush, made him seem very amiable and convinced the public to see him appealing candidate for presidency.
Clinton was lucky with the level of incompetence shown by both of his rivals; as aforementioned, Bush ran his 1992 campaign poorly and was simply “out of touch” and Clinton’s opponent in 1996, Bob Dole, was, it seems, unable to present mathematically justifiable economic policies. Dole was 73-years-old during the 1996 election, he lacked charisma and did not seem enthused to be campaigning, His proposed polices on tax cuts, budgets and defence expenditure did not add up.
In order to maintain some kind of following Dole came out as anti-abortion, which then caused him to lose a substantial amount of female voters who then favoured Clinton by 54% to 38%. Dole and Bush’s combined ineptitude made Clinton look, by comparison, like the sensible choice for president and contributed, unknowingly, to Clinton’s election successes. Unlike his 1992 electoral assailant Bush, Clinton’s specific policies appealed to the majority of the electorate.
During his first campaign for presidency in 1992, Clinton presented himself as a New Democrat, to prevent the high-tax association that came with the labelling of being an Old Democrat. Old Democrats were relatively soft on crime, Clinton’s actions related to crime appeared to be almost the antithesis of the Old Democratic view—he approved the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a criminal from his home state of Arkansas who gunned two men down and proceeded to shot himself; the shot didn’t kill him and he was sustained in a vegetative state.
He adopted a ‘triangulation strategy’, meaning he tentatively balanced liberalism and conservatism, he was pro gay rights but contradictorily opposed to gay marriage; pro affirmative action but against racial quotas. Clinton also put forth the idea of altering the welfare system and linking its benefits to those who work in order to gain them, so that the welfare system would “cease to be a way of life” for many of the unemployed. This is an act which he later, in 1996, passed and its passage improved Clinton’s ratings in his 1996 re-election campaign.
These bold policies made for a change after Bush’s strict vetoing of many domestic acts during his presidency and may have contributed to Clinton’s election as president in 1992. Clinton earned the nickname ‘Slick Willie’ after he managed to emerge seemingly unscathed from two scandals that surfaced during his campaign—news broke that Clinton had had a long-term relationship with a nightclub singer, from Arkansas, called Gennifer Flowers.
This did not seem to affect his ratings at all, it was when he was caught lying about his determination to avoid the draft in the Vietnam War that his poll numbers fell, but they soon recovered. Clinton used his charm to win over the American public during a time when most running mates would have stumbled and presumed their reputations tainted and in doing this somewhat secured his election as president. Before his second run for election, Clinton’s approval ratings dropped to 39%.
This was due to the disappointing election results for the Democrats in 1994 and Clinton’s waning credibility. However he somehow managed to gather enough support during his 1996 presidential campaign to enable him to be able to serve another term in the Oval Office. This was due to him still being as skilled in rhetoric and oratory as per usual and a multitude of small, but significant acts which boosted his popularity. In 1995, a truck bomb destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 63 people.
Clinton’s ratings improved noticeably after his moving speech at the memorial service for the dead. The fact that unemployment was at its lowest since 1968 and the economy was booming with inflation, interest rates may have played some part in determining his electoral win as the public may have felt that they were safe under Clinton’s guidance. Clinton managed to please both the old, traditionalist, Democrats and the New Democrats by supporting affirmative action and advocating welfare reformations. He and Vice President Al Gore effectively conciliated both Democrat factions.
Clinton also managed to satisfy conservatives by favouring quota modifications instead of scrapping them. By placating both the Old and New Democrats, Clinton, managed to maintain his party’s trust in him and ensured the votes of the Democratic voters, who saw a resolved party. To summarise, Clinton’s election successes relied on several factors including his undeniably public speaking skills, his ability to materialize from scandal unmarked, his ability to engage and secure the trust of the average American and his clear policies.
What I believe is the most prevalent cause of both of his Presidential elections was that his adversaries were both utterly unsuited to the role of President. Bush lacked empathy and as stated by Richard Rose in ‘The Post-modern Presidency: Bush Meets the World’, Bush was not a President, rather a ‘guardian’ doing ‘a limited number of things that are obligations of the Oval Office and refraining from actions that expand the role of government’.
Whilst the public doubted the factuality of Dole’s economic policies and lost a substantial amount of voters once he announced that he was against abortions. Compared to Bush and Dole, Clinton was the only viable and practical choice. Clinton may have made some mistakes during his presidency but rather it be him who made a few minor issues arise than someone as incompetent as Bush or Dole.
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