Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
1996 – William Jefferson Clinton vs. Robert Joseph “Bob” Dole
This is an installment in the series Sex For President, which considers the 2012 U.S. presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the historical context of previous U.S. presidential elections. To read more about the premise of Sex For President, read the first installment: https://americanparser.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/sex-for-president/
This was the last hurrah for the Greatest Generation, the last World War II veteran to run for President of the United States. But Robert Dole was not just a World War II veteran. He was a decorated WWII veteran, critically wounded in combat with injuries from which he would never fully recover. He was, and is, an American hero.
One problem with that in 1996 was that in the long wake of the Vietnam Conflict, America was much more reticent to cull its heroes from the military. More than ever, Americans defined its heroes by their entertainment value. Bob Dole’s heroism was history, and the Me and MTV generations were inextricably focused on the here and now. In their minds, Bob Dole was at least a generation, and maybe two, removed from sexiness. Accordingly, America’s response to Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign was an echo of Janet Jackson’s pop hit from ten years before, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” If you haven’t felt the sting of this refrain, take heart; it’s coming. You just haven’t lived long enough yet.
The other problem with Bob Dole is that behind the rhetoric, voters knew that both men were the same kind of candidate. Clinton and Dole were both masters of political expedience. Bob Dole had a reputation for, and even campaigned on, his ability to “reach across the isle” and pass legislation through compromise.
Unfortunately for Dole, Clinton showed the same affinity for practical centrism, signing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in December of 1993. Then, after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Clinton found himself up against a wall politically, and, struggling for relevance, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and major welfare reform in the guise of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, both in 1996, a presidential campaign year.
When the choice is between two cuts made from the same kind of political cloth, but 20 years apart in age, which will you choose for your prom dress? The newer one, of course. And that’s why Bob Dole was no match for Bill Clinton in 1996.