I remember 1992. We had an incumbent president named Bush running for re-election, having successfully presided over the end of the Cold War and victory over a belligerent Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He was up against an inexperienced career politician — a draft-dodging, former pot-smoking radical who had once claimed he “loathed the military.”
No way, we all thought, would America choose this lightweight, especially in a dangerous world full of angry tyrants and terrorists trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
But then the economy started to flounder. Having won the Cold War and the Gulf War, we were feeling pretty secure. And James Carville’s “It’s the economy, stupid” re-oriented the 1992 campaign away from national security to domestic issues, and when Bill Clinton felt our pain it was all over.
Echoes of that theme emerged last night in Barack Obama’s speech, as he trashed John McCain’s commitment to national security and even used it against him, as if seeking to defend our country is incompatible with caring about the economy:
John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy — cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota — he’d understand the kind of change that people are looking for.
Maybe if he went to Iowa and met the student who works the night shift after a full day of class and still can’t pay the medical bills for a sister who’s ill, he’d understand that she can’t afford four more years of a health care plan that only takes care of the healthy and wealthy. She needs us to pass health care plan that guarantees insurance to every American who wants it and brings down premiums for every family who needs it. That’s the change we need.
Maybe if he went to Pennsylvania and met the man who lost his job but can’t even afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one, he’d understand that we can’t afford four more years of our addiction to oil from dictators. That man needs us to pass an energy policy that works with automakers to raise fuel standards, and makes corporations pay for their pollution, and oil companies invest their record profits in a clean energy future — an energy policy that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. That’s the change we need.
And maybe if he spent some time in the schools of South Carolina or St. Paul or where he spoke tonight in New Orleans, he’d understand that we can’t afford to leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind; that we owe it to our children to invest in early childhood education; to recruit an army of new teachers and give them better pay and more support; to finally decide that in this global economy, the chance to get a college education should not be a privilege for the wealthy few, but the birthright of every American. That’s the change we need in America. That’s why I’m running for President.
It worked before. It might work again.