Politicians, campaigns haven’t changed much since Clinton’s ‘92 stop in state

All it took was a glimpse. The smiling image of former President Bill Clinton on the front page of Tuesday’s Herald was my ticket. My time-travel destination was Spokane, summer of 1992.

On a toasty morning that July, I picked up my parents’ copy of the Spokesman-Review newspaper. Page one was dominated by a photo of Clinton. The Arkansas governor and freshly minted Democratic presidential nominee was shown leaning from a podium and shaking hands.

I remember the picture well because we recognized our then-9-year-old daughter in the crowd.

That summer we had been traveling in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. We missed watching TV coverage of the Democratic National Convention, held in New York City.

The future president happened to have a campaign stop in Spokane’s Riverfront Park the afternoon before my 20th high school reunion. We took our kids for an in-person look at history.

That day we saw the future. And ever since, I have known what pundits mean when they call Clinton a master campaigner. I wasn’t at Paine Field on Monday, but I could easily believe how Herald writer Jerry Cornfield summed up the scene: “Former President Bill Clinton can still bring it.”

Although “bring it” wasn’t popular slang in 1992, Clinton astonished us by wowing a huge crowd in politically conservative Spokane. We hadn’t seen his convention speeches or even read that much about him. Still, something in the air that day in Spokane convinced us that President George H.W. Bush would likely serve just one term.

I’m not making political predictions, nor do I feel much certainty about any of this fall’s candidates or ballot initiatives.

This week’s picture of Clinton simply took me back to another day, 18 years ago. At Paine Field on Monday, the former president basked in cheers along with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who was first elected to the U.S. Senate the year I saw Clinton.

With all that has happened since 1992 — terrorist attacks, two wars and the Great Recession — it seems like a lifetime ago. And the political climate?

If you’ve seen even a few of this season’s political commercials, you might find yourself so discouraged you hardly feel like voting at all. Slams and half-truths come at us from all sides, at least I think so.

I’m tempted to say it has never been worse. I’d say that, but I’m not sure I’d be right. Maybe I’m looking at past elections through rose-colored glasses of memory. Has it really changed so much?

The first President Bush was elected in 1988 on his “Read my lips, no new taxes” promise. When a budget deficit compelled the 41st president to compromise with congressional Democrats and raise some taxes, “Read my lips” became powerful ammunition used in his defeat.

Used as an attack, “Read my lips” was true — in part. Yet it didn’t tell the whole, complex truth. Then as now, it seems there is little room for nuance or complexity, understanding or explaining, calm discussion or civility, not when there’s a high-stakes political race to be won.

Does that mean we should tune it all out? Not listen to another word? Or worse, not vote?

I don’t think so. It means we have to listen harder, read further, and search our minds deeper to know our own views and values.

There is one thing I really do know. When a candidate says he or she knows what the future holds — whether the issue is health care, war or the economy — don’t believe it for a minute.

Remember 1992? No one knew what was coming.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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