Crisis on N Earths is a recurring series in which I address events or works outside of the DC Animated Universe and its characters, but both contemporary and significant to the period under discussion.
It’s November 3, 1992, the day before “Beware the Gray Ghost,” so see that post for the movie and music charts.
The big news story today is the election of Bill Clinton to be the next President of the United States, a job he will hold for eight years. It’s not particularly relevant to what’s going in Batman the Animated Series at this precise moment, but it is emblematic of changes that will matter later in this project, so let’s discuss briefly how this–the last time a sitting President lost reelection–happened.
First, we can largely dismiss Ross Perot as a factor. Yes, he did better than any third-party candidate in decades, and oftentimes that can result in a “spoiler” effect where people are split between a candidate who otherwise would have won and a third-party candidate who can’t win, resulting in the person who would otherwise have come in second winning. However, for Bush (the elder, father of the Bush who would succeed Clinton) to have won, the overwhelming majority of Perot’s voters would have had to vote for him, and Perot’s voters appear to have been roughly evenly split between Bush and Clinton as their second choice.
No, as was famously said internally in the Clinton campaign, “[it’s] the economy, stupid.” As I described in the post on “The Forgotten,” the deregulation of the Reagan and Bush years led to a banking crisis and recession in 1992, which caused Bush’s popularity–high in the aftermath of the first Gulf War–to plummet. It didn’t help Bush that the Republicans–who had largely defined themselves as being the anti-communist party–had trouble maintaining cohesion after the end of the Cold War, and Bush had alienated the more conservative wing of his party by breaking a promise not to raise taxes.
Clinton, meanwhile, had just come from chairing the Democratic Leadership Council, a non-profit organization founded in response to Reagan’s landslide 1984 victory that advocated for a “Third Way,” pushing the Democratic party to abandon the leftward turn it had taken in the 1960s and 70s (which turn, keep in mind, consisted primarily of civil rights and social welfare programs). They supported welfare “reforms” designed to punish people for not trying hard enough to find jobs, supported continued (albeit less) deregulation of business and industry, opposed single-payer health care, and “opposed class warfare”–not in the actual sense of trying to protect the poor from the predations of the privileged, but in the sense of trying to placate business owners and corporations in the hopes of getting donations.
In short, the DLC saw Republicans winning elections, and decided that the best way for Democrats to start winning was for them to become Republicans. While Bush tried to shift right to recapture the fiscal conservatives he’d alienated, Clinton played ads that emphasized Bush’s broken tax promise and attacked rapper Sister Soulja’s lyrics to court those same conservatives, while also promising support for affirmative action to court African-Americans and anyone else who might see a racist element in those attacks. Clinton supported abortion rights, which the left liked, but also the death penalty, which the right liked. Wherever he could, he split the difference, trying to be all things to all people.
As an election strategy, it worked. Fully 10 states which had gone for Bush in 1988 not only flipped to Clinton in 1992, but went to the Democrat in every election since. The entire country realigned, firmly cementing the Democrats as the party of the Northeast, the West Coast, and the Great Lakes. But in the process, the Democrats ceded their populist economic principles, meaning that both major political parties now represented the economic interests of corporations and the wealthy, not workers or the poor. In subsequent elections, the Republicans were able to take advantage of the rising power of the Christian right, with which Reagan had been closely allied, to position themselves as champions of a new kind of populism–instead of farmers and workers against big business, now it would be white Christian men against gay rights, abortion, and science. In the process, they cemented their hold on the flyover states.
In short, the 1992 election represented the establishment of what we now think of as the “red state/blue state divide,” the abandonment of liberal and socialist policy goals by the Democrats in favor of becoming Republicans Light, and the real start of the culture wars. Very shortly, the Republicans–who as mentioned were having trouble maintaining party cohesion without the nebulous shared enemy of communism–would discover a new shared enemy, liberalism, which they defined as anything that wasn’t identical to Republican policy plus anything which was identical to Republican policy but said by a Democrat. And, perhaps most critically of all, it represented the final, full abandonment of the liberal ideals of the 60s as politically viable positions in the U.S.
It’ll be a while before we get anything to replace them. Let’s go back to talking about cartoons for a bit.
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