Thirty years ago this month the next president of the United States came to New Orleans and asked the nation to read his lips.
There has only been one major political party national nominating convention held in this city and that was from Aug. 15-18, 1988. It was held in the Superdome, which was so big that part of the interior was blocked off so that the convention, which was brimming with delegates, spectators, politicians and news media, would not seem empty.
Ronald Reagan was president at the time and he made a speech on opening night. His Vice President, George H.W. Bush, was in effect the nominee designate. Few Vice Presidents have been elected to the presidency without first having succeeded to the job due to circumstance. But Reagan was a popular president and this seemed like a good year for riding coattails.
There were two memorable moments from the convention. One was Bush’s selection of Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his running made. The announcement was made from the stage at Riverwalk. Quale, who was supposed to appeal to the youth vote but did not seem ready for prime time, was not a popular choice even among the youth. He was nominated by voice vote rather than roll call so there would be no record of the opposition.
Bush on the other hand was a warhorse statesman having served in congress, as an ambassador and as CIA chief before becoming V.P. He was not flashy, but no one could deny his pedigree.
It was Bush who provided the other memorable moment and it was one that would never be forgotten. His acceptance speech, which was poetically titled “A Thousand Points of Light,” included the line, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
That line helped his candidacy, but it would haunt him during his administration especially when he faced the prospect of raising taxes.
Bush’s term received high marks in its early days when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The president used his diplomatic skills to pull together an international coalition led by the United States, which would ultimately blast Iraq’s forces out of their occupancy. His approval rating bordered on 90 percent, about as high as a president ever received. Domestic politics did him in. During the rest of his term the economy took a turn for the worse. To jobless Americans with families to support Kuwait was of little consequence.
In 1992, the Democrats nominated upstart Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. A now famous sign in the Clinton headquarters, coined by Louisiana native James Carville, spoke what became the mantra for the Clinton campaign, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” History repeats itself: In May 1945, at the end of World War II, Winston Churchill was the most popular person in Great Britain. Before the year was over his party would be defeated for re-election.
Why? At the risk of being impolite, it was the post-war economy, stupid.
New Orleans would provide a lesson. Better than reading lips is to read history.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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