When a former CIA director accused Bill Clinton of being in-league with the KGB
The 1992 US Presidential election was one that the incumbent George H.W. Bush was ‘supposed’ to win. After the former CIA director served as Vice President for eight years behind a personally popular Ronald Reagan, 1988 saw him enter the White House as President. A blitzkrieg style attack on Iraq in the First Gulf War gave Bush a chance to play the “war leader” card and therefore, putting some bandages on an ailing economy was all that stood before him and a second term.
That was the logic of the 1992 US Presidential election until two very capable candidates stood to oppose him. By the end of the 1992 election, Bill Clinton had gone from a little known governor of a materially impoverished state to a charismatic campaigner who countered Bush’s often robotic mannerisms with a human touch. With a saxophone in one hand and cheeseburger in the other, Clinton’s success at connecting with ordinary people very much changed the dynamic of the election. Then there was the appearance of the most successful third party candidates in decades – Ross Perot. Perot’s economic and foreign policy platform in the 1990s was not dissimilar from Donald Trump’s in 2016 and likewise, Perot’s straight talking style also made him appear more direct than Bush.
It was against this background in October of 1992, the last full month of the campaign, that Bush and his team stated to openly question Bill Clinton’s trip to Moscow in the late 1960s. At the time, Bush told Larry King (who ironically now works for RT–Russia Today),
“I don’t have the facts, but to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, and not remember who you saw – I think the answer is, level with the American people”.
Other Bush supporters quickly jumped on the Clinton in Moscow theme to suggest that his visit must have been in some official capacity as few Americans went to Moscow as tourists in the 1960s. Further allegations that Clinton had met with the KGB and even led an anti-Vietnam war protest from Soviet soil later emerged.
When Bush mentioned the issue again in a televised debate against both Clinton and Perot, things became heated. Clinton allies came forward to state that an American visiting the USSR in the late 1960s wasn’t as unusual as the Bush campaign was making it sound, while adding that while there were no restrictions on such visits from the US side, the Soviet authorities often made it difficult for Americans to get a tourist visa.
Finally, Clinton addressed the issue and later gave an interview where he explained that he paid for his own trip to Moscow and went with no agenda other than that of a sight-seer. When asked when he travelled to the USSR alone, Clinton stated that he “met people along the way”, in the style of a young backpacker.
In the end Clinton won the election comfortably and the issue was scarcely mentioned again apart from occasional quips on pro-Republican talk radio.
What a difference 24 years makes
Just as George H. W. Bush found it difficult to capture the personal affection that Ronald Reagan so easily courted due to his outwardly warm personality, in the 2016 US Presidential election, the very George H. W. Bush like Hillary Clinton had difficulty capturing the hearts of those impressed by the smooth talking, young Barack Obama who had made history by being America’s first black president.
Making matters all the more Bush like for Hillary Clinton, her opponent was one part Perot and one part Bill Clinton. Like Perot, Trump shot from the hip, was famous for straight talking and had many of Perot’s anti-globalism, anti-foreign policy spending policies. Like Bill Clinton, Trump liked his fast food, liked mingling with supporters and in a far more abrasive way than Bill Clinton, still had the human touch. With Trump what one saw in 2016 is largely what the country got.
Therefore, just as Bill Clinton was in 1992 slightly less hawkish than George H. W. Bush and likewise, as Donald Trump had previously visited Moscow when it hosted one of the Miss Universe beauty pageants, the Hillary Clinton campaign pulled out the “Russia card” for many of the same reasons it was used by Bush in 1992. To put it simply, if one appears slightly outside of the establishment (as Bill Clinton was in 1992 to a large degree) and visited Russia – then why not try the ‘good old Russia card’.
The difference between 1992 and 2016 however is that while the issue quickly died down in 1992, as of July 2018, the ‘Russia issue’ of 2016 has still refused to go away.
As the Cold War becomes more of a distant memory while in 1992 it had barely ended, Hillary Clinton and her Democratic party have taken what their Republican adversaries did against her husband Bill in 1992 and upped the stakes exponentially. While the 1992 accusations against Bill Clinton were implying that he was “soft on communism” as a young man, today, those opposing Trump using the Russia card are doing so from a position of pure neo-McCarthyism. The only difference is that this time, meeting with or even being in the same room with any Russian will suffice, whether a “card carrying communist” or as is more often the case, a Russian who has nothing to do with the contemporary Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
When all is said and done, it remains an irony of recent yet forgotten history that the wife of a presidential candidate who himself was accused of having objectionable links with Russia, has now promulgated the same accusation against the man who did to her what her husband did to George H. W. Bush in 1992.