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The 1992 Election and Ross Perot's Giant Sucking Sound

Updated on July 15, 2016

My First Presidential Election

The year was 1996. It was my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. The major candidates that year were the Democrat Bill Clinton and the Republican Robert Dole. I voted for neither. I tend to have a propensity of utilizing my vote in ways that most people would call wasteful. I voted for Ross Perot, candidate of the new (and now forgotten) Reform Party.

Perot did not do nearly as well in 1996 as he did in 1992, but my memories of his earlier campaign led me to vote for him. Of course, the fact that I was pretty much unimpressed with either of major candidates did not hurt in making my choice. With the relative success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in recent primaries, it is evident that some of the questions that Perot brought up have not gone away and have actually gained in resonance.

Ross Perot on the Giant Sucking Sound

Ross Perot
Ross Perot | Source

Ross Perot's Giant Sucking Sound

Much of the banter from the 1992 election centered around such ideas as the breaking of the "Read my lips. No new taxes." pledge of George H. W. Bush or the "It's the economy, stupid" bit from the eventual victor Bill Clinton. The economy definitely led to the Clinton victory, and it's hard to find any Republican who has been willing to raise any tax ever since this faux pas by the man now known better as the father of George W. Bush.

One issue that seemed to get quite a bit of support from both Clinton and Bush was NAFTA--the North American Free Trade Agreement. This, in addition to the national debt, was one of the biggest issues that raised the ire of candidate Ross Perot. In one way, Perot was almost prophetic in his description of what would happen if the trade agreement were to go into effect. Bush supported it, and Clinton would sign it after winning.

The most memorable quote regarding the discussion of NAFTA was given by Perot in a presidential debate in 1992. Ross Perot argued that NAFTA would lead to a giant sucking sound--that of jobs leaving the US for Mexico. He also warned that American wages would be brought closer to an equilibrium with Mexican wages.

Perot on the Issues

Ross Perot definitely opposed NAFTA. While there is debate over the total outcome of the agreement, there is little debate that many formerly hard-working American manufacturers have seen their jobs outsourced to places with standards of living and wages well below that of America. While there have been jobs created because of new technologies, the manufacturing base of America has declined greatly.

Perot also brought the national debt into focus well before the Tea Party came onto the scene. At that point, the debt was about 1/3 its current level. Candidate Ross Perot was famous for bringing his little chart onto prime time television special to talk about the debt. One thing that most Americans fail to remember is that George W. Bush and Barack Obama were not the first presidents in American history to run a huge deficit. The first massive expansion of the national debt not really related to war was actually under Ronald Reagan, who saw the debt grow from less than $1 trillion to around $3 trillion under his watch. Ross Perot thought this was a major problem and wanted to alleviate it.

Who Am I, Why Am I Here?

Why Ross Perot Failed

Ross Perot had little hope of winning. Even had he split the Electoral College vote enough to throw the election to the House of Representatives, the chances were slim and none that a Congress controlled by the two major parties would allow an independent to become president.

Another weakness that Perot exhibited was his choice of a running mate. His choice for vice president was the little known Vietnam-era Admiral James Stockdale. I actually saw his name in a book by Richard Nixon titled No More Vietnams, but other than that, I've never run across him, except in connection with the 1992 Ross Perot campaign for president. Admiral Stockdale participated in a vice presidential debate with Dan Quayle and Al Gore. His only real claim to fame from the debate was his opening line of "Who am I and why am I here?" Other than that opening statement, Stockdale said very little in the debate and engendered little confidence among the voters.

After "Who am I and why am I here?" and a crazy 1996 election campaign that saw him quit and then come back after supposed threats against his family that were never substantiated, Perot fell off the political map. However, for a short time in 1992, it appeared that Ross Perot might become President of the United States, much in the way that "The Donald" (Trump) aroused excitement for a short time in 2011. In spite of his failure to achieve the presidency and stop the giant sucking sound of jobs going to Mexico, Perot did affect the election by throwing it to Bill Clinton. In spite of his relatively successful administration, Clinton would give plenty of fodder to late-night talk show hosts.


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