Why George Bush Sr. Was Not Re-Elected

According to Derek Chollet, the end of the Cold War left Americans unconcerned about foreign policy, and the Democrats used this to their advantage.
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TRANSCRIPT

Topic: Why George Bush Sr. Was Not Re-Elected

Derek Chollet: There was a sense with the Cold War over that foreign policy mattered less as a political issue and what’s interesting is the Democrats saw this as a huge opportunity. Foreign policy, and national security more specifically, had been an Achilles heel for Democrats really since Vietnam, and how the Democratic presidential candidate in the elections in ’76 and ’80 and ’84 and ’88 would approach communism was a very divisive issue within the party and also then troubling politically because there was a sense of weakness and inability. So when the Cold War ends many Democrats were very optimistic, not only that foreign policy would matter less, and there were some who believed that who thought we could sort of take care of things here at home but also that foreign policy could be different. The struggle wasn’t just about how strong you would be against communism.

Topic: Bill Clinton and the neoconservatives

Derek Chollet: One of the things that’s interesting looking back, particularly given how notorious neo-conservatives had become in the last seven or eight years, neo-conservatives were, in the ‘70s, Democrats. Big D Democrats who had left the party more or less in the wake of Vietnam believing that Democrats had become soft on national security issues and on the fight against communism specifically. So it’s interesting, many of the characters, people like Richard Pearle, had worked for Democratic politicians in the 1970s. But they were hawkish on the Soviets and hard line in terms of the Cold War. So there was a hope that some Democrats had in 1992 and some of the influential advisors to then Governor Clinton, candidate Clinton, in 1992, was that with the Cold War over and this bitter divide over communism gone, that neo-conservatives would actually come back into the party and many prominent neo-conservatives in the 1992 campaign endorsed Bill Clinton for president. They were very unhappy with George H.W. Bush, they believed that George H.W. Bush didn’t care enough about promoting democracy, that he didn’t do enough to stand up to dictators around the world. Remember in the early 1990s Bosnia exploded as Yugoslavia fell apart and Bill Clinton in the campaign of ’92 criticized George H.W. Bush for not doing more in Bosnia, for not doing enough to stand up to, as Bill Clinton called it, the Butchers of Beijing, and for not doing enough in terms of promoting democracy and that was a message that many neo-conservatives believed was ideas that they shared. It was not just about ideas but it was also about politics in the sense that the fact that neo-conservatives had left the Democratic party many believed was a sign of Democratic weakness. There was a hope that if they could be brought back into the party it would signal a sign of renewed strength.

 

Recorded on: 07/08/2008