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What They Said in '91 About '92

By John A. Cloud

Now that it's 1993, it's probably a good time to review all the galactically idiotic things that people in 1991 (and before) predicted would happen in 1992.

Prognosticators in and out of the press always have something to say about what will happen, and we should periodically check the record. Thankfully enough, many of the things they forecast never actually happen.

Take the presidential election, for example. The "news" about the '92 race for the White House started just about the time George Bush was elected in 1988.

Speculation had zeroed in on the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson by spring of '89 as a possible candidate. He publicly supported Timothy C. Evans, a third party candidate for mayor of Chicago, but told Democratic bigwigs he would support the Democratic mayoral candidate if national Democrats agreed to back him in 1992. Fortunately, the Democrats had no such suicidal tendencies, and the deal fell through.

New York Times columnist William Safire began a string of mindbogglingly bad predictions for 1992 in late 1989, when he wrote that Americans really do like royalty and had tossed out their "natural" resistance to stuffy pretension.

Presumably this trend was to continue, even in the face of George Bush's pork rinds, Ross Perot's "giant sucking" sounds, Bill Clinton's morning McDonald's runs (and evening, and noontime, and midmorning...), Garth Brooks's popularity and the rise of Home Shopping Club.

Speculation about another poor (non-) candidate for '92, New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, also began early and earnestly--in late 1988, in fact.

Safire, for one, confidently predicted in January of 1990 that Cuomo would run. Of course, he wasn't alone. In July of that year, NBC commentator Andrea Mitchell, Wall Street Journal Washington chief Albert R. Hunt and then-New Yorker columnist Elizabeth Drew all did the same.

The Republicans began their failure in 1992 way back in 1989. Refusing to recognize the underlying, systematic problems with America's economic position, GOP strategists said they would run in 1992 on the economy. Of course, 1992 would see the highest unemployment rate in a decade (in August).

Other economic indicators either remain sluggish now or only improved in the third quarter of this year. The amazing thing about the Republicans' total mental block on this issue is that Kevin P. Phillips, one of their best strategists, had laid out the economic troubles in 1990 and urged the Republicans to do something about them. Small wonder that they lost to a Democrat who assigned Phillips's book to all his campaign staffers.

In 1991, The New York Times encouraged the state of California to shift its '92 primaries to the spring, a move that would have effectively ended the nomination process sooner by awarding the biggest enchilada in March, before the South's Super Tuesday.

As we saw in '92, a long nomination process can be good--it gives voters time to mull over the candidates thoroughly and decide what doesn't matter (say, adultery and draft evasion) and what does (say, having a plan).

Nineteen ninety-one also saw Safire predicting that just about everyone this side of Montana would run for president. In March of that year, he even gave campaign advice to General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, saying the Desert Storm hero-ette looked great on TV.

In May, he said Virginia Senator Charles S. Robb would run. (Despite the fact that Robb had a seven-year affair and hangs out with lots of people who snort cocaine.) Then it was John H. Sunni, the irascible chief of staff who was eventually fired because Bush couldn't find a single person who liked him.

Safire finally got one right in June with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, even though Wilder was the first to drop out.

And anyway, Safire beshitted his reputation further by announcing on October 21, 1991 that Cuomo had decided to run "long ago." (Cuomo announced he would not run in December of '91.)

Bill Clinton's Cabinet appointments have been distinctly disappointing. The latest outrage came Wednesday, during congressional confirmation hearings for Democratic National Chair Ronald H. Brown, the next commerce secretary.

Brown, besides having written little about trade issues and besides being in a lobbying firm that is actually named Patton, Boggs and Blow, does not seem right for the job.

First, there's the issue of his past lobbying. As The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, Brown went to bat for the oppressive Haitian government as far back as 1982, and the Boggs and Blow (Blow?) firm represented the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Evidence strongly suggests that Brown also sleazed a contracting deal from New York City (conveniently the site of the Democratic convention this year) into the hands of a company he represented.

Most disturbingly, though, are Brown's views on trade--and the fact that he kept many of those views to himself in Wednesday's hearings. When he did talk, he didn't concede that Japanese trade practices are even partly responsible for the trade deficit.

And he did not promise to work to reinstate a trade law that would retaliate against countries that keep their markets closed.

Of course, in light of Clinton's other picks, Brown isn't too surprising. Directionless Warren Christopher (at State) and single-minded Leon Panetta (as budget director) are terrible choices.

The Harvard union negotiations have been an embarrassment from the start. Marred by backstabbing and dishonesty on both sides, negotiators have not been able to reach a new agreement for months.

Now we find out that Bill Jaeger, the director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, is telling everyone an agreement has been reached. The Globe and Herald both reported yesterday that HUCTW and the administration have finally ended talks--but only the Herald reported the minor fact that the administration denies this.

John H. Shattuck, the official leading the administration's effort, maintains there is no agreement.

As I've said before, someone's lying here. One possible explanation is that Jaeger is lying, hoping that by announcing an agreement, Harvard will have to comply or look shady. Or Shattuck could be going back on Harvard's word because someone in the administration didn't like the final version.

Whatever the case, these kids should end their stupid bickering and finish this thing. Too much is at stake for Shattuck and Jaeger to keep playing games.

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