October 5, 1999
Bushs Zingy One-Liners
By Robert Parry
On the eve of the presidential debates in 1992, President Bush armed himself with a list of what he called "zingy" comments to ridicule Bill Clinton's supposed lack of foreign policy knowledge and the Democrats actions as a young man.
But today, the newly disclosed list could redound against Bush's eldest son who himself has muffed foreign-policy questions and has declared off limits questions about youthful indiscretions.
Ironically, too, President Bush's one-liners contrasted Clinton's inexperience unfavorably to the expertise of then-Sen. Al Gore.
Seven years later, with Vice President Gore the Democratic front-runner, President Bush's jokes sound like an unintended endorsement of Gore's world expertise.
To tweak Clinton if he struggled on a foreign-policy point, Bush was scripted to ad lib: "Al Gore can't help you now."
Another flip comment would have asked the voters: "On the campaign trail when the Governor's asked a question, notice how he always turns to Al Gore for help. Will Al Gore have to chaperone him to summit meetings?"
Some "zingers" might seem fitting now against Bush's son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who has stumbled over foreign issues and names. Gov. Bush has referred to "Greeks" as "Grecians" and "Kosovars" as "Kosovians," and has confused Slovenia -- a new country in the Balkans -- with Slovakia, the eastern half of what was Czechoslovakia.
Gov. Bush has argued that the slip-ups are insignificant since he would have advisers once he's in the White House. But in 1992, President Bush placed a high value on first-hand knowledge about the world and its principal players.
"If Clinton seems perplexed by [a] foreign affairs question," the "zinger" script suggested that Bush interject this put-down: "Now I know what to get you for Christmas -- a world globe."
Another planned insult read: "If you ever go on 'Jeopardy,' don't choose the category, 'Foreign Heads of State'."
Still another: "The Governor's a little light on geography. He probably has trouble refolding a map of Arkansas."
In October 1992, President Bush also sought to fuel unsubstantiated suspicions that Clinton might have betrayed his country while a student studying abroad in the late 1960s. The "zinger" list scripted a series of possible jokes to highlight these Clinton-disloyalty rumors.
"The Governor does have some foreign experience," read one. "We know he's been to Moscow."
The next "zinger" referred to rumors that Clinton had considered seeking Swedish citizenship. The one-liner read: "That was the year he switched from waffles to meatballs," apparently a reference to Swedish meatballs.
Other "zingers" zapped Clinton about his time in Great Britain as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and his efforts to avoid the draft at that time.
"During the war, Waldo played, 'Where's Bill?'," read one.
Another would have asked Clinton: "Ever wake up in the middle of the night with Oxford flashbacks?"
Another: "At Oxford, the governor experienced pre-traumatic stress syndrome."
"Put it this way -- Vietnam Vets don't collect Bill Clinton trading cards."
Read another: "I don't know what you need more -- a compass or a conscience."
"We're not running for Dissenter-in-Chief [or] (Quisling-in-Chief, Agitator-in-Chief, Conscientious Objector-in-Chief)."
"Mr. Clinton was going through a mid-war crisis."
"His motto was, '55, 40, and flight to England' [or] (Russia)."
One multi-purpose "zinger" was designed for either a debate exchange with Clinton about the draft or "if he hedges on any answer." This Bush one-liner went: "I'll bet you drive a Dodge."
A few of the "zingers" were comebacks to possible Clinton criticism. One read: "(If Clinton says the President's never seen a supermarket scanner), [Bush responds], Have you ever seen a lie detector?"
Another possible counter-quip was "They ought to run you through a scanner to find out the truth." Or: "If they ran your tax scheme through a scanner, it'd set off the market's sprinklers."
A couple of one-liners emphasized regional issues:
"Governor Clinton and Senator Gore -- two boomers who'll bust the budget -- the Dukes of Hazard."
"The Governor reminds me of his Arkansas River. It's hard to see into both of them, and you probably don't want to know what's below the surface [or] (what's inside, underneath)."
Former President Bush was asked briefly about the list of prepared jokes during an interview with prosecutors looking into the so-called Passportgate case. Bush said he believed the "zingy" comments were prepared for the first presidential debate.
Four pages of President Bush's "zingers," dated Oct. 10, 1992, were released by the National Archives in August in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed about Passportgate. According to handwritten page numbering at the top of the four sheets, the full list ran at least 12 pages.
No "zinger" from the four pages was used, but the one-liners show the direction the Bush campaign was taking in fall 1992.
President Bush apparently hoped to raise doubts about Clinton's loyalty and his international experience.