Historic Documents of 1992


Edited by: CQ Press

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    Domestic concerns—the presidential election, the faltering economy, rioting in Los Angeles, and a devastating hurricane that hit Florida and Louisiana—eclipsed foreign events in the public mind during 1992. One of the oldest political traditions in the United States—the peaceful transition of power from one political party to the other—continued as Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, defeated Republican President George Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot to become the first Democrat elected to the White House since 1976.

    Backed by a well-organized campaign organization, Clinton overcame controversies about his draft record and an alleged extramarital affair to lock up the Democratic nomination in a series of hard-fought primaries. With his running mate, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, Clinton blamed Bush and his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, for the sagging economy, the loss of jobs, and the gaps in health care coverage that left more than 35 million Americans without health insurance. "It's time for change," Clinton said at virtually every campaign stop.

    Although Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle won their party's nominations with ease, the Republican ticket was never able to overcome public dissatisfaction with the slow-growing economy and the soaring federal budget deficit. The president's attempts to focus voter attention on foreign affairs, particularly his leadership of the Persian Gulf war and his role in bringing the Cold War to a close, were to little avail.

    Perot, campaigning on a promise to reduce the deficit and get the economy moving again, was the wild card in the race, with political experts unsure whether he would draw more votes from Bush or from Clinton. The Texas billionaire dropped out of the race temporarily but regained much of his support when he re-entered it just five weeks before the November election. His performance in the three presidential debates and his purchase of several half-hour blocks of television time kept his message before the voters. Although he won no electoral votes, Perot picked up 19 percent of the popular vote, the third highest share ever registered by an independent candidate.

    Americans also had to cope with an unusual number of human and natural disasters in 1992. The city of Los Angeles erupted into six days of rioting and looting in late April after a jury acquitted four white police officers of using excessive force in the arrest of Rodney Kind, a black motorist. In the minds of many who had seen a televised videotape showing the officers hitting King repeatedly with their batons, the acquittal seemed a blatant miscarriage of justice. At year's end the four men were awaiting a second trial on federal charges that they had denied King his civil rights. Meanwhile, a new police chief was trying to respond to criticisms that the Los Angeles Police Department had been unprepared for and had responded slowly to the rioting that followed the acquittal.

    The federal government, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was criticized for its slow response to requests for emergency aid after Hurricane Andrew destroyed great portions of southern Florida and coastal Louisiana in late August. Officials estimated that the full costs of the hurricane would total $20 billion, making it the most damaging in the nation's history. Another hurricane struck the Hawaiian island of Kauai in September, causing about $1 billion in damage.

    A storm of an altogether different sort was averted in June, when the conservative-dominated Supreme Court reaffirmed—by a single vote—a woman's basic right to have an abortion. Many Americans had expected that the Court would overturn its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, declaring that a woman's right to choose an abortion was among the personal liberties protected by the Constitution. The Court did allow states to regulate abortion so long as the regulations did not pose an "undue burden" on a woman's right to abortion.

    AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) continued to take its grim toll in 1992. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe announced that he had the disease, a result of AIDS-infected blood he had received during heart bypass surgery some years earlier. Ashe died of AIDS in early 1993. Basketball superstar Earvin "Magic" Johnson resigned from the National Commission on AIDS, charging that President Bush had "dropped the ball" in battling the disease. Bush had asked Johnson to join the commission in November 1991, only days after the basketball player had publicly announced that he had the virus that causes AIDS. Bush appointed Mary D. Fisher to take Johnson's place. Fisher, who was also infected with the virus, had made an emotional speech at the Republican National Convention pleading for more attention to the disease and greater compassion for its victims. Elizabeth Glaser had made a similar plea at the Democratic National Convention.

    Although most Americans were focused mainly on domestic issues during the year, events abroad also commanded attention. Russia's uneasy transition toward democracy and a market economy continued. Russian President Boris Yeltsin spoke to a joint session of Congress in June, pressing for enactment of an aid package to Russia. Earlier in the year, former president Richard M. Nixon also strongly urged that the United States provide substantial aid to Russia and the other former Soviet republics to give democratic reforms an opportunity to take root. Yeltsin and Bush also took a major step toward making the world safer when they agreed to cut their countries' nuclear weapons to one-third their current size.

    Civil war in the former Yugoslavia worsened in 1992 as reports of "ethnic cleansing," directed primarily at Bosnian Moslems, and other atrocities were confirmed. The United Nations took several actions aimed at punishing Serbian nationalists for their aggression against Bosnia and at getting food and medicine to suffering civilians in Bosnia. But the UN stopped short of voting to use force to stop the fighting. Talks to negotiate a settlement among the warring factions had come to no clear conclusion by year's end. In early December President Bush did send troops to Somalia, where civil war and famine combined to threaten the lives of millions of Somalis. The U.S. troops were joined by units from several other countries in a successful and largely peaceful effort to deliver food and other humanitarian relief to besieged areas of the country. But it was unclear what the future held for the country, which had no functioning government.

    These are but some of the topics of national and international interest chosen for Historic Documents of 1992. This edition marks the twenty-first year of a Congressional Quarterly project that began with Historic Documents of 1972. The purpose of this continuing series is to give students, librarians, journalists, scholars, and others convenient access to important documents on a range of world issues. In our judgment, the official statements, new conferences, speeches, special studies, and court decisions presented here will be of lasting interest.

    Each document is preceded by an introduction that provides background information and, when relevant, account of continuing developments during the year. We believe that these introductions will become increasingly useful as memories of current times fade.

    MartyGottron coeditor Washington, D.C. April 1993

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