Bush v. Grocery Scanner

During 1992 Presidential Election campaign, challenger Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas attacked the incumbent president George H. W. Bush as not doing enough to assist the working middle-class and being “out of touch” with the common man. A gaffe–overhyped by media–played right into Clinton’s hands on February 5th, when the president visited a national grocer’s convention in Orlando, Florida.

There Bush expressed amazement at new grocery store technology, first reported by Andrew Rosenthal in the New York Times. (Rosenthal wasn’t even there at the convention. He based his article on a two-paragraph report filed by the lone pool newspaperman, Gregg McDonald of the Houston Chronicle, who wrote that Bush had a “look of wonder” on his face.) Though it is still disputed what Bush expressed amazement about, it was widely reported at the time that Bush’s amazement was over the checkout scanner-technology widely used by grocery stores since 1980, the very year Bush, a career bureaucrat, moved into the vice-presidential mansion.

Failing to be familiar with this technology made Bush appear to be an elitist who didn’t even have to go to the grocery store, and thus someone who was unable to feel the financial pinch facing ordinary Americans. It sank his re-election campaign. However, it was also argued that Bush was impressed by new scanner technology that could weigh groceries and read damaged bar codes. The Times refused to retract.

Above photo by Barry Thumma/Associated Press

Bush Vomits

On January 8th, 1992, U.S. President George H.W. Bush was in Japan as part of his 12-day trade-oriented tour through Asia. At the state dinner for over 100 diplomats held at the home of the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, the president experienced sudden, violent gastric distress, vomited — as the news reports put it — “copiously” into the lap of Miyazawa and fainted in what was one of the most embarrassing diplomatic incident in the U.S. history.

Earlier that day, the president played an exhausting tennis match with the Emperor and Crown Prince of Japan. A competitive man, Bush nearly killed himself by trying to cover for his lousy doubles partner, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Footage of the president vomiting was broadcast on ABC, and became a fodder for late night comedians. In Japan, a new phrase for vomiting, Bushu-suru which literally means ‘to do the Bush thing’ was coined. The USA Today called it one of the top “25 memorable public meltdowns that had us talking and laughing or cringing over the past quarter-century.” A satiric play and an art exhibit were later made. Mr. Bush is a model of gentlemanliness, manners and Episcopalian propriety, a true Yankee aristo so his mortification the next day on reading the newspapers can be imagined.

What made the incident so piquant was that 48 years before, he had been shot down by the Japanese while trying to torpedo one of their warships. Japanese hardliners still harbor suspicions that the presidential barf had been no accident.

Dukakis in Tank


In 1988 Presidential Election, the Democratic party nominee was Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who charmed his party with the “Massachusetts Miracle”, the transformation of his state into an economic engine. However, this magic didn’t work with the general public, which saw him as ignorant and weak on military matters. He was running against Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Dukakis proposed cutting the budget for the controversial “Star Wars” SDI program, but to counter this perceived softness on national security, he decided to pose for a photo-op that scuttled his entire campaign. In 1986, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had been photographed in a Challenger tank while wearing a scarf–an image that presumably reelected her. So outside a General Dynamics plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan he rode in an M1 Abrams tank in front of reporters.

The move ended up being a massive public relations blunder, with many mocking Dukakis’s dopey appearance as he stuck his smiling, helmeted head out one of the tank’s hatches to wave to the crowd. Compared with the dashing WWII pilot Bush, the little Dukakis came off a clown. Although he served in the United States Army, Dukakis was widely mocked for what was perceived as martial posturing. Footage was even used in the Bush campaign ad as evidence that Dukakis would not make a good commander-in-chief, and “Dukakis in the tank”–or the “Snoopy Incident” (because of a Snoopy style helmet)–remains shorthand for backfired public relations outings.

Then came the story of Willie Horton, a Massachusetts prisoner who killed a woman while on furlough. On the election day, Dukakis lost the election, carrying only 10 states and the District of Columbia.