For those of us lacking the courage to do the math in our heads, it’s been 24 years since the 1992 U.S. presidential election — one whose biggest scandal could very well be whether or not a candidate inhaled marijuana smoke. (Simpler times, then.) But that doesn’t mean the political stage was wanting for laughs.
With “The Bunker” — which kicks off Documentary Now!‘s new season — offering a no-holds-barred look at the 1992 Ohio governor race, we thought it was worth looking back at some of the craziest political moments that happened during this gamechanging year. Take a look below, and get a sneak peek of “The Bunker” before its premiere on September 14th at 10P on IFC.
1. George Bush Sr. Ruins a Japanese State Dinner
Be it bad seafood or motion sickness from over-bowing, former president George H. W. Bush didn’t begin the year with a strong constitution. On January 8th, 1992, our esteemed Commander-in-Chief became ill at a banquet in the home of Japan’s prime minister and vomited onto the lap of a foreign dignitary — triggering a flood of late-night comedy jokes that wrote themselves.
2. Kid Says “Potato,” Dan Quayle Says “Potatoe”
Also known as The Forehead Slap Heard ‘Round the World, Dan Quayle capped off his four-year facepalm as vice president with a gaffe that a 12-year-old was too smart to make. Then a heartbeat away from the second most important job in the world, Quayle tried to correct a Trenton middle-schooler on the correct way to spell potato (“Potatoe,” apparently), forcing the child at his behest to add a superfluous E — a mistake that made Bart’s opening blackboard gag on the at-the-time new and groundbreaking animated series The Simpsons.
3. The Simpsons’ Rebuttal to Bush Remarks
Speaking of the Springfieldians, the Simpsons were the target of derision from George and Barb during their first few years on the air. The First Lady remarked in a 1990 interview that she thought the show was “the dumbest thing [she] had ever seen,” and then two years later, George double-downed by saying he aims to “make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” In perfect prime-Simpsons form, the family replied to the speech with a newly edited intro to a rerun wherein Bart shot back, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the Depression, too.” 24 years later, everyone’s favorite yellow family is still taking potshots at political blowhards.
4. Bill Clinton Rallies Arsenio Hall’s Dog Pound
In what today would be the equivalent of Martin O’Malley having a rap-off with Jimmy Fallon, Bill Clinton secured the youth vote by busting out his sax and playing a presentable version of “Heartbreak Hotel” on The Arsenio Hall Show. Donned in the smoothest of Ray-Bans, the Democratic candidate reached heights of cool that carried him through the pre-LewinskyGate ’90s.
5. Admiral Stockdale’s Awkward Debate Performance
In 1992, plucky billionaire Ross Perot delighted Americans with his folksy aphorisms and primetime paid programming infomercials. But his on-again-off-again presidential hopes took a hit when his running mate Admiral James Stockdale stumbled his way through the first vice presidential debate. Long, confused silences and hearing aid fiddling drew questions on electability and inspired one of the best SNL sketches — with Dana Carvey doing his hilarious Perot impression and Phil Hartman as Stockdale — during that election cycle.
6. Clinton Asserts He “Didn’t Inhale”
During his campaign, standing in stark contrast to his devil-may-care saxophoning, Clinton emphatically claimed that he only smoked marijuana once in England, didn’t inhale, and never tried it again. (Note: 1992 was a time when the U.S. presidency hinged on that sort of thing.) It quickly became shorthand for a flimsy excuse and parodies popped up in SNL, In Living Color, and the 1994 David Spade/Jeremy Piven college comedy PCU.
7. Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown
Say what you will about the Bush administration, they really had it in for fictional characters. In this particular instance, Vice President Quayle chided fictional newsperson Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) for having a make-believe child out of imaginary wedlock. Quoth the prophet Quayle while discussing family values: “It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.” And as with everything he did in 1992, Quayle was crushed by newly minted Tonight Show host Jay Leno and CBS’ hot new Late Show jokester David Letterman, whose watercooler-worthy barbs made them the Twitter pundits of their day. Even Quayle’s local TV promo (watch it above) couldn’t help his case!
8. Bush’s Supermarket Scanner Incident
Despite a post-First Iraq war bump (remember Operation Desert Shield/Storm?), Bush’s approval ratings hit the gutter in 1992 as the economy floundered, the job market gasped for air, and the middle class continued to shrink. Allegations that Bush and his administration were woefully out of touch with the American public surged after a video showed Bush “amazed” by a supermarket checkout scanner. Whether he was indeed flabbergasted by common Main Street USA technology or merely impressed by new improvements to the scanning system, Bush never shook the reputation of being a privileged, uncaring elite.
9. The Bush-Clinton-Perot Debates
President Bush didn’t fare well under the piercing stare of an angry electorate, initially dodging the presidential debates then looking weak and aloof while in them. Juxtaposed to Bush were the calm Clinton and angry sprite Perot — three personalities that could perfectly serve as a cold opening to Saturday Night Live. In the clip above, Carvey pulls double-duty as Bush and Perot, while Hartman brings his “goofy ol’ country boy Clinton” A-game.
10. Bill Clinton Visits McDonald’s
After Clinton’s decisive win, Phil Hartman slipped into what would become one of the comedic great’s most famous impressions like a pair of easy-fit sweats. And showcasing the president-elect’s swagger in his new role, the SNL star performed his most memorable sketch as the Commander-in-Chief on December 5th, 1992. (It’s also one of the few times Phil actually broke character during a sketch.)
Watch MTV’s Tabitha Soren covering the heated ’92 Ohio Governor election below. To see who wins, catch the season premiere of Documentary Now! September 14th at 10P on IFC.