chapter  3
28 Pages

Calculating Compassion

During the second presidential debate of the 1992 election, the three candidates-George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot-were asked by a woman in the studio audience in Richmond, Virginia, how their own lives had been affected by the national debt. It was a moment that was to prove decisive. President George Bush, perplexed and nonplussed, literally did not understand the question. “I’m not sure I get it,” he said. “Help me with the question and I’ll try to answer.”1 Clinton, opening his arms, moved toward the audience and re­ sponded that he personally knew people in Arkansas who were suf­ fering because they had lost their jobs. The clear implication was that he acutely felt their pain and Bush did not. W hat was at stake was the presidential politics of empathy. The rest is history.