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

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