1995: The year the future began
The death the other day of former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar stirred recollections about the unfortunate timing of his announcement in 1995 that he was seeking the presidency.
Lugar, a Hoosier who served six terms in the Senate, declared his candidacy for president on the morning of April 19, 1995, not long after the Oklahoma City federal building was blown up in what at the time was the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history. In all, 168 people were killed in the truck-bombing that shocked the country.
In the confused hours immediately after the attack, as rescuers searched the rubble in Oklahoma City for survivors, news reports circulated that the bombing likely had been carried out by Middle East terrorists.
“This is the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil ever,” Connie Chung said that night on CBS. “A U.S. government source has told CBS News that it has Middle East terrorism written all over it.”
Over on ABC, John McWethy, the network’s national security correspondent, reported that “if you talk to intelligence sources and to law enforcement officials, they all say . . . that this particular bombing probably has roots in the Middle East.”
The local Daily Oklahoman said the shattered glass and bomb debris that littered the city’s streets in the attack’s aftermath brought to mind war-torn places like “Bosnia or Beirut, not Oklahoma City.”
The attack, it turned out, was the work of a trio of disaffected U.S. Army veterans: Timothy J. McVeigh, the ringleader who was arrested two days after the bombing, tried, sentenced to death, and executed in 2001; Terry Nichols, the principal accomplice who was sent to prison for life, and Michael Fortier, who knew about the bomb plot but did nothing to stop it.
News of Lugar’s announcement in April 1995 that he was joining seven other Republicans in running for president wasn’t ignored by mainstream U.S. news media. Understandably, though, it received something less-than-prominent attention, given the bombing.
For example, the ABC News anchor, Peter Jennings, said on-air that night:
“There was other news in the world today, but it was pushed aside for fairly obvious reasons. A couple of notes. Presidential politics — Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has formally declared today that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination. … On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones Industrials gained 28 points to close at 4,207.”
The New York Times placed its report about Lugar’s campaign launch on page A16. The Los Angeles Times described Lugar’s announcement in Indianapolis as less than rousing, noting that “he opened his speech with a moment of silence for victims of the federal office building in Oklahoma City” and that “he delivered most of his remarks in a tone as flat as the surrounding farmland.
“Thought he mentioned President Clinton by name only once,” the article said, “Lugar repeatedly suggested that he is better suited for the job, especially in conducting foreign policy.”
In the days after the bombing, Lugar’s experience in foreign policy was seen as a possible advantage.
The Wall Street Journal said before McVeigh was arrested that “the mere prospect of a link to international terrorism” in the Oklahoma City bombing “has the potential for elevating the importance of elevating foreign policy acumen, which lately has taken a back seat to domestic reform on the political agenda. In the developing Republican scramble for the 1996 presidential nomination, that could be a benefit to a candidate such as Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who has stressed his Senate experience in dealing with knotty foreign problems and threats.”
In the end, the Oklahoma City attack had no demonstrable ties to international terrorism and Lugar’s candidacy — a centerpiece of which was replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax — never took off.
He finished seventh in the 1996 Iowa caucuses, fifth in the New Hampshire primary, and quit the race. Bob Dole won the Republican nomination, but lost badly to Bill Clinton in the 1996 general election.
Lugar was defeated for reelection in 2012, in the Republican primary election in Indiana. He was an 87-years-old at his death.
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