Hillary's Car and Bush's Grocery Scanner

“The last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996”

Spanish Royals Visit With President Bush In Texas

At one stop on her Six-Figure Speeches Around American Tour, Hillary Clinton told the audience that she hadn't driven a car since 1996.

It's not that big of a deal, though maybe it should be. If George W. Bush could drive around even while in the White House, it's doubtful that a former First Lady and Senator wasn't being allowed to drive. But when your net worth is anywhere from 30 to 80 million dollars, you don't actually need to drive. Which wouldn't be too much of a big deal either if your party didn't have class warfare as its campaign plank.

Let's compare Hillary's “The last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996” to George H.W. Bush's grocery scanner moment.

As President Bush travels the country in search of re-election, he seems unable to escape a central problem: This career politician, who has lived the cloistered life of a top Washington bureaucrat for decades, is having trouble presenting himself to the electorate as a man in touch with middle-class life.

Today, for instance, he emerged from 11 years in Washington's choicest executive mansions to confront the modern supermarket.


Then he grabbed a quart of milk, a light bulb and a bag of candy and ran them over an electronic scanner. The look of wonder flickered across his face again as he saw the item and price registered on the cash register screen.


Some grocery stores began using electornic scanners as early as 1976, and the devices have been in general use in American supermarkets for a decade.

That was how the New York Times reported it. Complete with the misprint that nobody caught for over twenty years. Here's what really happened...

Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times hadn't even been present at the grocers' convention. He based his article on a two-paragraph report filed by the lone pool newspaperman allowed to cover the event, Gregg McDonald of the Houston Chronicle, who merely wrote that Bush had a "look of wonder" on his face and didn't find the event significant enough to mention in his own story. Moreover, Bush had good reason to express wonder: He wasn't being shown then-standard scanner technology, but a new type of scanner that could weigh groceries and read mangled and torn bar codes.


A videotape shot by a White House press pool shows Bush saying, “This is the scanner, the newest scanner?”

“Of course, this looks like a typical scanner you’d see in a grocery store,” Graham replied.

“Yeah,” said Bush.

“There’s one big difference,” said Graham, lifting off the scanner’s top plate to reveal a scale underneath. He weighed and rang up a red apple.

The exhibitor had Bush put the machine through its paces before he showed off what he called the machine’s “really quite amazing” new feature.

He had Bush scan a card with a universal product code ripped and jumbled into five pieces. The machine read it and rang up the correct sale.

“Isn’t that something,” the president said.

Despite all that, resident MSNBC yeller Chris Matthews still defends the original story and makes use of it. And MSNBC tried to pull the same thing on Romney.

Discussing how the public sector suffers from a lack of competition, Romney told the audience about an optometrist who wanted to change his address and subsequently received 33 pages of paperwork from the federal government, which begat a months-long bureaucratic nightmare during which the optometrist in question wasn't receiving his checks. "That's how government works," Romney said.

Then, to illustrate the advantages of competition in the private sector, Romney shared an anecdote from his visit to the local WaWa chain store. "I was at WaWas, I went in to order a sandwich. You press a little touchtone keypad -- you touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier -- there’s your sandwich. It’s amazing. People in the private sector have learned how to compete. It's time to bring some competition to the federal government."

But in the MSNBC clip, which aired on Andrea Mitchell Reports, Romney's remarks begin with the WaWa anecdote and end at "It's amazing," an edit -- first noted by conservative blogger Sooper Mexican -- that makes it seem as though Romney was expressing amazement at the advent of touchtone screens.

The same narrative machine that tries to make every Republican seem either crazy or elitist and out of touch isn't going to call Hillary elitist or out of touch because she's been chauffeured everywhere for two decades.