“I wouldn’t have signed it either”

Some of my friends have some pretty cool jobs.  Stuntwoman.  Actor.  Rocket Scientist.  Entrepreneur.

And there’s Dan.

Dan is in charge of advance work for key members of the Democratic party visiting Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  He travels with these Democratic VIPs, coordinating all of the important aspects of their trips such as where they go, with whom they meet, etc.

One afternoon years ago, Dan called me said that he was in Las Vegas and asked if I would like to meet President Bill Clinton the next day.  At this time, President Clinton had left office and Dan was accompanying him throughout the West coast on a series of speaking events. I immediately said “Yes” and “Thank You!” , then he asked me for my full name and social security number so that I could be vetted by the Secret Service.  Dan told me he’d call me back with more details.

Even though by this point in my life I’d become politically indifferent (I’d seen up close the ugly underbelly of politics, and didn’t care for it; I’d learned to care more about people and policies, rather than political parties), I was very excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity.   I called a few friends who were extreme Clinton fanatics – a few of whom had actually met the President themselves – and the message was consistent … “He’s going to impress you”.  I had no idea how true that statement would be.

That night I received word from Dan that I’d passed the background check, and was given instructions on where to meet him at the Bellagio the next afternoon.  Before I knew it, I was waiting in line with 20 other people to meet the President.

The process was rather sterile, and impersonal.  One person would walk up, Clinton would shake their hand, say a few words, turn to the camera, FLASH, thank them – and then greet the next person.  By the time I got to the front of the line, my heart was racing, I was sweating profusely, and all of the blood had run out of my face.  I wiped my hand on my suit pants, stepped up and introduced myself with a handshake that would have made my grandfather proud, said something unoriginal and unmemorable.  We both turned to the camera, FLASH, and then I was ushered out.

It was arguably the worst photo I’ve ever taken.

Dazed and relieved, I made my way to the main hall to get a seat to watch Clinton’s speech.  I found a seat in the back of a dark room, behind 500 or so of Clinton’s biggest Las Vegas supporters.  Clinton spoke from a well lit raised stage for about 45 minutes on a myriad of topics, all of which had nothing to do with politics except for stating several times that now that he was no longer in politics, he could speak freely and tell people how he really felt.  He was personable, humorous, and real.  And when he concluded, he gestured to two microphones set in between the three sections of seats, and invited the audience to ask him questions.

The second question came from an older man.  In a thick accent, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) :

“President Clinton, I’m so excited to be speaking with you.  I feel like I’m making love to a young woman for the first time.”

There’s an awkward silence from both the President, and the crowd.

“I want to thank you for all that you did to help my war torn country of Bosnia  *  ”

Clinton steps forward to the edge of the stage, and raises his hand to block the spot light on him so that he can better see the man who is speaking.  The house lights suddenly come up.  Clinton is locked on the man – as if he’s engaged in a private conversation.  The whole scene seems very contrived to me, and I’m immediately reminded of the movie Wag The Dog.

“Recently President [George W] Bush decided not to sign the international anti-land mine treaty, which would have banned the land mines that ravaged my country.  What do you think about that?”

The entire audience is silent, as President Clinton pauses for a minute to think.  Then he responds:

“I wouldn’t have signed it either”.

The air leaves the room. The crowd gasps, the old man is deflated standing in front of the microphone, and Clinton continues:

“Now that I’m not running for office, I can tell you how I really feel.  That treaty had loopholes, and it allowed certain countries to continue to produce land mines.  It didn’t solve the problem, and I wouldn’t have signed it either.”

Clinton then went on to talk about how he and then President Bush communicated often, and that they agree on some things and not on others.  Most importantly, they kept a respectful, open dialogue.

And isn’t that how everyone should be – whether they’re in politics, or not?

Several months later I received an envelope in the mail, with an 8 1/2″ x 11″ glossy color photo of a tanned former president with brilliant white teeth, standing next an extremely pale man with one eye that looks slightly larger than the other.  I look slightly better in the black and white version of the photo.

 

*President Clinton was instrumental is bringing military assistance to Bosnia, through “Lift and Strike

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