Three of us sat in a crowded bar in Guido’s Monday night waiting to watch the Clinton’s take center-stage at the Staples Center and the occasional TV cuts to the surging crowd outside the arena.
Karen and I were both a little apprehensive because our son Tony was out there on the street covering the protesters for the on-line magazine Salon.com, and these things can get ugly real fast. In Philadelphia he had drawn the assignment covering the inside of the convention hall. There was so much good-natured sugar being disbursed from the podium he damn near caught diabetes just standing on the convention floor. This time he wanted to be where the action was, so he was outside and the other reporters from Salon were inside.
Sunday night I gaveTony a few words of parental wisdom. Wear your press credentials up high where the cops can see them because it’s not easy to see with those plastic shields over their faces. If the batons start swinging keep your head down and your face covered. Lastly, but most importantly, I gave him the number of an old friend, Malibu bail bondsman Harry Fradkin, who has gotten many a client of mine out of jail, his motto being, “Don’t wail in jail, call Harry for bail.” As you can see, sometimes this press business is more dangerous than it looks.
But I digress. We sat in the bar waiting to watch the Clintons in action, one making her entry and the other making his exit. With us was Marlene Marks, a friend of ours who writes editorials for The Jewish Journal. Marlene and I were watching, looking for a hook, because we knew we were going to write something about the speech. Karen was more casual about it since she didn’t have a deadline breathing down her neck. All of us are rock-rib Democrats and none of us in particular is set on fire by this entire presidential election. We found it a little hard to understand how, with 300 million-plus Americans, we ended up having to choose between the son of previous Sen. Al Gore and the son of George Herbert Bush, the elder. Nevertheless, you have to play the cards you’re dealt, so there we were.
It was obvious from the outset that light powder blue was the color scheme of choice among the Democratic power women. The men on the podium, of course, were mostly dressed somberly and looked like Republicans.
After assorted senators and others had finished, which brought us to the heart of prime time–no accident I’m sure, Hillary took the podium and began.
Now Hillary is a very smart lady, which she does little to disguise, and is probably one of the reasons she is having popularity difficulties. Just about the time she was getting into her part about the children of America, someone said, and I don’t remember who, “She looks great. Do you think she’s been done?”
That was followed by a careful analysis of the question and the ultimate conclusion that, “No, she hadn’t been done, but whoever did her clothes, hair and makeup, did one hell of a job.” This serves to point out one of Hillary’s problems. Despite a good and carefully crafted speech, an enormous intelligence and a reasonably decent delivery, political speech-making is an art, and very few are good at it. The audience tried to help her; they waived the signs, cheered and applauded at the right spots, but no magic.
Next came the chief, the boss, numero uno and in five minutes he had the audience wrapped up like children. In the practice of the art-of-politics, there have been in recent memory, only a few who could reach out and touch you in a way that touches your soul.
FDR had it, Truman and Eisenhower didn’t. Jack Kennedy had it, and Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter didn’t. Reagan had it and Bush didn’t. Bill Clinton has definitely got it. I can understand why he drives the Republicans crazy. They hit him with enough stuff to drop two presidencies and there he is on the podium, looking great, on top of his game, utterly indestructible, drinking in the crowd, in total sync with the waves in the room, milking every pause, reacting to every minor mood shift in the room. This isn’t something you can do consciously. He really loves the audience and it, in turn, loves him back. He could be reciting nonsense syllables and they’d still love him. This is Othello, loving not wisely, but too well.
I think if Clinton could run again, the country would forgive him and reelect him, and besides, he’s damn good at the job.
And that is Al Gore’s problem. It may very well sink him. He’s not running against ‘W’, he’s running against the image of Bill Clinton and Bill Clinton is a hell of an act to follow.
No matter what Al does, he just isn’t Bill.