An evening with Bill Clinton

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President William J. Clinton, official whitehouse portrait
President William J. Clinton, official Whitehouse portrait

“But I only have six electoral votes to bring to the nomination,” Bill Clinton told me.

It was 1991 I recall. Maybe earlier. I was serving my two-year term as president of the Education Writers Association.

At that time, Clinton was governor of Arkansas and also headed the National Governors Association.

The setting for this conversation was an education conference in Washington, D.C. I had introduced myself to Clinton, and after the meeting, he invited me to join him for a drink in his suite.

Today, my granddaughter Tanya reminds me that the Clintons remain much in the news, Hillary as a candidate for president and Bill for his charitable work but also as a spokesman for his wife.

I suppose some Democrats are as weary of hearing about the Clintons as Republicans are tired of hearing about the Bushes.

But I always felt Bill Clinton’s life story was not only unusual for a president. It also was inspiring. Raised by a single mom, he was tapped as a Rhodes scholar. Even as a high school student, he won a trip to the White House and shook hands with his idol, President Kennedy.

What first attracted me to Bill Clinton was that unlike most political leaders, he advocated progressive ideas for school reform. I thought he was especially effective as a public speaker when I caught him on TV news shows.

When I joined Clinton in his Washington hotel suite, the Democrats were already set to nominate Gov. Michael Dukakis for president. My journalistic instincts told me he’d lose – big. I was right.

In Clinton’s suite, we chatted about the prospects for education reform, a topic much in the news those days and with the National Governors Conference. But I brought the topic back to the presidential race.

At the time, I thought Clinton was the most effective speaker the Democrats had on the national stage. And he agreed with me on education reform.

Well, his state’s small number of electoral votes certainly seemed like a stumbling block toward the nomination. But Clinton’s mention of those votes told me he had thought about the subject in the context of a run for president.

I also felt that he’d be an effective debater against President Bush. That turned out to be the case. I recall that Bush kept looking at his watch, exposing his lack of interest.

As that evening in Clinton’s suite wore down, I excused myself. Before leaving, though, I did encourage him to seriously consider a run for the White House. He thanked me, and that was it.

A few years later, I probably wrote the editorial that endorsed Clinton for president. I believe The Journal Gazette, my paper, mostly supported him and his decisions.

We even suffered with him through the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his impeachment. But I note today that he left office with a high public approval rating.

Now Hillary Clinton is facing some opponents for the Democratic nomination. That’s probably to her benefit in the end. I still believe she’ll win. It’s not only all the money she’s attracted.

If she’s not the speaker Bill is, she’s as good or better than any of the Republican candidates running. She’ll more than hold her own in the debates.

Besides, it’s time for a capable, politically experienced woman to be president. Yes, it’s time for a woman.

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