An evening with Bill Clinton

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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Friend of Hillary

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

I’d met Bill Clinton a couple of times. That was when he served as governor of Arkansas. And I knew Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff when Bill was president. Never met Hillary.

But in the Democratic primary more than eight years ago, I voted for her over Barak Obama. I figured a white woman had a better shot than a black former college professor at becoming president.

Picking Obama over Sen. John McCain that year was an easy call. Same four years later when the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney.

All these years later, I haven’t changed my mind about Hillary. In fact,
her years as Secretary of State only deepened her credentials and made her an even more impressive as a candidate for president.

Sunday, she made it official. Before her announcement, though, potential Republican candidates unleashed a barrage of criticism. I expected that.

What of her announcement in a video? Even liberal columnists belittled that. Ruth Marcus and David Ignatius to mention only a couple.

But I learned years ago that it doesn’t matter so much what the pundits say as what voters think. And there is a persona in this extraordinary politician that voters can warm to. To be sure, she came across as stiff and overly scripted in the Iowa primary so long ago. She lost that race.

The New Hampshire primary was a different story. In that race, she appeared open, vulnerable and relaxed. She won that primary election. I’d bet anything she and her advisers have studied that success carefully.

To be sure, her You Tube video didn’t give viewers much of Hillary. And why? She must be one of best known Americans of the last 20 years. But I thought the focus on a diversity of citizens – an Asian student, an Hispanic businessman, a gay couple – managed to portray Mrs.Clinton as a champion of ordinary Americans.

Moreover, the video offered a powerful reminder of the kind of country we’re becoming. On the Republican side, we even have a candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants.

Without a doubt, Hillary Clinton has more experience in government than any possible candidate, either Republican or Democratic. She’s one of the brightest political leaders of our time. In testimony before Congress, she demonstrated a nuanced approach to foreign policy.

Inside the Obama administration, she often advised the wisest policy course, even when the president chose a different path.

But long before her role as a foreign policy adviser and ever-thoughtful senator on the gravest international issues, she was advocate for children as an adviser to the Children’s Defense Fund. A kid lover and a new grandmother to boot. That I especially like.

We’ll see how the race develops. But I was a big fan of Bill Clinton, despite the sex scandal. At this early point in the president race, I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton.

She’d make us a fine president.

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