Saturday, April 26, 2008

Finally, After All These Years...

Photo taken by a photographer for the Oregonian. Clinton speaking at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon

Finally...after all these years, I got to meet the man, the superstar, the legend, BILL CLINTON. The former president went on a six-stop swing through Oregon today, with Portland being his final stop. What made the whole thing even more personal is that Lincoln High School was selected as the venue, which is not only within walking distance of my apartment, but also where my brother works as a custodian. It seems like fate played a hand, for as soon as I heard that he was scheduled to appear there, I registered on the Hillary Clinton website.
The two photos here were taken on my cell phone camera. I didn't bring my regular camera because I had expected a thorough secret service screening (like when I went to Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia in 2004 to attend Sunday School taught by former president Jimmy Carter). There wasn't any secret service screening, however...but they were present all around. That's okay, though, since I have ten rolls of film to develop and don't know when I'll get around to them, and I'll only add more rolls with my upcoming Memorial Day retreat in scenic Coeur d'Alene and Spokane. The photos below were taken from a Google search.

I arrived at 3:30 pm and there was already a line, but it only grew longer and longer. I caught my brother just as he was getting off his shift to clean the building especially nice for the president. As we waited in line, there were assorted people with signs that weren't friendly towards Hillary, and one old guy showed up with his "Impeach Bush/Cheney" sign and he just started yelling at people, accusing the women in line that the only reason they're voting for Hillary is because "she has ovaries" like them. He was a vocal Obama supporter, but he was so angry. And crazy. He kept accidentally kicking his bottle (Arizona Tea, but everyone suspected it contained booze), then getting even more angry. That's what mental illness looks like.

When 5:30 came with no sign of them letting us in the building, some people started grumbling. But I knew better. As an intern, Clinton was over an hour late for the official photograph with the interns. I almost want to say that we waited for two hours, but I can't remember how late he was. I didn't expect any different. When I heard people complain after an hour had passed, I simply said that the reason why he's late is because he likes to shake as many hands and meet as many people as he can. It's a good thing, and with us being his last stop, there was a chance that he'd stay even longer.

When we finally got into the gymnasium, my brother wanted to sit on the bleachers, but I wanted to stand on the floor as close to the podium as possible. As I moved around for a better view, I saw a group of chairs with reserved seating signs on them. Two of them had my name on them. I was SHOCKED! It couldn't be? I had registered online because I thought we all had to, but maybe I ended up reserving seats? It was the VIP section, made up of teachers and school administrators, who my brother knew. They were shocked to see him sitting there and questioned us as to why we were there, but my name was on the sign and I was claiming my seat. It was great luck, for I was in the second row and I knew from personal experience that Clinton nearly always stays afterwards to meet the folks. I was in a prime spot to meet him.

To pep up the audience, a perky young Clinton campaign staff member threw some t-shirts (like at a sporting event). She was fantastic and knew how to play with the audience. She also wanted everyone to text a message to the campaign (a trick to acquire cell phone numbers). What enticed everyone to do it was that the Clinton campaign staff member said that she'd call someone at random for a private meeting with Clinton before he came to the podium. It was fun to watch who the lucky person was (some guy in the bleachers). Then she did it again for those who didn't do it the first time and wanted another chance. A lucky lady in the bleachers got the call. Darn! I so wanted that.

When Clinton finally came to the podium, he was two hours late, but that was okay. He spoke for an hour, with a few jokes (such as the trouble his daughter caused when she had said to a reporter that she believes her mom would be a better president than her father). He spoke without notes, and in depth on the economy, energy, health care, no child left behind, and college. He said that he likes to read blogs (so I hope he finds this one). He also said that Hillary would be like JFK in making alternative energy solution her "first man on the moon by decade's end challenge." As much as I like Obama, I'm still waiting for specifics, and he's in danger of losing my vote to Hillary...because economic issues and jobs are my prime focus. Clintonomics works. Obama is unknown and untested in that area, so as much as I like his ideas, passion, and hope for change, I'm interested in specifics. And, of course, I'm still nostalgic for the Clinton years. This event only helped remind me of that. Plus, they've been very good to me, so why not? But I'll discuss my thoughts on the campaign in a later post.

Back to the rally. During the speech, Clinton looked in my direction several times and I thought we made eye contact. I had worn my Gore 2000 sweatshirt to stand out in the crowd, with a Hillary campaign button over the "O" in "Gore." After the speech, he worked the line around the podium (we were blocked off by a barrier on three sides). I was on one side in the second row and moved in closer to wait for the moment when he made his way around to our side. It took long enough, but he was shaking hands with several people, while people were all trying to get his attention to say something, while still others handed him slips of paper or books for him to sign. I was greedy...for I wanted all three: handshake, to say something to him, and to get his autograph on a colour photocopy of my picture with Vice President Gore (see the post on April was that photo).

When he did come around to my side, I did manage to shake his hand twice, and then he accepted my photocopy (to sign later and return)...then I got his attention. I told him, "I interned in your administration in 2000." He seemed intrigued so he asked where I worked, and I told him for Vice President Gore and that it was the greatest experience of my life. He then asked where I worked now. I told him, but by then, other people were clamouring for his attention. It was just as well. Sure, I'd love to talk longer (I had wanted to ask if he had any jobs available in his Foundation for an International Politics major), but a lot of people didn't get any moment with him and here I was, getting the three things I wanted. How did I get so lucky?

The Clintons on Inauguration Day, 20 January 1997 for the second term.

How did I get so lucky? I think it was destined. Why? Because when I woke up this morning, I just felt that everything would go as planned. I trusted "the universe" to make it happen. Why? Because of good karma. The Clintons and me go way back. To 1992. I walked through fire for them. No, not literal fire...but fire of a flack sort.

You see, back in 1992, I was in the Navy. I had supported Senator Bob Kerrey in the primary because he was governor when I lived in Nebraska and was one of the politicians who got me interested in politics at an early age. When Kerrey dropped out, I moved my support to Jerry ("Governor Moonbeam") Brown. When Jerry Brown dropped out, I moved my support to Ross Perot. Clinton didn't win my support until he chose Senator Al Gore as his running mate. When he made that decision, I was so impressed because it showed what a smart decision maker and an unconventional one Clinton was. Usually, candidates pick running mates that contrast differently, for geographic, age demographic, and other balance. That he chose a politician younger than him and from a neighboring Southern state signalled that he was a new kind of politician. And who could forget all the comparisons to JFK and that famous photograph of the teenage Clinton shaking hands with President Kennedy. It was a symbolic and powerful photo. But the photo I most liked was taken in my hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia for the primary. He was talking with an expressive heavy-set black woman and looked very comfortable with her, which impressed me. Plus it was my hometown!

So I became an enthusiastic supporter. And I was in the Navy at the time. If there were any other Clinton supporters on my ship, I never met them. Some might have been more discrete about who they voted for, but I was definitely outspoken and caught a lot of flack for it. What made it worse is that guys in the Navy thought if you supported Clinton, it could only be for one reason and one reason only: you agreed with his plan to allow gays to serve openly in the Navy...which in Navy thinking means that you could only be gay. Thus, the "logic" of "Clinton voter = gay." But I didn't care. That issue didn't matter to me. Like Carville and Stephanopoulos said, "it's the economy, stupid." Even more than that, it was the unfair character attacks on Clinton, his wife, daughter, and mother. The election of 1992 showed the ugly side of Republicans...that they had nothing inspiring to offer the American people in a second term for Bush, so they had to tear down Clinton in any way possible...including his family in the attacks. The nastiness turned me off from Republicans (not that I ever was tempted to vote that way).

When Clinton won, since I was living overseas, I woke up early to watch the results on CNN. I had gotten only a few hours sleep, but I was so ecstatic that he won. I walked around the ship with an extra bounce in my step. And I noticed that no one shared my exuberant joy. The mood was so gloomy, that it felt like someone had died. People thought it was the end of the Navy, that sailors would start coming out of the closet and homosexuality would run rampant in the berthing. I thought the fear bordered on mass paranoia. Unfortunately, my outspoken support for Clinton did cause a couple sailors to reveal to me their true nature, which made me very uncomfortable. I didn't want to be the priest they confessed to, nor the guy they thought they had a chance with.

While I lived in Sardinia, Clinton visited Nettuno, Italy for the 50th anniversary of America's involvement in World War II. And he spent time on the USS George Washington in June 1994 for the D-Day anniversary. I reported on board that ship just five months later. Our timing was off, but it was interesting that we have that ship in common and that he visited Italy while I lived there. In 1996, I got out of the Navy and my first job was in AmeriCorps (a program he started), which lasted only a couple months (I decided to quit because the group I was in was more interested in smoking marijuana than working and there were some race-related issues that I hated). Later on that year, Clinton came to Atlanta for several Olympic events (again, our paths didn't quite cross, even though I attended several Olympic events).

In 1997, when I started BYU, one of the political cartoons in the school's newspaper, the Daily Universe, featured a guy in a panicked call to his mother over his roommate, who was hanging a banner that said, "Clinton's not all bad." It told me exactly the kind of loneliness I would have to expect at BYU. Not only was I not Mormon, but also a Democrat. Two major strikes against me! In January 1998, I first heard about the Monica scandal when an article in BYU's newspaper reported it. But because I didn't believe them, I dismissed it until I got home and watched CNN. The whole scandal consumed most of the year. I was distracted from my studies as I became obsessed with the scandal and every new detail. His August, non-apology confession was "must-see" TV moment for me, but I was angered by his lack of contrition. However, the Ken Starr Report angered me even more (I confess to reading it, but it only had the effect of making me more supportive of Clinton as I saw it as an invasion of privacy and a miscarriage of justice). And as I waited in the airport for my flight home for Christmas vacation in 1998, I was saddened when I saw that the Republican Congress had decided to impeach him. His lying over a personal affair hardly constituted "high crimes and misdemeanors." Censure was more than enough punishment, although his predecessors Bush, Reagan, and Nixon told far worse lies to the American people and to Congress, but weren't impeached for it.

When I interned in his administration in 2000, I finally saw him in person when he gave a speech at the Library of Congress. But I was on the balcony looking down. He didn't forget the folks up in the balcony area, as he looked up at us to acknowledge our presence and wave to us, which I thought was a class act. In that moment, I understood why people felt a deep connection to him. He's a pro at that. It's an ability I wish that I had, but he's way beyond what even other politicians have (Obama is the only one who comes closest, I think). Then next time I saw him was at the end of the semester for the intern photograph. I was just out of reach from shaking his hand after the event.

Now, eight years later, I've been blessed in spades. A handshake, an autograph, and a short conversation. What more could I ask for? He's truly a remarkable president and human being. My loyalty has paid off. As Jenet's friend Nesh often called me...I guess I'm a true "Clintonista." But I'm more like Forrest Gump. I have these moments. However, why is it easier for me to meet famous people, including two former presidents of the United States, but I still can't seem to manifest a better paying job in my chosen field of international politics? I'm hoping Clinton's magic charm rubbed off on me when he shook my hand and this will be the start of something amazing. But today was a great day. Any day in politics is a great day for a wonk-wannabe like me.


Margie's Musings said...

Actually, Nicholas, I think you would be a real asset as a member of Hillary's staff somewhere. You have a great feel for politics and a lot of political knowledge. I hope you can eventually realize your dream.

d/b/c/m said...

congratulations. i'm so glad everything went your way!

d/b/c/m said...

oh, i worked in an americorp program (city year) in boston for a year and loved it. my brother did the same thing and met bill a few times and always liked him (as everyone does who meets him). i do have a soft spot for him because of americorp.

Sansego said...

Margie: Thanks. I'm working on a local campaign even though I've been approached by several people to volunteer for Hillary's campaign. I'm more committed to the mayor's race because I'm worried about another 2000 type scenario where an inexperienced candidate from the business community beating a government-experienced policy wonk.

I'm giving myself until June 30th to land another job or I'll start the paperwork process to go to Afghanistan or Iraq as a private contractor.

Brooklyn: I'm glad you had a good AmeriCorps experience. I wish I did. I'd also love to live in Boston. I've been thinking about Boston a lot lately, like I might end up there in a few years. Who knows?