Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bill Clinton Had Icecream For Lunch


Bill Clinton Has Left The Building

Finally I not only got to see Bill Clinton, I also got to shake his hand, and have a brief conversation with him. Now I want to see Amitabh Bachchan.

Yesterday late at night I got an email from Castro, not Fidel, the other one. The email gave me specifics of Bill Clinton's appearance with Fernando Ferrer. Where, when, that sort of thing.

I got out of bed late. After the morning essentials, I walked over to the train station. By the time I got off the train I was running a few minutes late. I started running. But I was an hour early, it ended up.

I took a few pictures and then became part of the ropeline. Bill Clinton works the ropeline like noone else. To him each person truly is unique, and each moment is unique, and he considers himself to be the master of the spoken word segment of it. How do you know Bill Clinton is breathing? His mouth is open. How do you know he is thinking? His mouth is open. I think he keeps his mouth in an open position because he never knows when he might speak yet another word. And this man wants to meet everybody, literally everybody. He thrives on the ropeline act. He empathizes with people who come to see him. He knows how much it means to them that they get to shake his hand. And he complies.

It was in 1996. He was on the campaign trail. I read in the news. He worked the ropeline at one event. When he got done, he felt like he had not shaken enough hands. So he went back to the beginning and worked the same ropeline all over again.

The ropeline is this man's icecream.

When Bill Clinton was in kindergarten, his friends would say, "Let's go watch Billie Clinton think!"

JFK had a different approach. He hated shaking hands. It is said none of his friends, buddies amounted to anything. When he went into the White House as a President-elect, that was his first time. He had been that insignificant in the Senate. In the Senate his colleagues put him on an insignificant committee. When he first entered the Congress, he took one look at the well, and said, looks like a bunch of worms. He was interested in the presidency, and that is all he cared about. But then he was also up against the WASP glass ceiling. He had to invent his path to the top. The trodden path was not going to work for him.

So Bill Clinton gets out of his car. And he comes down the ropeline. He is doing the unique person, unique moment thing. And finally it is my turn.

"Mr. President, you are Elvis," I say, his hand in mine.

"Thank you, thank you," he says. Then he realizes I am not done talking. He looks down to the ground.

"I have been to Arkansas several times. I have also passed through Hope."

At that point he has not yet left me quite, but he is not yet with the next person.

That is when Fernando Ferrer grabs my hand.

I have attended so many of this man's events by now. Hopefully I get to strike a conversation the next time I get to see him. I am already lined up to see him two more times. Howard Dean is doing a fundraiser for him, and the evening after Dean's brother is showing up with Ferrer at the DFNYC Mixer.

Then I move on, kind of following Clinton and Ferrer, from a distance.

I find myself standing next to this cute, black woman perhaps in her late 20s. She is with her girlfriends.

"Just look at him. He is so cute. Gorgeous. Just look at his face."

And I am thinking, I got a line I can quote in my blog entry.

"He is so cute even the men wanna shake his hand," she adds.

And I burst out laughing. I got outed. She joined me. We were both howling.

Then there was this part when the two of them spoke.

"In 1991, when my mother and my wife were the only people who thought I could get elected president, Freddie Ferrer endorsed me. When I became president, I sent $100 million over to the Bronx because I knew Freddie had the leadership to make good use of it," Clinton said. He said some more.

This part of the event became controversial later.

There were all these white boys with TV cameras who were outright hostile to the Ferrer team. They wanted to know why the microphones were turned off. "If Ferrer can not manage an event, how can he manage a city?" And there was this use of the children metaphor. Children. Women and children. Women, children, blacks and Hispanics. I am all too familiar with that racist children metaphor. "Why were children holding the microphones?"

One Ferrer person was getting pounded by a hostile TV reporter after Clinton had already left. The cameraperson was a woman, white woman. She took the camera off her shoulders. I think the hostility was too much also for her. It was a tribal white boy, white woman, minority male triangle. I was watching from the sidelines.

I should have intervened. "Excuse me, I happen to have a Ph.D. in race relations. I think you are being a racist jerk. This is not only unprofessional, it also goes against the spirit of this great city."

Another Ferrer person complained the media largely boycotted the Ferrer press conferences. Most except the Spanish media.

I think there are a few things coming into play.

One, Bloomberg has double digit leads in the polls. Part of the pounding Ferrer is getting is just for being the underdog.

Two, Ferrer's couter offensive has not been aggressive enough.

Three, racism is an issue, sure. I smell these things. The white boys in the media can get so predictable at times.

Four, the Democratic Party is not united behind Ferrer. A lot of white Democrats think as long as they send Democrats to Congress, it is okay the city does not go to a Democrat.

One was openly mocking how maybe the Ferrer campaign had thought the Clinton event would be their turnaround. But instead they, the media, were going to focus on the microphone issue.

Later I met a reporter - white - who played the Clinton speech to me on tape. His microphone apparently had worked.

This one New York Times reporter who was getting interviewed by a TV reporter took a break from the interview and asked me, "Are you with the Times?"

"No, I am with the DFNYC."

He looked puzzled. He probably thought I was with some TV station. DFNYC? WNYC?

Going by skin color, Ferrer looks white to me.

This is a little confusing.

Social progress is a tricky issue. Race, class, gender, all of them.

Bill Clinton has been at the receiving end of some regionalism himself. He will tell of something called the Arkansas bias.

Do I think that race is the number one issue in the Ferrer-Bloomberg tussle? No way. Do I think it is an issue? Sure.

For me it has been an experience in demystification with Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton claimed he wanted to demystify the presidency through his autobiography.

Bill Clinton is in a league of his own.

At the train station on my way back I met an elderly Hispanic lady who asked me if I had been to the event. She knew the answer. When you are her, it is touching that a president cares about you. Presidents are not known to much care about people like her. They are distant objects busy doing their own important things. But Bill Clinton shows up in your neighborhood.

I chose to get off the President Street station on the 2 train in Brooklyn, even though it is quite a walk from there to my place. This has been a special day. I also had two slices of pizza at two different joints. To celebrate this great day. And I had paan in my neighborhood. Paan is considered auspicious.

148 Photos.

In The News

1 comment:

Michael R. Herman said...

See my comment on this subject at my blog.

The Agenda Gap