The Washington Bill-Hillies Reprise Their Act in NH

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Former President and Senator Clinton were in New Hampshire on Friday and made a joint appearance at a rally that evening in Victory Park in downtown Manchester, just a few short blocks from where I live. Someone had given me a ticket and it was a nice, warm (quite comfortable, actually) summer evening, so I took a stroll over there to see and hear the Washington Bill-Hillies.

In my role as a free-lance reporter, I saw Sen. Clinton twice in one day earlier this year. But I had never seen “Bubba” in person before, despite his many visits to the Granite State. He is large and makes an impressive appearance. He has always been an engaging speaker. He promised to speak briefly and, of course, broke the promise within the first 20 minutes. No one expected him to keep it, anyway. (It depends, I guess, on what the meaning of “brief” is.) But he was, as always, interesting, folksy, humorous and yes, even right about a few things, like the deficits we are running up and how borrowing money from China to finance tax cuts and a war in Iraq does not speak well of the Republicans’ “fiscal conservatism.” (Maybe President Bush isn’t clear on what the meaning of “conservative” is. He’s probably not too clear on “fiscal,” either. Other than that, he’s got “fiscal conservatism” down cold.)

So I figured he gave his wife, Madame Hillarious, a tough act to follow. But she was up to the task. She talked a little longer than he did. Brevity obviously is not a staple of the Clinton household. Even their pillow talk must sound like a filibuster by Sen. Byrd. (“Will the Senator yield?”) But she was also interesting and no one, not even I, was bored with any of it.

I did cringe a bit when she called a couple of times for support for stem cell research and I briefly considered turning and walking out of there. But I admit there were four or five, maybe even a half dozen times when I applauded things she said. I agree, for example, that if our troops are still in Iraq when the next President takes office in January, 2009, it will be high time to come up with a plan to begin removing them within 60 days. And I agree that we need to do something to end the long delays in medical care for our military people at VA hospitals.

When it was over, I moved up to the low barrier in front of the stage and waited as the Clintons made their way along the barrier, signing autographs. (Signing autographs appears to have supplanted handshakes as the primary way for presidential candidates to “work the crowd.”) I stood there with the card that was the ticket of admission and a book in one hand and a ballpoint pen in the other. A young man in a dark suit who was, I guess, a Secret Service agent politely asked me to put the pen away. “They have their own pens,” he assured me.

Well, I guess a ballpoint pen could be weapon. (Do they, I wonder, use James Bond movies as training films for our security agents? They probably would have gone into “red alert” if any of the ladies there had knitting needles with them.) Anyway, they came along, she first and he following just far enough behind that you could get her autograph and get your card, paper or whatever back in time to get his, too. I would guess it is quite an art, because they managed to chat just enough with each person to make each feel as though he or she had established, ever so briefly, a point of contact and made some sort of bond with the former President and First Lady.

I actually managed to chat a little with the distinguished Senator, whom I actually consider the better (meaning less awful) senator from New York, since Charles “UpChuck” Schumer almost always causes me to see red. I might have told her that considering how awful Schumer is, I consider her the best U.S. Senator New York has right now. But that thought didn’t occur to me at the time.

What did come to mind was that at the recent debate at Saint Anselm College, former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska said that as President, he would probably send former President Clinton abroad on some sort of goodwill mission and “He can take his wife with him. She’ll still be in the senate.”

So as the senator approached I asked her where she might send Sen. Gravel in the next Clinton administration.

“Oh, I don’t know what he’ll be doing,” she said with a grin.

“Well, you could send him on a goodwill mission around the world, right?” I suggested, helpfully.

“Well, some parts, anyway,” she replied as she signed.

“And he could take his wife with him, right?”

“Well, some places,” she said. Then she said Sen. Gravel is a remarkable man. “He has a tremendous amount of energy.”

“And he has a good sense of humor,” I added.

“Yes, he does,” she agreed. How about that? In 1964, when Hillary Rodham was a “Goldwater girl” we doubtless would have agreed on a great many things. Forty-three years later, we could still find a few things to agree on. But not many. I’m still for Goldwater for President.

Anyway, I got my card back from the Senator and in a few seconds was able to hand it to the former President. (The timing was remarkable.) As I did, I recalled that in Dover, New Hampshire on the night before the primary in 1992, a hoarse Bill Clinton promised to be with the people of New Hampshire “’till the last dog dies!”

“I guess that last dog still hasn’t died,” I said as he was signing for me.

“Not even close,” he said with a self-satisfied grin. That’s our “Bubba.” Just a good ol’ Rhodes scholar.

All in all, it was a good show. And since it started shortly after 6 p.m., I was able to walk over to a nearby lounge for dinner and a Red Sox game on television. Life is good.

Still, I’m not going to vote for Mme. Hillarious. I expect to vote for Ron Paul in the New Hampshire primary. But I do feel privileged to live in New Hampshire and see and hear all these presidential candidates and to see and listen to a former president speak in a park just a few blocks away from my home just before he goes off to Africa to do something (I don’t know just what) about AIDS there.

Another former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, will be buried in Texas on Saturday. Mrs. Johnson was an Episcopalian, but her younger daughter, Lucy Baines, is a Catholic and had a Catholic priest there at the end to give her mother last rites.

Requiem in pacem.

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.

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