“President who? Mommy, who are we going to see tonight?” My youngest asked.
“Rich Carmona and President Clinton,” I said, trying to remember if her childhood presidents’ place mat, recently surrendered to the Goodwill—with its list of presidents and presidential statistics—had stopped at Clinton or Bush 2.
“President Clinton,” I said.
“But I thought President Obama is our president?” she asked
“You’re right,” I said, telling her that former presidents are still referred to by that title, but mostly by the media for making clear who is who.
Before we get to our evening spent within a baseball toss of President Clinton, let me explain something about which I’ve been long curious: According to Robert Hickey, of http://www.formsofaddress.info/FOA_president_US_former.html, the formal protocol for addressing former presidents in conversation and letter salutation is as Mr. or Mrs. (Clinton, in this case).
“So what was President Clinton known for Mommy?” My twelve-year-old asked.
Still flying from the adrenalin it took to get three generations out the door, enroute to secure our entrance to the Clinton-Carmona Rally from a handful of first-come-first-served tickets, I snickered when I should not have.
“President Clinton is a great orator, a great speaker, but… but unfortunately as often happens people only remember great people for their peccadillos.”
That’s about right, I thought.
“Mistakes,” I said.
“What did he do wrong?” She asked.
“Well, in short, he messed around with a White House intern,” I said.
From the backseat my German father-in-law chimed in “Accchhh— in Europe these things are long forgotten. We don’t pay any attention to this. What was her name again?” Opa asked.
“Monica Lewinsky,” I said, smiling. “But what did Europe remember of President Nixon?” I asked.
Opa’s girlfriend spoke up, “His picture was on our ballot next to a German candidate who he’d endorsed. My father said, ‘When you see Nixon that means you don’t want to vote for that candidate.’ He’d been put on the ballot just before Watergate.”
I smiled thinking about how when I shook hands with President Nixon at the same age as my ten-year-old, I could only remember my normally placid grandfather jumping out of his armchair yelling, “Crook!! You’re a crook!” at the black and white images of the large-handed “Tricky Dick” on TV.
The Nixon I shook hands with was a stoop-shouldered, gray-haired grandfather willing to sign autographs in Yorktown, Pennsylvania’s tiny war museum on a family vacation with his wife and daughter—Julie Nixon-Eisenhower and grandchildren.
But even then, I knew so much about why Nixon got himself into trouble. Walter Cronkite told us about Watergate. The music I listened to told about Nixon’s bad choices: “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming… .” Even the songbook on my mother’s Wurlizter piano had black and white photos of the students shot at Kent State.
I looked over at my daughter flipping through ifunny on her ipod.
Isn’t it ironic how isolated we’ve become in our attempt to understand and connect to the world around us? I thought.
But at least there is tonight.
“Why do we have to go tonight?” my teenager moaned.
So much for that idea.
“You get to—like—see a real president? Isn’t that cool? Here. Look at this program,” I said handing it to her.
“Jimmy Eat World???” she squealed in excitement.
“Ya. They’re the warm up band,” I said, wondering who they were.
“Their stuff’s always on Pandora,” she said.
I took a deep breath. The worst was over. I’d gotten everyone out the door including myself. I had called my dad to see if the chances of getting close to the president were worth the late night, the missed homework, the cranky kids.
My father had said that these opportunities don’t come along very often and should be seized when they do, even if you decide to walk out to make a point.
As an officer in the teacher’s union my father was privileged to be part of a delegation addressed by President Reagan in New York City in the 1980s. Except that my father and hundreds of others didn’t get to hear the president speak. Instead they walked out in a staged procession in protest of Reagan’s firing of the striking air traffic controllers.
So, sometimes you give up the opportunity to make a point.
While my father pointed out that Clinton is probably one of the world’s most well-known and appreciated figures and his speeches were worth the price of admission, my mother reminded me not to push the limit and try to take in my professional camera. “When Daddy Bush spoke at DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Convention I attended, they were combing through purses and not letting in people with large cameras.”
Sure enough as my children and I and their German grandparents neared the crowded field at Arizona State University, security was searching bags. As my turn came, I looked to the right of me to find a grandmotherly lady I knew—with a camera with a telephoto lens being turned away. “Oh, my—Barbara—hope to see you soon,” I called.
In the end, I was glad I called my parents for their input and encouragement. President Clinton’s energy, knowledge, folksiness and spontaneity kept us on our feet. And, as if he was talking to my family, he pointed out how Arizona could look to Germany for ways to incorporate solar power into our economy.
That night the older generation suffered through three hours of standing and the heart-stopping bass throb of Jimmy Eat World, but enjoyed the excitement of Arizonans we stood with who shared their in-depth knowledge of American politics. The younger generation took turns sitting at my feet to rest or piggy-backed in order to see a gray-haired statesman they won’t forget.
You never do.
Further inspiration for this post is owed to Julianne of http://browsingtheatlas.com for her post “Today I Saw the President” (Sept 17, 2012). Julianne had stopped by and liked some of my posts, so I decided to check out what she was writing about. Within a few weeks the opportunity to see a President arose. Today Julianne features a story about Buffalo, where I was born.