Sunday, February 25, 2001

Goodbye, Bill

It's time to feel our own pain

        Bill Clinton always said he could feel our pain.

        But, of course, that became a two-way street.

        Eventually, many of us were willing to handle our own pain if Mr. Clinton would keep his under wraps. The pain of keeping his pants zipped, “trying to be a better husband.”

        The pain of his repentance. “It is important to me,” he told clergy at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1998, “that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine.”

        The pain of his sleepless nights and subsequent haste to “stick it to prosecutors” as David Gergen, a former Clinton White House aide said of the unpardonable presidential pardons.

        We know that the person who is our head of state, the commander in chief and leader of the free world is only human. But once he exercises his right to redecorate the Oval Office and move in, he becomes bigger than that. At least we'd like to think so, wouldn't we?

Indelible image
        I am remembering an elderly man I met in August of 1996 when I rode the train with President Clinton on the way to the Democratic convention. It was called the 21st Century Express.

        “We're on this train,” the president told enthusiastic audiences along the route, “because I wanted to go through America's heartland to Chicago. I wanted to see the people in this country that I've been fighting for for the last four years.”

        The bunting-draped train rolled through Ohio, from Columbus to Arlington to Findlay to Bowling Green to Toledo, through endless fields of soybeans and corn, punctuated by crossings, most of which were not big enough to earn an automatic gate. Local cops blocked the roads. Most of them saluted as the president passed.

        An indelible memory as we chugged through Findlay: a peewee football team dropped the ball and ran to form a line, helmets off, motionless, hands clasped behind their backs. People waited in lawn chairs and on bumpers of some very well-used cars. Even the ones holding Dole-Kemp signs smiled and waved. They were not baking in the sun for a glimpse of Candidate Clinton. Or the guy who feels our pain.

        They held up their babies to see the president of the United States.

The patriot
        At one stop, I met a man who leaned on a cane as he waited. He had been there, a human bookmark with a bum hip, for three hours. I asked him if he was there because he is a loyal Democrat. “Oh my, no,” he said. “I used to be the Republican chairman of this town. I'm here because I'm a patriot.”

        Those little boys standing at attention and the other patriots along the ceremonial route to Mr. Clinton's Chicago coronation were demonstrating considerably more respect for the office of the presidency than did the officeholder himself, right up to his typically vulgar exit.

        And now we are getting to know our new president.

        Thursday, President Bush held his first White House news conference. He answered questions about Russia and Great Britain and Saddam Hussein. He talked about taxes, and the budget and education and defense. He refused to be pulled into the Clinton swamp. He has bigger things to do, he says.

        I'm not sure Mr. Bush feels our pain. But he acts like a man who feels the majesty of the office. Serious. Prepared. Presidential.

        And he did not discuss his pain. Not once.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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