Thursday, October 30, 2003

POTUS and POTUS-would-be blog.

Another long day at the magazinewerks. Next issue needs wrapping up.

Jay writes: "I just read your blog about going out to hear Bill Clinton during the '96 campaign since you had never seen an incumbent president before. I'm nine years older than you are and I don't believe that I've ever seen an incumbent president, though I believe that I did see a sitting vice president who later became president. That was Lyndon Johnson, who came to McKinney [Texas] for some reason, in 1962. Presumably some sort of opening, though I can't imagine what. I say, I believe I saw him, because while I recall that there was a lot of hoopla and discussion about the visit, and school was turned out in force to watch the parade, I have no mental image of seeing Johnson himself. It's possible, I suppose, that the memory has been diluted, over the years, by all of my subsequent exposure to his image on television and in the press.

"In the fall of 1968 I went to the old civic center in San Antonio to see Richard Nixon. I have a vague recollection of seeing Nixon, at a considerable distance, but no recollection of anything he said. What I do remember, very clearly, was seeing Desi Arnaz, who had been brought in to speak on behalf of Nixon's candidacy. I suppose the theory was that since he was Hispanic -- had in fact made a career out of being a Cuban -- and San Antonio was heavily Hispanic, he was the man to send to San Antonio to promote Nixon.

"That Cubans and Mexicans are no more alike than, say, Scots and Minnesotans amongst English-speaking peoples apparently didn't enter into anyone's mind. Of course, I had seen Desi Arnaz on television, so what impressed me was how much he had changed: his hair had turned white and he wore a white beard. (I have the idea that he was wearing a palm beach suit too, but I may be imagining that.) All I remember about his speech was that he brought it to a conclusion by shouting "Viva Nixon!" He may have shouted "Viva Cuba libre!" too, but I'm not sure anymore.

"In 1973 or so I saw Nixon's old opponent, Hubert Humphrey, another ex-vice president and aspirant to the chief magistracy. He had come to speak at SMU. I wasn't interested in hearing him speak, and didn't go to the speech, but happened to spot him standing in front of the Student Center afterwords, looking tired and somewhat smaller than life, apparently waiting for his ride.

"In the spring of 1977, thinking of Nixon, I saw Alger Hiss, who came to speak at Duke. The girl in charge of the speaker's programme had gone around to all of the classrooms and chalked up a message that morning advertising Hiss' appearance in the Green Room (the larger of two student lounges) that afternoon. I had gone around a bit later and added, also in chalk, a large hammer & sickle and the word "Chekist" to her announcements. I had my own opinion of Alger Hiss. I didn't go to hear him speak, but I did take a quick look; he was history on the hoof, after all, whatever I thought of him. But I wander from the topic.

"Back to chief executives. In the fall of 1980 I happened by Alamo Plaza one day at lunch and discovered that Ronald Reagan was appearing at a rally. The podium was immediately in front of the Alamo. I saw him in the distance but didn't stay for more than a moment or two. I can't recall where I was going but listening to political speeches wasn't on my agenda that day, and the crowd was too thick for me to get very close in any event.

"Sometime in the late '80s I attended a continuing legal education course at a hotel in downtown Dallas, the sort that a serves as a venue for lots of business meetings and gatherings. Someone spotted George W. Bush a short distance away and pointed him out to me. I have no idea what he was doing there; presumably attending one of the assorted other meetings in the hotel that day. At that time he was the president's son and himself president of the Texas Rangers, but was not known to harbour ambitions for high office himself.

"Since that time, as far as I can recall, I've seen no presidents, ex-presidents or aspiring presidents, though I saw Bill Clinton's motorcade once, in 1995, speeding down Woodall Rogers, the northerly portion of the freeway loop that surrounds downtown Dallas. The president had had a speaking engagement downtown. My office at that time was adjacent to the freeway. First the police blocked all the overpasses over the freeway to traffic. Traffic on the freeway suddenly ceased, doubtless blocked by other, unseen police. After a moment several large black cars with darkened windows came speeding up the freeway. Then they were gone, and the police left. Life and traffic returned to normal.

"He never held office in this country, of course, but in September 1989 I saw Boris Yeltsin, at that time a former Candidate Member of the Politburo of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and unemployed in any official capacity. He spoke at a luncheon in one of the larger hotel ballrooms in town sponsored by the Dallas Counsel on Foreign Relations. It was a good speech and well delivered, I recall, despite being filtered through a translator. At the end of the speech, he was presented with a western hat. He put it on his head and grinned at the crowd -- there may have been a thousand people in the audience -- and then took it off and waved it around cheerfully. He clearly had the instincts of a fine stump speaker.

"I saw the Patriarch of Constantinople when he visited Dallas in 1997, too, but I suppose that's too far off point. The Patriarch's predecessors in office had dealings with a long line of emperors and sultans, true, but, unlike the Popes, they were never temporal rulers in their own right."


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