One of the perks of working in downtown Washington, D.C. is the sightseeing. And I’m not necessarily talking about the museums and monuments, although those are nice, too. What I’m really thinking of are the various and repeated sightings of high-level government types and other political celebrities.
Happens all the time. I used to see James Baker, former White House chief of staff and Secretary of State, walking around in my old office at Hogan & Hartson. Seems there’s a Washington office of his Texas law firm, Baker & Botts, and they just couldn’t get him to go back to Texas after Reagan retired. I’ve seen Jack Kemp, former Interior secretary, presidential candidate, and quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, checking his bags at Reagan National Airport.
I’ve seen George Will a lot, oddly enough riding on the Metrorail to God knows where.
But the best sightings of all are, of course, Presidential. I only started working here in 1993, so there have only been two Presidents in office during my entire Washington stay. I’ve seen them both, though, and there’s enough of a story there to make it worth at least a daylog, if not a full node.
It Keeps You Running
Bill Clinton came first, of course. Big surprise. Just ask Hillary or Monica (ha, ha, I kill me sometimes). Anyway, I first met Bill Clinton one morning in Fall 1995, when I was out running on the monument grounds. When I was younger and bolder, I used to run into work rather than commute. It saved time, and kept me looking nice and trim, instead of the chubby hubby that I’ve become.
I was running on the south side of the reflecting pool. If you’ve ever seen Forrest Gump or video of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, you know that this is the shallow pool that sits in front of the Lincoln Memorial, facing the Washington Monument.
As I approached the west end of the pool, I saw a group of five or six men running in my direction. As we narrowed the distance, I could make out Bill Clinton’s head, complete with red baseball cap, surrounded by five very serious looking runners, each with an earpiece in his left ear.
When they were roughly twenty yards away, four of the men broke away and sprinted in my direction. Not knowing what was going on, I was a little distressed at first. But the men soon alleviated my concerns.
“Sir, we apologize, but we’re going to have to ask you to stop for a few minutes as the President runs by.”
I stopped running immediately, and told them “No problem.”
The four men surrounded me, standing no more than six inches away as the President, accompanied by the fifth agent, passed me. He smiled and waved, and said
“Good morning. Nice day for a run, isn’t it?”
I rather wisely chose not to raise my hand to wave back, but I did say “Yes, sir, it’s a fine day. Have a good run.”
Once Clinton had gotten maybe twenty or thirty yards away, the agents thanked me, apologized for any inconvenience, and sprinted off to rejoin the Presidential pack. Interestingly, I was never frisked, never touched, never restrained in any way, other than by the close proximity of the agents. Make no mistake. I knew that if I made one wrong move, they would have me down on the ground in a split second. But they didn’t use force unnecessarily.
A decade later, my experiences with Baby Bush couldn’t have been more different. My present office looks out over the west entrance to the White House, so sometimes when I’m walking to lunch, I pass by the White House road barrier and security station. If Bush is leaving, uniformed officers stop foot and vehicle traffic for at least ten minutes before he drives off.
The contrast couldn’t be greater. Where Clinton’s men were courteous and polite, Bush’s uniformed guards go out of their way to be rude, even to tourist families with women and children. Where Clinton was accessible, out with the people, Bush is hidden behind tinted, bulletproof glass, heavy car armor, and dozens of agents willing to kill any American citizen who gets in their way in order to save the President. And where Clinton honestly acted as though he would stop and shoot the breeze with me, if he had the time, Bush looks like he couldn’t be bothered.
I couldn’t help but think that each President's public demeanor was a product of, and strongly reflected, the tone of his Presidency. Sure, Clinton may have gotten a blowjob in the Oval Office. So did JFK. And I’d rather have a President who did that –- and who acted as though he truly loved and cared for the American people -– than a President who, for all the world, looks and acts as though he wants to be a Roman emperor.