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The Outsider


A little confession: I broke my resolution not to watch any part of either major-party convention.

Channel surfing the other night, I found myself watching CNN just as Bill Clinton strode confidently into the Staples Center. I thought, wotthehell, I'll watch him give his valedictory for a minute or two.

Mesmerized, I sat through the whole thing. Let's say it once again: Clinton is the most brilliant politician of our era, comparable only to Reagan, Kennedy, and FDR.

Watching him in action is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. If you're a Republican, it's as if Jordan himself is before you with the game on the line, scarcely moving, dribbling the ball, a slight smile on his face. Is he going to head fake you, drive to the left, or maybe pull up for the three? Or drive to the paint, make an impossible move, float high above you, dunk, and draw the foul? You don't know -- you only know that you're gonna get beat, and, more than likely, humiliated as well.

Imagine the despair among Republicans if ol' Bill could run for a third term. Right now, the polls would show a comfortable 20-point lead for the prez, with most respondents cheerfully convinced that a) Clinton has the morals of an alleycat and that b) he's one heck of a good president.

Indeed, the fact that Clinton is constitutionally barred from running for a third term is the best imaginable argument against term limits.

After all, here's a guy at the top of his game, in perfect health, vastly experienced, who has survived crises that would have destroyed most of us. A president needs to be smart, tough, resilient and cunning. Oh, sure, it's nice to have a morally impeccable leader, but good character doesn't necessarily mean good leadership -- remember Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover?

Just wait; regardless of who triumphs in November, sometime next year there'll be a crisis that President Gore/Bush will fumble, and we'll all look at each other and realize the obvious; Clinton could've handled the situation with both hands tied behind his back.

But for all of you aspiring pols out there, get a tape of Clinton's speech to the convention and watch it over and over again.

Note that the president, speaking in a cacophonous sports arena to an intermittently attentive crowd of 10,000 or more, seems to be talking to half a dozen old friends on a quiet summer evening.

Although he's reading his speech from a TelePrompter, his delivery appears to be entirely spontaneous. Listen to the rhythms of the speech; only slightly more formal than ordinary conversation. Listen to him make his points; simply, authoritatively, gently, and humorously. Watch the body language; relaxed, confident, giving. More than any other politician, Clinton has the movie star's gift of intimate distance; you feel as if he could be your best friend, yet you're dazzled by him.

Forty years ago, attending the state Democratic convention in Durango, I was the designated teenage Democrat to have breakfast with then-Sen. Jack Kennedy. I had been for Adlai Stevenson; I switched. Like Clinton, Kennedy simply had 10 times the force of an ordinary person.

But if Clinton is larger than life, his would-be successors are pretty ordinary. And that's not so bad; indeed, it seems to me that we have their counterparts right here in River City. Let's look at George W. He's an amiable guy, good-looking and well-dressed, a reasonably hard worker, a good business man who has been notably successful in elected office, although his detractors felt that he wasn't up to the job.

We have our own George W. right here at the corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street. It's clothing store proprietor and Chairman of the Colorado University Board of Regents Jerry Rutledge. Take a bow, Jerry: you're a good guy, a good regent, and you'd probably be an OK president!

And what about Al Gore? We're looking for someone from a long line of powerful men, whose family history literally pushed him into the family business. It'd help if he were smart, studious, somewhat geeky, an Ivy Leaguer, and hopelessly eager to do the right thing. My nominee: Princeton graduate and community benefactor Thayer Tutt, who, like his dad before him, has devoted his life to the El Pomar Foundation.

And are Bill and Hillary sui generis after all? Don't we have a pair of politicians in this town, man and woman, who are frighteningly competent, impatient with fools, beloved by their supporters, despised by their enemies, and strangely joined at the hip? Sure we do!

Mayors Isaac and Makepeace. Luckily for us, they never married each other ... and I wouldn't advise trying to fix 'em up.


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