I found myself watching David Letterman the other night, which is rare. I can count on one foot the number of times I have watched Letterman through the years.
Former President Bill Clinton was the guest and I was struck by two things:
1) Clinton looks great. In fact, sans the gray hair he looks better than he did twenty years ago.
2) I love listening to a politician freed from politics, able to speak their mind without a the proverbial cup in hand.
There weren't any great revelations but Clinton was in his element, relaxed and ever eloquent.
I have read commentary lately about President Obama's disdain for "retail politics," the daily, one-on-one, behind the scenes aspect of public office.
Obama, the theory goes, is more comfortable in front of large audiences than in smaller settings. He's not particularly interested in working the phones and cashing in chits with members of Congress. One writer speculated that Obama likes humanity, but not human beings.
It's certainly debatable to what extent backslapping skills are necessary for a Commander in Chief. And connecting with Congress today must feel like knocking on a steel door. Once "inside," even infomercial king Billy Mays would probably wind up kicked in the teeth like Willy Loman.
President Bill Clinton was a master glad hander, the most effective in my lifetime.
Watching Clinton on Letterman, I felt the power of a man who simultaneously compelled two individuals (Letterman and I) along with an audience. He had me hooked for days after. Ask my wife, who is convinced I have a man crush.
Many years ago I had a client, a staunch conservative who had the opportunity to meet then candidate for president Clinton. "I don't agree with Bill Clinton about anything," he said, "but believe me, when he shook my hand and looked me in the eye, I was the only person in the room."
That I believe. I doubt Bill Clinton ever leaves a room without trying to connect with everyone. His Rolodex could power a river boat.
The most effective politicians master the public and personal; salesmanship and empathy. Despite his personal failings, Bill Clinton was effective working a room and getting legislation passed.
The man is persuasive. Heck, he got me to sit through an hour of late night T.V.