JWR Jeff JacobyBen WattenbergRoger Simon
Mona CharenLinda Chavez

Paul Greenberg Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellMUGGERWalter Williams
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Jewish World Review /Oct. 30, 1998 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Roger Simon

Roger Simon The vanishing president

WASHINGTON -- Covering the president these days means never having to say you saw him.

That's an old joke, but for the reporters following Bill Clinton, it has never been so true.

Not only can reporters go days without ever seeing the president in the flesh, but the American people -- unless they are the American people who give large sums of money to the Democratic Party -- have been virtually cut off from seeing their president up close and personal.

The comparison to just a few months ago is striking:

In January, four events happened in rapid fire order: The Monica Lewinsky story broke, Clinton denied having had sexual relations with her, he gave his State of the Union speech, and the next day, he traveled to Champaign, Ill., where more than 20,000 people gave him a hero's welcome that was so enthusiastic it surprised even the White House.

"It's like Elvis," a stunned senior White House adviser said that day. Clinton followed up that trip with large public rallies in Wisconsin and New Mexico, where he gave speech after speech to huge, adoring crowds.

But that was when Clinton was saying he was innocent. Now that he has admitted guilt, Elvis has left the building.

Gone are the rallies, and gone are the large crowds. Now, Clinton mostly goes from closed fund-raiser to closed fund-raiser.

This is especially notable considering congressional elections are just days away.

Four years ago, Clinton stumped the country for Democratic candidates, speaking at big rallies.

Today, he goes almost exclusively to private homes and hotel ballrooms where the crowds are made up of Democrats contributors who have plunked down thousands of dollars to be there.

There are three theories to explain the change: First, while Democratic candidates are glad to have the money Clinton raises from fat cats, they do not want a tainted president addressing ordinary voters on their behalf.

Second, the president wants to avoid large rallies where he is almost sure to be confronted with hecklers.

Third, there is the White House view: Rallies take lots of money and lots of time to organize, and while the president has a large staff to handle the multitude of details, the local candidates do not. And therefore, big rallies are out.

But this does not explain why Clinton has stepped even farther out of the public eye by avoiding the reporters who travel with him.

Clinton travels with a large press corps of newspaper, TV, radio and newsmagazine reporters as well as an army of photographers (all of whom pay their own way, incidentally).

On occasion in the past, Clinton has appeared in locations where accommodating the entire press corps would be too disruptive -- a hospital, for instance -- and so a pool made up of about a dozen journalists attends and shares information with the rest of the press corps.

But even that has been eliminated. Last Saturday, for example, Clinton traveled to Los Angeles, held three private fund-raisers and excluded even the press pool from all three events.

The White House allowed only a single newspaper reporter inside each event to witness what the president was doing and saying.

So, for most of the reporters traveling with Clinton, this was a day in which they flew 3,000 miles and never saw him. Instead, they sat in an overheated basement meeting room in a hotel and listened to his remarks over a loudspeaker.

In the past, reporters flying on Air Force One got to see Clinton because he would go back to the press area and talk to them. But this doesn't happen anymore.

I flew on Air Force One Saturday, and all I got to see was the in-flight movie ("The Last Days of Disco" no less).

I did get to ask Barry Toiv, the deputy press secretary, why the White House could not accommodate the entire press corps or even the much smaller press pool at the Los Angeles events.

"These events are in private residences," he replied.

True, but these private residences were in Beverly Hills and Bel Air, some of them on estates almost large enough to have their own zip codes.

What's the big deal about not seeing the president live and in person?

One misses certain things. What, for instance, was the expression on President Clinton's face when Barbra Streisand introduced him by saying that the American people "have elected him twice to be their president, not to be their pope"?

Don't ask me. I was in an overheated meeting room miles away.

By keeping reporters and crowds far away, Clinton can keep unpleasant confrontations far away, but there is a trade-off: Clinton has always loved working the rope lines and meeting ordinary voters. He has always said he draws strength his crowds.

Now, the crowds are gone, and when White House spokesman Joe Lockhart was asked why on Monday, he said: "It's not productive ... days before the election, to come in and have (candidates) put up with all that disruption a presidential visit causes."

All that disruption?

It used to be called campaigning.


10/27/98:Bubba's last hurrah?
10/23/98: Podesta is used to cleaning toilets
10/15/98: Glenn will once again be an American original
9/24/98: The greatest political actor of our time
9/17/98: Bubba's 'weasel words' --only a partial list (There's only 24 hours in a day)
9/17/98: Hah, I told ya so!
9/08/98: Orthodox Jew Lieberman's moral outrage: Why religion matters in politics
9/04/98: Bubbasky
8/27/98: Cigars?
8/25/98: Why it's all-Lewinsky-all-day-all-night
8/21/98: From magnifying glass to microscope
8/19/98: Let's be blunt: Bubba really needs a shrink --- and fast!
8/13/98: At home, with real, live FOBs
8/11/98: Bubba's new secret weapon: the Marine Band
8/07/98: Has the presidency been reduced to a 'Leno' joke?
8/05/98: Tell the truth?
7/30/98: All ya need is luv...and to deny, deny, deny
7/28/98: 'Man-of-da-people,' huh?
7/23/98: Can frequent-flyer miles alone earn Bubba a Nobel Prize?
7/21/98: San Francisco: not only 'gay,' but happy
7/17/98: Why Bubba claims Y2K is US' biggest problem
7/14/98: Close Amtrak --- PLEASE!
7/9/98: Flag burning is for nuts!
7/7/98: Forget about his legal defense fund, buy Bubba shirts!
7/1/98: Wall-nuts
6/26/98: Perks and the press
6/23/98: There's a good reason Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.