- Notes? He don't need no stikin' notes. : Notes? He don't need no stikin' notes.
But, damn, Slick Willy has still got it.
Bill Clinton showed up to Bend High an hour late, predictably, and spoke for 15 minutes longer than he was supposed to - also predictably. No matter. The crowd, which filled the upper bleachers and packed the gym floor, ate it all up.
The Hillary Clinton campaign scoffs at Barack Obama for being all rhetoric. Bill Clinton sounded the same theme from time to time on Monday. "You've gotta hire somebody who's got their feet on the ground," he said. Again and again he talked about how Hillary has fought for education, for health care reform. "The question is not whether you embody change but whether you can make change happen in people's lives," he said.
Okay, fair enough. But before you can make change happen you have to convince people they need change and you're the one who can make it happen. You have to inspire. To inspire you need eloquence.
Hillary doesn't have it. Bill does, in spades. That's why he sailed to victory in two presidential elections, and why her campaign for the Democratic nomination is taking on water like the Lusitania.
Bill Clinton talked for an hour and 15 minutes Monday night with no notes, no teleprompter. There were no gaps, no pauses, no umms and uhhs, no stumbles, mumbles or fumbles. (How wonderful it was to be reminded that we once had a president who could speak coherent English).
The style was disarmingly colloquial. Bill the Rhodes Scholar can drop his g's, can say "goin'" and "workin'" and "we're gonna" and "we gotta," and it sounds completely natural. When Hillary the Wellesley girl tries it, it just sounds phony.
He even pronounced "Oregon" right.
When it comes to delivering funny lines, the man has a sense of timing and inflection that no professional comic can beat. If Bill hadn't gone into politics he would have given Letterman and Leno a run for their money.
He compared the Iraq situation to a neighbor whose house burns down and has no place to go. Most of us would let him sleep on our couch for a week, he said. Probably even a few weeks. Maybe even six months. But when he's been sleeping there for five years it's another story: "After five years it's not about the fire anymore - it's about sleeping on your couch." The crowd exploded in laughter.
And the sincerity. Oh, the sincerity.
"Sincerity is everything," Groucho Marx said. "If you can fake that, you've got it made." I don't know whether Bill's sincerity is real or if he's just amazingly good at faking it, but whatever - it works.
When he talked about visiting Iraq war veterans who had suffered brain damage from being near roadside bombs when they exploded, his voice dropped to a husky near-whisper and the audience went dead silent. The same thing happened when he described a conversation with a New York City firefighter whose health had been ruined by inhaling toxic stuff from the debris of the World Trade Center.
Such is Bill Clinton's ability to infuse sincerity into his voice and manner that he was able to get away with a line like: "I do love Hillary, but I love my country too."
Life isn't fair, as another American president said, and that goes double for politics. The most experienced, most qualified and most dedicated often don't win. The unfortunate fact is that likeability counts. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have it. Hillary, for all her intelligence and expertise and sincere (for all I know) compassion, does not.
Hillary is the studious, slightly dorky girl in high school who desperately wanted to be liked and worked so hard to be likeable that she only managed make herself more disliked. Bill is the happy-go-lucky, charming guy who seemed to make everybody like him without half trying. Like I said, it isn't fair. But that's the way it is.
There can't be any doubt that if Bill Clinton could have run for the Democratic nomination this year he would have blown everybody else out of the water. And if he could stand against John McCain in November, they would have to carry what was left of McCain out of the ring.
But our Constitution decrees that nobody can serve more than two terms as president, so the only Clinton we have in this race is the wrong one. More's the pity.