(Photo by Sasha Blaes/Clinton Foundation. Left to right, John in DC from Americablog; young fellow from Clinton Foundation that I did not meet personally (sorry!); Jay Carson, Clinton Foundation press secretary; former President Bill Clinton; and Peter Daou.)
It turns out that Bill Clinton got started reading blogs by his daughter, who told him that he really needed to check out the independent reporting and analysis that was being done on the web. And he did…and, according to Peter Daou, who did much of the coordination for the meeting, President Clinton really loves reading blogs. Who knew?!?
So, the call came in last week with the invitation to go up to New York and meet with the Big Dawg — but we were asked to keep the meeting off the record, it was just going to be a meet and greet, no more than an hour…your basic, "Hello, you know I’m out there, I know you’re out there, perhaps we can do something together in the future." sort of thing.
Jane and I decided to go — as if a meeting with a former President is something you just blow off (that would be rude!) — and we wanted to emphasize the need for better messaging and coordination/cooperation with blogs and the Democratic leadership, who seem to constantly be trying to work at cross-purposes with all of us. (Hello?!? We’re here to help, and we aren’t charging you a dime for it — and we actually care if you win, unlike some of the consultant rat holes you keep pouring your money into every election cycle. Wake up!)
(Photo by Sasha Blaes/Clinton Foundation. From left to right: Bill Scher, Liberal Oasis; Duncan Black, Atrios of Eschaton; Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest; and Chris Bowers of MyDD. Quite the brainy row, isn’t it?)
As you might imagine in a meeting with a former President and a policy wonk like Bill Clinton, we did a lot of listening to start things off. Interrupting a former President takes a little getting used to, for me at least — momma beat those manners into me a little more than usual, maybe. But after the first moments of shock when he walked into the room and that part of your brain that tracks celebrity gossip started going off "OMG! That really IS Bill Clinton!"…and he looks just the same in person as you see on teevee…we got down to business and started talking shop.
Which, for all of the folks in the room, turned out to be one huge wonk festival, as you might imagine.
With lots of disagreement and talking over each other, including, on occasion, talking over Bill Clinton. Because the weird thing was, after we started digging into our lunches and talking shop, that whole "former President" veneer sort of slid away for all of us, but the issues about which we all care, and debate, and haggle, and argue, and the rest — those were there for all of us, and that’s what we dug into for more than two hours.
Jeralyn has covered a number of the topics we discussed, and I’m sure several of you have read through her post, so I don’t want to re-invent the wheel here. But there were a couple of topics that I wanted to hit that Jane and I emphasized — emphatically at times — because this was an opportunity to get a message beyond Bill Clinton to the entrenched party apparatus and we were not going to miss out on a messaging moment because Miss Manners might prefer a more demure luncheon attitude. (Screw that!)
(Photo by Sasha Blaes/Clinton Foundation. From left to right: Jeralyn’s son’s head; a little of McJoan from DailyKos; Jane Hamsher of FDL; and Matt Stoller of MyDD.)
As you can see in the above photo, Jane wasn’t shy about speaking her mind. (As if…) And she spent some time during the meeting emphasizing the lack of coordinated message and how much more effective the party could be if they would work with — instead of against — us. The ABC/Disney movie work was a great example of the synergy that can be created when the blogs and the party and various individual interests all get on the same page and push something important to all of us.
Imagine where that could take us for the elections in November.
And while President Clinton has faith in the abilities of Rahm Emmanuel and Chuck Schumer, I made clear to Jay Carson, his press secretary, that both Schumer and Emmanuel have been dismissive and rude to bloggers when we have offered assitance, or critique, or information — and that this attitude needed adjustment for the greater good of the entire party. That what we all want is a Democratic win, and that we were willing to work with them toward that — but they had to be willing to listen to criticism when we were getting an overwhelming message from our readers that they are doing something wrong. (Didn’t get a chance to say that to President Clinton, but Jay was attentive and interested in the examples that I gave him of specific instances with both men, and promised to see what they could do to…um…rectify the situation.)
I thought both Jane and Matt Stoller made excellent points with regard to messaging failures in the Democratic party and the need for better talking heads to represent us all on the news shows. And the need for much better preparation for those shows. We have offered, in the past, to put together prep information — specifically on the CIA leak case, because Jane and I have been so steeped in the minutiae and the facts and bigger picture implications — but no one has ever taken me up on the offers (can’t speak for Jane on that).
I mean, honestly, how hard is it to task someone on your staff to Google for a couple of hours to put together some summary papers on issues you know will be hit on a Sunday show? Or to e-mail a blogger who specializes in a particular issue and ask for help? In case anyone is wondering: we would be more than happy to be helpful — and we’d actually be discreet and prompt, because it’s just the sort of people we are.
(Photo by Sasha Blaes/Clinton Foundation. Left to right, Jeralyn’s son — isn’t he a cutie? — and me, talking with my hands, as usual.)
We got to talk a bit about poverty, race, and class issues — specifically regarding some of the criminal enforcement issues that have risen to the surface via mandatory minimum sentences and the bass-ackwards way that we approach crime in this country. This is a pet issue of mine, and is one of the reasons I stopped practicing law because I couldn’t stand being a short-term band-aid any longer to problems which need serious, long-term political solutions — and I wanted to be able to work toward that somehow. Jeralyn and I have both seen the effects first-hand of a criminal system designed to give political points to elected officials who get to act "tough on crime," while really only making things worse in a whole lot of ways. I hope we can have more conversations about this issue in the Democratic party in the months to come, because it is a huge problem.
The transcript of the on-the-record portion of the meeting isn’t yet available, but when we get it, I’ll update if there is something that I’ve missed here.
All in all, I thought it was a good first meeting. President Clinton was clearly in meet and greet mode, but so were we, so it worked out well. Where things go from here, if anywhere, is anyone’s guess — but this is an excellent opportunity for blogs and politicians to become much more comfortable with each other in the Democratic party. The GOP has been using this communications medium to its advantage for quite a while, and it is high time we levelled the playing field — but bloggers cannot do that by themselves, the elected officials have to start playing ball. And I hope that Clinton’s example of a reach-out will move that along.
Now for the dish: during my travel to NYC, a bottle of saline solution opened up in my luggage and drenched everything around it, including my straightening iron for my hair. I woke up the morning of the meeting, turned on my iron and hopped in the shower, only to start smelling this burning plastic smell. Eeep! Thankfully, I had put another dryer in the bag as well as a just in case, but I had to go to the meeting with less than smooth hair. Oh well.
Rode over to the meeting with McJoan, who I absolutely adore. President Clinton was running late from a prior meeting, so all the bloggers headed down the street to a Starbucks to hang out until he arrived.
Lunch was fantastic. A local caterer brought in some great food: Southern-style baked chicken (no fried food for Clinton since the heart issue), spinach with a little ham hock, baked sweet potato fries, yummy cornbread, salad and fruit. And for dessert, we had red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.
Bill Cinton was wearing a very well tailored suit, and a blue shirt with very tiny white pinstripes — the blue was the exact color of his eyes. (Someone has a good eye that is doing his tailoring.) He wore a deeper blue tie, and looked like he was enjoying himself as he talked to everyone around the table.
All in all, I think the bloggers enjoyed themselves. It was an interesting meeting, and one that I’m sure we’ll all be dissecting in some way for a while — there are a number of ways this can move forward (or not), and the question is which of them will he, and we, choose. We live in interesting times…
(Huge thank you to Twisted Martini, who helped me with my picture downloads late last night. Couldn’t have done this post without your help!)