Former President Bill Clinton has a new book out, Back to Work. Its subtitle is: Why We Need Smart Government For A
He knows a thing or two about divided government, battling Congress and repairing economies and squaring budgets in the process. So, when the opportunity to meet him at a book signing arose, I grabbed it.
According to Shah Gilani (Forbes contributor), he hadn’t read the book before arriving last Thursday at the exquisite 1927 landmark Books & Books building in Coral Gables, Florida where the Honorable William Jefferson Clinton was busy signing copies for a long line of excited patrons.
With his storied history and my penchant for muckraking, he had some questions for him.
In all honesty, Shah was never a fan of the Former President when he was ThePresident. It’s not that he didn’t agree with a lot of his policies, in hindsight he did. But, for a staunch Republican, a Reagan Republican at that, and an English Tory to boot, he admit he was skeptical of Democratic liberalism and dismayed by Mr. Clinton’s less than presidential behavior.
There were always rumors surrounding Bill Clinton and he had come armed to address some of them.
Unfortunately, Shah had driven across the state of Florida and was running late.
After a Secret Service check and getting my media badge, he joined the small throng of reporters firing questions at Mr. Clinton, just in time to hear his answer to a posed question, right before we were told, “Thank you, that’s all folks.”
Not to be dissuaded and being a patron of Books & Books’ several stores in South Florida and Westhampton Beach (where he went to high school) he sought out the rakish and always affable Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books.
Having missed the press opportunity, and with a nod from Mitchell, he was inserted into the long line of well-dressed locals where he then removed my Forbes media name tag.
The first rumor about Bill Clinton that Shah wanted to address was, upon meeting him, as every single person he know who has met Bill Clinton says is true (and many of them weren’t fans), does he have the “star power” and “aura” that he’s famous for?
Well, that rumor didn’t take long to ferret out. Having had the luxury of knowing lots of rich, powerful people and several of the biggest movie stars in the world, I’m not easily impressed.
But, I was. The man has more than star quality he has genuine “presence.”
When someone you don’t know, that you’ll never meet again, who is just going to shake your hand and sign a book for you and say thank you before turning to the next person in line actually engages you with a genuineness that is as surprising as it is disarming, you realize that person is different.
But, that’s not all that happened.
His handshake was not quick, it was purposeful. And as we were smiling at each other, he asked, “Mr. Clinton, may I ask you a question Sir?” He signed the book, handed it to me and immediately said, “Yes, of course.”
What happened next totally surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. He was confirming another rumor i had heard about him.
Shah asked, “What do you think about the Occupy Wall Street movement, personally, and what do you think it says about America?”
“He looked at me and with as much sincerity as I’ve ever encountered”, he said, “I’m glad you asked me that, that’s a great question.”
Rumor number two was confirmed, this man is sincere.
Rumor number three took several minutes to confirm.
That’s because even though the Honorable Mr. Clinton didn’t know who Shah was, he would hold up a long line of well-wishers to address, with passion, his vision of America through the eyes of the public, which is the way he likes to see his country.
“I think what they’re doing is great,” he said. “Occupy Wall Street has done more in the short time they’ve been out there than I’ve been able to do in more than the last eleven years trying to draw attention to some of the same problems we have to address,” he said.
Without once looking around, but completely engaging me, the statesman continued. “There are a lot of young people out there, I see a lot of unemployed students and they are upset, he said. They don’t know where the jobs and opportunities are for them, and they are worried about how they’re going to pay off their student loans without going broke.”
But he learned instantly that Bill Clinton doesn’t just acknowledge problems he has solutions at the ready. He went on to say that student loan reforms were absolutely necessary and that limiting annual loan payments to small percentages of income made sense to not impoverish students as they struggle up the ladder in pursuit of the American Dream.
Shah asked if the Occupy Wall Street movement should have a platform. He was getting into another area he is passionate about, delivering messages on point. “Yes,” he said, “But it doesn’t have to be a platform; it doesn’t have to be twenty pages. They should start with three or four points to generate a political movement to get heard more clearly.”
There was more, but as he touched quickly on two other points as to how we got here, he said, “That’s in the book.” He wasn’t being sold on the book; He just had my copy signed. He was being steered to the address of important issues in the book and Mr. Clinton’s suggestions for getting back on track to fixing them.
Shah read the book. It really is excellent. It is stunningly frank and puts some very heated positions and agendas into a perspective that enlightens all those who read it.
So, if all the rumors about Bill Clinton, the good ones and the bad ones too, are true and he can rise above partisanship and cynics like me, to stand for compromise towards a stronger America, we should take his advice and all get Back to Work fixing America.