A humble guy from Hope wants press in black tie?

ROGER SIMON

December 18, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I knew it would happen to Bill Clinton; I just didn't know it would happen this soon.

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton reminded us of his humble roots in Hope, Ark., a town of 10,000 where the biggest event was -- and still is -- the watermelon festival, where there is a contest to see who can spit the seeds the farthest.

"I still believe in a place called Hope," Clinton said.

And as his campaign wended its way to victory, the image was carefully built: Bill Clinton in sweat pants and sweat shirt, a baseball cap on his head, jogging in the early morning mist.

Bill Clinton singing Elvis tunes on the radio during the New York primary.

Bill Clinton shoveling fries and Big Macs into his mouth.

And all this represented, we were told, the true, real, down-home Bill.

To which I say: Baloney. Bunk. And hokum.

Because I have in my hand a document that reveals what Bill Clinton has now become.

It is an announcement issued a few days ago to all newspapers, radio and TV stations in America.

It lists the rules for press credentialing for Bill Clinton's inaugural. And it ends with the following:

"Dress code of credentialed press must conform to the respective event. For example, black tie will be required at all Inaugural Balls and Dinners."

Black tie required? For reporters? What, no top hats and cutaways?

Keep in mind that credentialed press includes TV camera people and photographers. And I am trying to imagine them in cummerbunds and patent leather shoes with satin bows.

Don't get me wrong. I love the camera guys like brothers, but it is hard enough to get some of them into clothes.

The requirement that reporters covering Clinton's inaugural ball dress in black tie reminds me of when Richard Nixon dressed up the White House guards in ornate uniforms, because he thought it made things more "classy."

Instead, it looked like a comic opera. It was laughable.

Almost as laughable as putting the press into rented tuxedos.

And for what? So they can blend in with all the Democratic partygoers wearing their rented tuxedos?

For starters, the press is not supposed to blend in. We are not guests.

We are covering the event. And we should be distinguishable from the guests, if for no other reason

than to keep us from cadging free drinks at the bar.

And where does Clinton get this sudden love for formal dress?

He obviously has forgotten the Democratic joke told about Ronald Reagan in 1980: "Never trust a man who owns more tuxedos than books."

So what is Bill Clinton doing in 1993? He is pretending to be a Republican.

I know what you are saying. You are saying there is no real principle involved here. You are saying that I am complaining because I must look silly in a tuxedo.

How wrong you are. In fact, I look magnificent in a tuxedo. Some people -- me, Guy Lombardo, Madonna -- were born to wear tuxedos.

I even happen to own my own tuxedo, unruffled formal shirt (Jerry Lewis owns all the ruffled ones) and real black bow tie that actually ties, which would make me about one of five guys at the inaugural who wouldn't be wearing a clip-on.

(Al Gore would be another. Gore doesn't even try to sell that "born on a mountaintop in Tennessee" guff. Al Gore's father was a U.S. senator, and Al grew up in the salons of Washington, where you learn to tie a bow tie with one hand and eat aspic with the other.)

So why am I refusing to wear my tuxedo to the inaugural?

For the same reason baseball writers don't wear spikes, and football writers don't wear helmets (though those covering Mike Ditka probably should).

We are not part of the party. We are journalists.

I am going to the inaugural balls. And when I do, I am going to do what Bill Clinton should do: I am going to remember a place called Hope.

Which means I will be wearing bib overalls and a straw hat. And when Clinton's Dress Code Commandos grab me and take me to a holding cell, I will be shouting on behalf of my entire profession:

We are the press!

You can run us down, but you can't dress us up!

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