The lapel pin thing

Anna Quindlen

January 07, 1993|By Anna Quindlen

TO: President-elect Clinton

Re: the Inaugural

Dear Bill,

That sounds too informal, doesn't it? After all, I'm not an F.O.B. (Friend of Bill) and for a long time I wasn't even an S.O.B. (Supporter of Bill). But I am related by marriage to a C.O.B. (Contributor of Bill) and so I have come into possession of this lovely inaugural mailing.

First off, thanks for the beautiful big engraved invitation. When we opened it we thought we were being invited to the wedding of the daughter of the Sultan of Bahrain. Then we read it over and concluded that we were being invited to the inauguration of someone named William Jefferson Clinton. Whew! No wonder you settled on that simple but elegant all-occasion nickname.

However, since I am related by marriage to a lawyer, who knows how to read fine print, I soon learned that this inaugural invitation only served to "welcome our participation in any of the public events." We had to sit the kids down and explain that what that really meant was that we could take our sleeping bags down to Pennsylvania Avenue and stake out a position on the parade route, and that while we would be willing to do that for Stones tickets in July, we would not be doing it for Bill in January.

The kids were not disappointed, however, because with the engraved invitation was an invitation to buy souvenirs. Someone on your inaugural team must have known how deep the lust for embossed hats and commemorative key chains runs in the American spirit because the flier prominently features a sterling silver saxophone pin, "shown actual size."

Now, I bring all this up, Bill, because this sort of thing -- let's call it the saxophone lapel pin thing -- is going to be a problem for you. It is a fine line between being presidential and purveying novelty items, between folksiness and dignity, between promising and delivering. And it is time to start drawing that line, before you invite a Boy Scout troop in for Sloppy Joes in a fit of bonhomie and then discover you're already scheduled for lunch with John Major.

Our faux invitation, for instance, brought to mind that testy "bean counters" criticism of women's groups just before the holidays. The problem was that you raised expectations with those folks. When you talked about an administration that looked like America, they thought of the America in which half of us are female. They did not think of the America in which women get a few visible appointments and then everyone congratulates himself on filling some minority quota even though we actually happen to be the majority.

(This view was represented by the editorial cartoonist who showed a bunch of animals saying, "We believe President-elect Clinton's cabinet appointments do not reflect America's diversity -- they're all humans." In other words, it's only a small step from pushy women to pushy dogs and horses.) This same syndrome may attach to your economic conference. Some number crunchers complained that all those biz whizzes sitting around in a circle was nothing but public relations. Oh, pooh. Public relations is just what the economy needs right now, after four years of being more closeted than a gay general. You got a lot of expectations going with all that talk; Toys "R" Us did a booming Christmas business on Super Nintendo and Puppy Surprise. Now you have about 90 days before anyone says, "All he's done about the economy is hold that stupid conference."

It's not an easy road you'll walk two weeks from now. You're going to have to balance hope and reality, insiders and outsiders, the long haul and the quick fix. And you'll have to try to be approachable without being ridiculous.

On your shoulders lies heavy the burden of answering a question never before asked in this nation: Can a man wail on "Arsenio" and lead the free world? But one cautionary note to begin with: It may be that on that triumphant trip from the Capitol to the White House, the one Jimmy Carter walked hand-in-hand with Rosalynn to show what a regular guy he was, you'll be tempted to stop off for a Quarter Pounder with cheese, a gabfest with a table of nurse's aides and a magnanimous offer of jobs -- for everyone! On the house! It may feel right. It may feel new generation. But when that spirit moves you, Bill, keep moving.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

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