Hobnobbing With Hillary

TO WIT

October 16, 1994|By DAVE BARRY

If I'm going to luncheon with Hillary Clinton, I feel a deep mora obligation to provide an irresponsible, highly distorted account of it.

I am not one to drop names, but I was recently invited to a private luncheon with Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the Whole Entire United States.

This is true. I got the invitation from Mrs. Clinton's office, and I said that heck yes, I would go. I will frankly admit that I was excited. Mrs. Clinton would be the most important federal human with whom I have ever privately luncheoned.

I did once attend a dinner with Richard "Dick" Cheney when he was the secretary of defense under President George "Herbert Walker" Bush, but that was not a one-on-one situation. That was at the Cartoonists' Dinner at the Washington Post, an annual event wherein political cartoonists get a chance to come out from behind their drawing boards and, in an informal setting with high-level federal officials, make fools of themselves.

The Cartoonists' Dinner usually provides some entertaining interaction between cartoonists and Washington dignitaries, such as the time a couple of years ago when a cartoonist, doing a heartfelt impersonation of Elvis in concert giving away a Cadillac, hurled a set of car keys behind his back, through the air, directly into the forehead of the wife of a Cabinet official. She took this graciously, but you could tell that henceforth she was going to stick to cartoonist-free gatherings.

As a maturity-impaired individual, I have had the honor of being invited to the Cartoonists' Dinner on several occasions, which, as I mentioned, is how I came to meet Dick Cheney. I actually met him about six times. You know those situations where you have consumed a few unnecessary beers and think you're being the funniest thing on two feet? This was one of those situations. We were mingling before dinner, and for reasons that I cannot explain now, whenever I encountered Cheney, which was fairly often because this was a smallish room, I'd thrust out my hand and say, "Hi, Dick! Dave Barry!" There he was, the secretary of defense, probably trying to think about the Persian Gulf, and every 45 seconds he was shaking hands with the same grinning moron. It's a good thing I didn't have car keys.

But humiliating yourself in front of the secretary of defense, as impressive as it is, is not on a par with being invited to a private luncheon with the first lady. I wanted to find out what it was like to be a first lady. Once, at a dinner, I sat next to a very funny first lady of a state that shall remain nameless. She told me that she and some other governors' wives had once come up with the idea of mounting life-size smiling photographs of themselves on cardboard to be used as portable first ladies. Thus the real first lady could have a life, while the portable one would be carried around to political events and propped up behind the governor.

"That's all they really need to represent us," the governor's wife told me, "because all we ever do is stand there and smile, and they introduce the governor, and then they say, 'And here is his lovely wife.' That's what they always say, even if she is actually a dog."

So we see that first ladies can be pretty entertaining, and I was fired up about my impending luncheon with Mrs. Clinton. We had set a date and a time, and everything seemed set -- until Mrs. Clinton's staff person, Lisa Caputo, informed me that the luncheon was going to be "off the record." I asked what that meant.

"Mrs. Clinton would like to meet you," Caputo said. "This is a chance for you to get together and have a good time. But you can't write about it."

My crest fell when I heard those words, because I knew I could not accept this restriction. I am a professional journalist, and if I'm going to have luncheon with one of this nation's most powerful political figures, then I feel a deep moral obligation to provide you, my readers, with an irresponsible and highly distorted account of it.

I explained this to Caputo, but it was no use; either the luncheon had to be off the record, or there would be no luncheon. So there was no luncheon. I think this is a shame, because I bet it would have been a fun occasion, possibly culminating in my showing the first lady how to make comical hand noises. So in closing, I want to say: Mrs. Clinton, if you're reading this, I sincerely appreciate the invitation, and I'm sorry it didn't work out, and some day I hope we can sit down and have fun on the record,

and if it would make you feel more comfortable, you're welcome to also invite you-know-who. (Dick Cheney.)

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