Heeeeeere’s Bubba!

The crowd goes wild for former President Bill Clinton at UC Davis.

The crowd goes wild for former President Bill Clinton at UC Davis.

SN&R Photo By Ken Widmann

Ken Widmann writes about the People’s Republic of Davis.

A former president’s UC Davis appearance prompts one more question to “Ask a Davis resident (who doesn’t know that much)”:

What was Bill Clinton’s visit to campus like?

Altamont without the cutlery. Seriously, there was a total rock-star vibe surrounding the former president. More than 11,000 folks showed up, a third of whom were turned away at the door. You think, eight years from now, when he’s a full-time baseball game attendee and part-time Sunoco lobbyist, George W. Bush will attract this kind of following? It was the only time I’ve seen a politician speak and thought to myself, “This could use a JumboTron.”

As it was, I was lucky to get in. Clinton was scheduled to come on at 9 p.m., with doors opening at 8:15 p.m. I headed over there at 8 p.m., figuring I didn’t need to score box seats to see a guy at a podium. Upon reaching the Activities and Recreation Center Pavilion (gymnasium, to me and you), the line stretched deep into the windy night. For what seemed like 20 minutes, I walked past frigid yet giddy people wrapped single-file around the building, until reaching the few hapless folks making up the frayed end of the line.

Moments later, an official opened a door immediately behind us and motioned everybody in. Never mind that the presumed entrance—and beginning of the line—was a quarter mile away. Later, I read that some people spent five hours in line (Five hours? Did they think it was George Clinton?), and 3,500 folks were shut out. Being one of the lucky 7,800—and most undeserving of it—I felt a little guilty. But what was I gonna do? For all I knew, the doors were being opened all at once. It was poor crowd management, but probably done to avoid a trampling.

Inside the ARC, the Aggie Marching Band was in full tilt. (For reasons far too boring to recount, the Aggie Marching Band is actually called the Aggie Marching Band-uh!) I prefer my bands rocking or swinging, but these marching-in-place folks were certainly festive. There’s a reason football games are outdoors, though. You want to hear horn-heavy Moody Blues at top volume? That’s what they played when Clinton entered: “The Story in Your Eyes.” Odd choice. And this after Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.” Are you kidding me?

It’s always frustrating to hear the former president, because he forces you to remember what it feels like when you’re not being spoken to like a fourth-grader. Also, you think, what might have been? But Bill was inspiring, appealing again to the better angels of our nature, rather than say, taking the Giuliani route. And it made you feel somehow warm inside when he said he actually liked all the Democratic candidates, “even the ones who have dropped out, like Senator Dodd.”

It was also neat to think of the former most powerful leader in the world traveling around the country constantly talking up his spouse. I think this should be a retirement requirement for politicians. At one point, speaking of Hillary, he rhetorically asked the crowd, “Who has the experience to lead us through difficult times?”

There was a beat, and someone yelled, “YOU!”

After the speech, Bill did some grip and grins with the students thronging near the dais. A smiling kid waved a sign that read “B-DOG!” At one point, a skateboard was passed up through the crowd—for the former president to sign or ride, it wasn’t sure—but it was shoved aside by an aide.

The whole event got me thinking: How come there’s no senior politician’s tour? Golf has one, and you can go see John McEnroe playfully berate a chair ump for old time’s sake, if you’re so inclined. Why not hold rematches of past debates? I’m not talking the usual Lincoln-Douglas play-acting here, I mean Gore-Quayle-Stockdale arguing the issues of today. Since the admiral passed away in 2005, that one might not fly, but in a few years, who wouldn’t get fired up to watch, say, a snarling, stent-ridden Dick Cheney unleashed against the nouveau-proletarian John Edwards 2.0? Make it happen, UC Davis, and I’ll start lining up tomorrow.