In 1992 I was the youngest person ever to be nationally syndicated at that time. I replaced Tom Snyder at Daynet on the ABC Radio Network. I was also quite young. At that time, women like Sally Jessy Raphael and Myrna Lamb hosted national shows on the radio, but they only gave advice. I was hired to discuss, debate and share my opinion on issues. I also was able to move back to the east coast, where I am originally from, to the Big Apple. I was thrilled.
Although I was a talk host since the late 80’s, I wasn’t as involved in politics. It wasn’t until this young Governor from Arkansas was running for President that I was really paying attention. And he got my attention. His name was William Jefferson Clinton.
After his successful election to the Presidency, his wife, the current Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton was boldly designing a plan to reform our health care system. Sound a bit familiar? In the early 90’s, in the first term as President, Bill Clinton did a very smart thing. He invited all the talk hosts in America to come to the white house, to meet with him, Hilary, Donna Shalala the Health & Human Services Secretary at that time, George Stephanopolous, Leon Panetta, etc. This was to give us an opportunity to hear about the plan, the goals and to ask questions on behalf of our listeners, the American public. Additionally, Katie Couric, Joan Lunden, Wolf Blitzer were all on hand to provide that information to their T.V. viewing audiences on NBC, ABC and CNN as well.
It was an exciting time in the early 90’s. The economy was good. We were at peace. We weren’t living in a post 9/11 world and we weren’t engaged in a war on terror. The polls showed that America wanted reformation; unfortunately Americans proved how fickle they were when within months, the tide of opinion turned and the lobbyists stepped in with their checkbooks.
Now if I were talking about health care reform I might start singing the words to “Déjà vu.” But I’m not. I’m talking about President Bill Clinton and more specifically my meeting with him; then and now.
Bill Clinton was the first President I had ever met and the first I had ever interviewed at that time in my career. I was in a long line of folks lined up for our interview with him at the White House. At the time, my show aired weeknights 10pm-1am eastern, so there wasn’t time for me to fly back to New York to host my program. The White House knew that and accommodated me. There I was, along with my (buddy Gil Gross who was doing the same shift, but for CBS), hosting my show on the White House lawn, in the rain, with secret service types holding an umbrella over me and delivering my diet cokes. From the window above me I could hear Chelsea playing “Pearl Jam” on her stereo. It was surreal.
What was more surreal was meeting President Clinton earlier that day. I knew he was the leader of the free world, I knew he was a Rhodes Scholar, I knew his I.Q. was higher than mine and I knew he was one of the most dynamic speakers I had ever heard. In short, I knew of his greatness. What I didn’t know, was what it was like to touch the hand of greatness. President Clinton has an ability to make you feel like you are the only person in the room when he shakes your hand, looks into your eyes and says hello. When I shook his hand, (and I kid you not), I could feel the energy flow through him. That man has an ora of greatness, an ora of success that is undebatable. I remember a very well known conservative talk show host who said to me later “you just can’t hate the guy.” When I interviewed him regarding health care, it was obvious he was passionate about this cause and very supportive of his wife’s efforts. I felt that he genuinely cared for the American people and that he was going to make a difference. And he certainly did.
Last weekend I was invited to a luncheon where President Clinton would be speaking. This time it was regarding the Clinton Foundation and the nation of Pakistan. Again, I waited in line to shake his hand; to touch greatness for a second time in my life. Prior to the luncheon, some of us had to provide a brief bio on ourselves, which I did. When my turn came to meet the former President, to shake his hand and to have my photo taken with him; I said to him: “Hello Mr. President. I am sure you don’t remember, but I met and interviewed you at the White House in 1992 on the subject of health care.” He smiled, shook my hand and the cameraman did his thing. As I was about to leave, the President pulled me in and said: “Leslie, I don’t remember meeting you; but I know you interviewed me. See they gave me a sheet with people’s bios on it and yours was the last one I read before I got out of the car. So Leslie Marshall met and interviewed me at the white house in 1992 was fresh on my mind. So no, I didn’t remember, but yes, I know and now that I see you, you do look familiar to me.” Later in the day I along with others was allowed to talk privately with the President regarding the problem of obesity in American children, education for boys and girls in Muslim countries, medication/supplies reaching countries where AIDS continues to be an epidemic, etc.
After his speech and the luncheon, President Clinton came over to me and said “Good to see you again Leslie.” My husband leaned in and said “He remembered your name.” I told my husband “no, he read my name tag.” My husband pointed to my dress and I noticed that I hadn’t put my name tag on. President Clinton did remember my name. Like I said, he has the ability to make you feel like you’re the only person in the room.
Both prior to and after the luncheon; I shared my experience with family, friends, listeners on my radio show and my friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Of course I received endless comments including words like “cigars,” “blue dresses,” “roaming hands, “impeached,” etc.
Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, whether you love or hate Bill Clinton, you cannot deny the great he has done for America and the world; and still does. I heard that President Clinton once said that he wanted to do as much post President as Jimmy Carter has. Well I think Bill Clinton has either equaled or surpassed former President Carter.
If you read the two books President Clinton has authored or do some research into what he has done his life time as President, Governor and even when he was not a political figure; most of us would be lucky to accomplish one percent of his achievements.
A man once told me that he had a photo taken with President Nixon and kept it framed on the wall in his home. He said friends and family gave him a hard time about it and were perplexed because not only was he a Democrat, but Nixon was impeached, resigned and known primarily for Watergate. His response to them was: “He was the President of the United States.”
So for those of you that like to remember President Clinton for his mistakes rather than his merits…just remember, if someone offered you the opportunity to meet him, to have a photo with him, to shake his hand, you would. Not only because he was President, not only because he and his foundation are literally saving lives in Africa, teaching American children a new way to eat, a new way to live or that his presence in North Korea helped to release two American hostages; no, because he was a great President, he is a great mean and you would be able to experience what touching greatness is like.
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