So, the Little Rock trip. I think I've recovered enough from the excitement (and the near-continuous alcohol consumption) to be able to post on it now, and let me assure you, it was amazing.
First of all, Little Rock itself? Is awesome. They told us at the Clinton Presidential Library on Friday night that right after the location of the library was announced back in 1997 -- right on the edge of downtown, overlooking the Arkansas River -- various corporations and developers announced projects and improvements totaling more than $1 billion of new investment in the downtown area. And it shows. Not only are there a ton of great little restaurants and bars along Markham Street, some of them actually reminded me of New Orleans, for crying out loud (and, in any case, put Birmingham's dead-as-disco downtown area to shame). So Little Rock, you rock. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Friday afternoon, after having driven from Birmingham to Little Rock in homeboy Andy's bad-ass Volvo V70 Cross Country station wagon at speeds occasionally exceeding 100 mph, we immediately threw on our fancy clothes and went to a reception thrown by Wes Clark for the National Association of Democratic Party Chairs (who were having their convention in Little Rock the same weekend we were there).
We got to see Wes, of course (seen here with some of the girls who came on the trip, being a mack daddy, as always), but also some other folks including Jason Willett, recently elected chair of the Arkansas state party (and the youngest party chair in the country), not to mention . . .
. . . DNC chair Howard Dean, seen here with Thomas Diasio, a veteran from both the Clark and Kerry trenches here in Birmingham.
After that we got a special invite to the Clinton Presidential Library, at night, when the place was empty and we could roam around without anyone else being present. I wish I had a better shot of the exterior to show you -- in the end you'll just have to go here -- but for lack of that, I'll just tell you this: If you're disillusioned and despondent over having to suffer under our current lame-ass preznit for another four years, or you're a red-stater forced to spend every waking minute hearing what an awesome heroic bestest preznit ever Dubya is, go schedule yourself a weekend in Little Rock this instant and set aside a day to go to the Clinton library. Yeah, you'll see those pictures from the '92 campaign and from the triumphs of Bill's administration and at first you'll be even more depressed about what a drag Dubya is in comparison to the rawkstar we had for eight years in the '90s. But if you give it long enough, that depression will give way to a feeling of real inspiration -- a feeling that if we had a president that awesome once, and not all that long ago, we can have one like that again, if we're willing to work our asses off to get him elected. You'll come away from it having seen the contrast between the joy and hope of the Clinton administration and the fear, unsureness, and secrecy of the Bush administration put into starker contrast than ever, and if you're anything like our group is, you'll leave with the fire right back in your belly where it belongs, wanting to change things.
And even if you don't, you will still have gotten to visit the library's meticulous re-creation of the Cabinet room, right down to the placement of each secretary's chair.
Here's fellow yellow dog and Army of Clarkness foot soldier Blake in the president's chair, doing his best Bill impression, of course. I think that's my head in the lower left-hand corner, where I'm occupying the VP's chair. (I don't know whose chair the lady at right is sitting in, but I'm pretty sure she's thinking, "Who are these dorks?")
Anyway, the next morning we went to an Arkansas Young Democrats breakfast with Howard Dean at the state capitol, and I spent a little more time getting inspired at the Clinton library before heading back to the Peabody hotel (yes, the one where they lead the ducks through the lobby every morning) for a political communications workshop given by a group called Democratic GAIN that proved to be quite enlightening. But the main event of Saturday was, of course, the dinner with The General.
We had dinner with him at Doe's, a Southern-style restaurant in downtown Little Rock that was always a favorite of Governor Clinton's. He was a frequent visitor to the VIP room in the back, where he would go to pig out on the Southern cookin' and massive steaks (smallest on the menu: 2 pounds, which goes some length toward explaining Bill's recent health issues). And that back room was where we were sitting when The General and his wife Gert walked in the door. It's not a very big room, and all the chairs were pretty much taken when he walked in, so some extra chairs had to be added for him and Gert to sit down -- and they just happened to be added right across from yours truly.
Here's Wes kicking it with us at dinner, and the guy in the foreground wearing the suit jacket -- who has his back to the camera but you just know would be devastatingly handsome if you could see his face -- is me. I know, I know. You can tell me how awesome I am in the comments thread.
I was fortunate to be able to chat with Wes about a lot of things -- abortion, recapturing the South for the Democrats, the situation in Iraq, even dealing with the media. And on that note, here's a tip for all you Democrats who want a chance to challenge the stuck-up-Bush's-assedness of the mainstream media and "frame the debate" back in our direction: Wes told a story of how he'd been on CNN during the beginning of Gulf War II and had made a comment that today's military is better and stronger than the one that fought in Vietnam. A few days later he was back on CNN getting interviewed by Aaron Brown, and before they went on the air Brown told him, "I'm gonna give you a chance to explain some of your earlier comments, because we've gotten a whole bunch of letters and e-mails from Vietnam veterans who are angry about the comparison you made between the army of Vietnam and the army of today." The comments and e-mails of those Vietnam vets directly influenced CNN's coverage -- and Wes's point was that if they can do it, we can do it. If a news outlet, whether it's NBC or CNN or Fox, says something inccurate or Bush-biased, we need to flood their asses with e-mails and call them on it. Same thing with letters to newspaper editors: The more letters they get from liberals and progressives, the more they'll print. It's a very simple thing that, if executed properly, can have profound effects on public perception of the issues.
At first, when Wes was talking, it occurred to me that the tone and cadence he used when talking to us was a lot like what I'd heard from his campaign speeches during primary season. But the more I listened to him, the more I realized I'd had it back to front: He talked to people on the campaign trail in the same tone he uses with his friends, as if he's known them all his life. Amd that's what he really did make us feel like, lifelong friends. Two of the girls in our group, Mary Ryan Hawkins and Jennifer Land, had become known as "the bunnies" (as in Energizer, not Playboy) for their limitless supply of energy and enthusiasm during the primaries, especially in South Carolina; when we were going around the table introducing (or re-introducing) ourselves, Mary Ryan and Jennifer said who they were and Wes immediately responded, "Oh, the bunnies!" This is the kind of thing that got Bill Clinton elected in 1992 -- and that I'm confident will get Wes elected whenever he next decides to run.
Which may be pretty soon, if I'm reading things right. During my conversations with Wes I told him that I had a mother, father, sister and numerous friends who were already prepared to slap Clark '08 bumper stickers on their cars and just needed to be given the word. Wes's response -- cryptic, though delivered with a smile -- was "Tell them not to worry."
So clearly, it was a fantastic weekend. Can't wait for 2008. Can't wait to go back to Little Rock again. Oh, and of course I'd be remiss if I didn't post one last photo.
Yup, I get my picture taken with the next president of the United States and my frickin' eyes are closed. Typical. (I'm just going to attribute it to Wes's blinding charisma and leave it at that.)
But anyway. Wes, thanks for helping to set up one of the most memorable weekends of my life, but thanks also for being a kick-ass guy and a candidate who inspired us all on his own without forcing us to make a "lesser of two evils" choice. Thanks for being the guy who inspired me in particular to get off my ass and get involved in politics in the first place. Every awesome thing I've done since that first Clark MeetUp back in November 2003 -- and there have been plenty -- are owed back to him, and everything I get to do from here on out is, too.
Including a position in the press office of a presumptive Clark administration. You know, just planting seeds. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.
Catch you on the flipside . . .