Good morning Austin:
Hillary Clinton was on Face the Nation on CBS Sunday, her first appearance on a Sunday show in four years.
My, that’s a long time.
But she didn’t disappoint.
The big news: Clinton’s declaration, I am a real person.
Here is how Face the Nation host John Dickerson elicited that admission.
DICKERSON: Let me — a final question.
Your friend the late Diane Blair wrote in her diary — quote — “On her deathbed, Clinton wants to be able to say she was true to herself and is not going to do phony makeovers to please others.”
So, knowing you don’t want to engage in phony makeovers, give us three words that is the real Hillary Clinton.
DICKERSON: Just three.
CLINTON: Just three? I can’t possibly do that.
Let us pause here.
What kind of question is this?
It’s mired in a kind of morbid negativism.
Your deceased friend confided in her diary that you don’t want die a phony.
Prove you’re not a phony.
In three words.
How is Clinton supposed to answer that question?
Female, Not Email.
Are You Kidding?
Or just a simple:
Go To Hell.
Perhaps Dickerson should have asked Clinton a variation on the Miss Universe/Miss America question that CNN’s Jake Tapper asked each of the Republican candidates at last week’s Republican debate: Which woman would you like to see replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill?
Except, maybe, out of deference to Clinton, he could have asked Clinton, as potentially the first woman president, whether she would prefer to eventually replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, or Donald Trump on the million-dollar note.
But, instead, he asked Clinton, after decades as among the best known people on the planet, to reintroduce herself with three words that would at long last reveal the real Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, in reply, did about the only thing she could do.
And then she said this:
I mean, look, I am a real person, with all the pluses and minuses that go along with being that. And I have been in the public eye for so long that I think — you know, it’s like the feature that you see in some magazines sometimes. Real people actually go shopping, you know?
Yes, there is a genre of supermarket tabloid stories that revel in catching celebrities doing something ordinary – walking their dog, taking out the garbage, and, yes, shopping.
And here is an excellent compendium of celebrities grocery shopping.
But Dickerson’s question was way more aggressively intrusive than catching her at the Whole Foods in her sweats.
As Clinton answered Dickerson, the camera came in so tight on Clinton that, watching at home, I felt she was invading my personal space.
But, as I watched, I felt a sudden surge of empathy.
Clinton seemed so put upon, so alone, in such a hopeless situation.
There was really only one appropriate, human response.
She needed a hug.
But there was no hug coming from John Dickerson – a kind of button-down Chris Matthews who, at least, for better or worse, is all sloppy emotion.
Instead, Clinton having failed to come up with three magic words, Dickerson wrapped it up.
DICKERSON: All right. Well, I’m going to have to really interrupt you.
Thank you, Secretary Clinton.
CLINTON: Thanks, John.
Yeah. Thanks, John. Thanks a lot.
Earlier in the show, in the de rigueur discussion of her State Department emails, Clinton said, People are going to get a chance to see all kinds of behind-the-scenes conversations, most of which, I’m embarrassed to say, are kind of boring.
But buried in those thousands of emails searchable on the State Department site, are a handful of emails that are not at all boring. They are effusive, loving, affirming – hugs in the ether – from someone who knows Clinton – and hugs – as well as anyone: Austin’s Roy Spence.
A prime example:
Now, that’s what I’m talking about.
That’s an affirming, a big bear hug of an email. The kind you read and reread. (Pls print)
The kind that makes your day.
I asked Spence about his emails with Clinton in a telephone conversation Friday.
“I’m kind of the chief encouragement officer,” Spence explained.
He also wrote the book on hugs.
From Dale Roe’s 2013 interview with Spence in the Statesman when the book came out.
At 65, Spence is ridiculously energetic, his mouth just barely struggling to keep up with the wheels I sensed spinning to a blur behind his silver hair, infectious smile, booming laugh (he’s not a large man — where does that gigantic sound come from?) and inviting Austin drawl.
“If anybody’s qualified to write about hugs,” I thought, “this is the guy.”
Spence was inspired to write the book four years ago. On a business trip with colleagues in Germany, Spence was exhausted after finding himself unable to doze on the flight. Still, he forced himself to stay up until 7 p.m., hoping for a good night’s sleep before the next morning’s important meetings.
Lying in bed alone and far from home, he began to shake. He had immersed himself in work and family in the four weeks since his father’s death. Outside, the skies opened up and it began to pour. “I was a sixty-year-old kid with no parents. I am all alone,” he writes in the book. “I had never needed a hug more in my life.”
The author describes how he began to feel a deep embrace in his heart that he was certain was a hug from his mom and dad. He basked in the warm, soothing feeling then awoke, filled with energy. Thinking he’d slept all night, he was surprised to find out he’d been out only for an hour.
Spence stayed up the rest of the night, first creating the title for the book and contemplating its contents then, going on 40 nearly sleepless hours, writing the chapter titles.
“I wrote the book for it to be both physical hugging and kind of symbolic, metaphysical hugging,” Spence says. “The purpose of ‘The 10 Essential Hugs of Life’ is to use the hidden power of hugs to lift people up, including yourself.”
I’ve only met Spence once in person, but my immediate impression was, this is the real Bill Clinton.
He’s got that charismatic cool with the aw shucks, Texas/Arkansas it’s all-about-you-not-me empathetic approachability.
Add a tincture of Joseph Campbell, a dash of Rod McKuen, and a big dollop of Don Draper in his blissed-out Ommm moment in the closing image of Mad Men, having synthesized the self-actualization of the 1960s into Coke’s classic “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” ad, and you approximate Spence.
History’s fortune, Spence became fast friends with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham in 1972 when they worked together on the George McGovern campaign in Texas.
As Spence recounted the other day:
We were sitting around one day in 1972 and we were just starting to help with the McGovern campaign and we get a knock on the door at our tiny little office and, “Hi, I’m Bill Clinton. I’m taking a leave of absence from Yale Law School,” and, “Hi, I’m Hillary Rodham, I’m taking a leave of absence from Yale Law School,” and from that moment, that’s 43 years ago. I guess what happened was, is, that because we were personal friends of Bill, Hillary, now Chelsea and her daughter, I’ve never considered myself a political friend. We were just personal friends.
Politicians have personal friends too. There’s been ups and downs but I’ve never been a paid staffer, never been on the campaign staff. I’ve always been more of a confidante, friends, they come to our home and they spend the night. We’ve been family friends forever and I guess, you’re right, I, lots of times, just reach out and give all of them – Chelsea and Bill and Hillary – a hug, and say it’s going to be OK. You know, keep on. That’s sort of my role more than anything.
So, for example, when Spence reads something good about Clinton, he passes it on.
This email came days after the death of his father, Roy Milam Spence Sr. – Big R – the man who taught him by example that “it is cool to hug everyone.”
As Spence wrote of his father:
The fondest memories I have of him are from my childhood, walking hand-in-hand with him in Piedras Negras, a border town just across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass. Everyone in the Piedras markets, bars and cafés knew him. Big R was a straight-up, six-foot-five, strikingly handsome man. But when he met somebody on the street, he would bend right over and hug them. He hugged them all—men, women and children—and they hugged him right back, especially the women and especially the older ones. He would say in Spanish, “Meet my son, Royito,” and the hugging would begin again.
In her reply to Spence, Clinton made note of Big R’s death.
And then, a common refrain in the Clinton emails, the secretary of state’s struggle to get a printout.
And Part 2:
Forgot apologizing for how she handled her emails.
How about the fact that she was directing American foreign policy and still relying on a fax machine?
In any case, here is Spence passing on another e-hug.
For example, “a quick thought” on a Hillary Rodham Clinton University.
Or his plan to synchronize their political ambitions.
The rest of that provocative message is redacted.
I asked Spence about that one.
He said he did not know why it would have been redacted.
It was a moment of time where I actually toyed around with the idea of running for governor here and I thought it would be kind of fun if we ran together – “You run for governor of New York, I run from Texas.” Of course she immediately dismissed that idea.
It’s the kind of stuff I do. Just random words of encouragement. To all of hem actually – Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. It puts some levity in people’s lives. A little bit, a little joy, a little delight, a little levity and that’s sort of what I’ve been doing for 43 years. I mean, obviously I do a lot of serious business with all of them. Obviously. But in terms of my little … I thinks there’s enough seriousness to go around. My job is to encourage them and urge them on and have a little fun, just like brothers and sisters and family have with each other.
My mom used to think I should be governor. She taught civics. We grew up in a very political home in Brownwood, Texas. We would talk politics around the dinner table. She always thought I had the ability to communicate and had a vision so she’d keep pushing me. But I found that my greatest pleasure, and I know this sounds a little trite, is helping other people fulfill their purpose. It really is. I enjoy the idea that I can help Herb Kelleher (co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, a major client) or help Bill Clinton or Hillary or whatever, that maybe people don’t come at it like I do.
Is he bothered about his emails becoming public?
Not really. I didn’t know it was going to happen. It’s like a good friend of mine said recently, I wish everyone would read all of her emails because you’d find out how smart she is.
I remember writing the notes of encouragement to her. I think it’s fine.
For the time being, he said, he is not actively advising the campaign.
Not at this moment. I think she and her team are doing their thing. Obviously when they ask, if they reach out to me I will obviously talk with them but I’m really not that involved with them right now, but I’m still encouraging. I always get involved at some point but I’m not that involved right now, except again in the friendship role, the real friendship role.
His message to Clinton:
I love her, I love the family. This is a journey. I’s a long journey and there’s miles to go before anybody sleeps. So I would just say, keep on the journey.
And, about his tag line, Ride with Dawn:
One day, we were down in Houston, and this is 25, 30 years ago. We were in a bar, celebrating, we just won a piece of business, drinking tequila, and I got on a table and I said, “Are you with me?” I said, “Drink up my friends, for tomorrow we Ride at Dawn”
And ever since then, I tried everything, and, of course, I’ve had that attitude, I wonder what the world has in store for me today. I think I’ll just go found out Let’s Ride at Dawn.