By Bill Shunas
Looking back, I think that Bill Clinton was my favorite president. Presidents are supposed to run the affairs of government and be heads of state, but Clinton brought more. He brought us entertainment. Sex. Money. Power. It was all there.
If you liked to watch the soaps, but were pressed for time, you just watched the evening news during the Clinton administration. I believe this soap was called White Trash in the White House.You had the presidential cronies from back home in Arkansas getting themselves indicted for various swindles. You had the presidential brother who started out as a bumbling alcoholic and finished as an influence peddler. You had the first lady who started out with a sleazy law firm and ended up a U.S. senator while doing a little insider trading along the way.
Then there's the main character, who never met a female he didn't like. Whether he was chasing interns through the halls of the White House or groping job applicants in the Oval Office or dropping trou before home girls in Little Rock, Bill Clinton played his role. Then, just when you thought his soap opera days were, over he passed out a bunch of dubious presidential pardons.
It turned out that one or more of the pardons was given in return for major help in financing wife Hillary's campaign for New York senator. Sex, money and power, and he wasn't afraid to play his saxophone at a party.
Now we have George II, who is as dull as they come. Our only hope is those twin daughters of his.
Did you see when Fidel Castro collapsed half way through one of his four-hour speeches in the hot June sun? He should learn to take it easy. He's in his seventies now. Time to start limiting your speeches to an hour forty-Þve. Not to worry, said a Cuban government spokesman. After all, 665 members of his audience collapsed before he did. Presumably, if he had gone on for his usual four hours, over 1,300 people would have collapsed.
Fidel has been giving speeches of four or more hours for many years. I never thought about it before, but all through the years thousands must have been collapsing. That's powerful speaking. Can you imagine listening to George II for four hours? People would collapse from boredom, if not from the heat.
I went to Cuba two years ago. In spite of his over-long speeches, Fidel seems to remain popular at home. Ché Guevara, however, is more popular. That might have something to do with Ché being a dead hero of the revolution and Fidel being the live head of government and being held responsible for such things as the economic disaster of the early Nineties.
It also may have something to do with what you see when you visit, because Cuban policy is not to honor heroes until after they die. Thus you see pictures and posters of and signs about Ché everywhere, but nothing of Fidel.
I traveled to Cuba for a bicycle trip around Havana and the western part of the island. I went with the late Bruce Barnett and about fourteen Canadians. Going on that particular trip was Bruce's idea. It was partly because he was an avid bicyclist and partly because he was an admirer of a country that would actually provide decent health care and decent schooling and decent housing for all its citizens.
Bruce passed away earlier this year. He was a longtime VVAW member. He was active in the early Seventies in Chicago before he left for Elkhart, Indiana. At that time we were involved in the "War on the VA," and one can remember Bruce's joy and anger during takeovers of the VA or harassing generals on the reviewing stand on Armed Forces Day.
On the Cuba trip Bruce would practice his Spanish on half the people we rolled by, often stopping to finish a conversation he started while on the bike. He was like that. Cuba or Elkhart. Ireland or Chicago. Bruce talked to everyone.
In Cuba we visited an elementary school where Bruce discussed politics with the children. Then there were the guys repairing cars in their garage and the ladies in the post office. And the young men who were the recipients of the baseballs and gloves that Bruce brought along to give away. And the hotel personnel and the women in the markets and the cab drivers.
Traveling with Bruce was something else. He wanted to hear everyone's life story. Half of them probably thought he was weird, and half of them thought he was their best friend. Which he was.
Lots of people will be missing you, Bruce. We salute you and the life you led.
Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran and author. He's a member of VVAW's Chicago Chapter.