It’s three days before the Democratic National Convention, one day before Senator Tim Kaine was selected as Hillary Clinton’s VP, and I had been invited to have lunch with the presumptive nominee, herself!
Bob, a Clinton surrogate, picks me up at my hotel.
“You sure are lucky, Jim. A lot of people would kill for a chance like this.”
“Yes,” I say, “I cannot believe I’m having a one-on-one lunch with Secretary Clinton. I feel privileged…”
“Oh, didn’t they tell you? Secretary Clinton is having lunch with you and about 1,500 other supporters at Clifton’s cafeteria; the big one; the one with the huge redwood inside”
“Clifton’s? We’re eating at a cafeteria?”
“Two reasons,” Bob says. “The first is budgetary. We’re saving our money for TV ads against Trump.”
“And the second reason?”
“The candidate wants to spend more time with ‘real’ Americans such as yourself, and…” Bob leans closer, “…she secretly loves cafeteria food.”
Bob and I enter the great room, “the one with the huge redwood,” and it’s wall-to-wall people.
“Wait a second, what’s that sound?”
“That’s the waterfall right next to the giant staircase,” Bob, now tour guide, informs me.
I keep thinking, with all these people, how am I ever going to have a chance to ask Hillary…
“I got you a seat across the table from Secretary Clinton, Jim, right next to the big buffalo.”
“I think that’s a bison, Bob.”
After spending 45 minutes in line with my tray, I sit down, and just as Bob said, I am sitting across from the former secretary of state. Suddenly, a frantic retiree pushes me aside.
“Excuse me, excuse me… my seat.”
“Senator Sanders, what are you doing here?”
“What do you think? I’m here for the free buffet!”
“And supporting Hillary, of course.”
“Yeah, right…. Jesus, here comes God, now!”
As Clinton enters, Bob is holding her food tray as she enthusiastically waves to her base.
“Thank you, THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING!! Can you BELIEVE THIS!?”
She turns in my direction and points, “And THANK YOU, TIM, for coming!”
“Enough, already,” Bernie shouts. “Sit down and eat your damn Jell-O.”
“Oh, Bernie,” Clinton laughs, “nobody likes a spoiled sport.”
“Spoiled!? If anyone’s spoiled, it’s you after the FBI called you out with that private e-mail server.”
“Come on, Bernie, Director Comey said I was a just a little careless. It’s not like I jeopardized the entire free world!”
“I’ll bet that cost you a pretty penny,” Sanders adds with a smile. “What did you do, promise him another 5 years?”
“Now Bernie, everybody knows that James Comey is one of the most honest directors since J. Edgar Hoover, and as you know, he was appointed by George W. Bush.”
Clinton whispers to Bob. “Code: Red!”
“Senator Sanders,” Bob says holding up a can and shaking it. “LOOK what I’ve got for you, a nice can of chocolate Ensure®!”
“I hate that crap! I’m going back for more mashed potatoes and gravy.”
Finally, my chance with Clinton arrives.
“Tim, I noticed you haven’t touched your Broccoli-au-gratin.”
“My name is Jim, and broccoli makes me a little gassy Madam Secretary. However, I did want to ask a question.”
“Ask away, Tim,” Clinton says, taking a mouthful of lemon Jell-O.
“I know this might be a little uncomfortable, but you never really addressed Director Comey’s statement of fact concerning your e-mails, and…
“They’re OUT of MASHED POTATOES AND GRAVY!” Sanders says, slamming his tray down, hard. “What the hell kind of cheap buffet is this, Hill!?”
“Mrs. Clinton, I was really expecting you to come out and explain the difference between your statement where you said there were absolutely NO classified e-mails on your server, and Director Comey’s statement where the FBI did find classified documents. Could you just address that for me?”
“Look, Tim, the private server was in my own home, guarded by Secret Service agents, and…”
“Yes, I know all that, but the director said that your server could have been hacked by ‘bad actors.’ ”
“COULD have been, Tim. COULD HAVE BEEN. He didn’t say it HAD been. There’s a big difference.”
“Nonetheless, you said you did not send or receive e-mails marked classified and the director said that you had, in fact, received classified material. How do you explain that to people who have trouble trusting you?”
She stops, puts her knife and fork down, clasps her hands together, sits up straight and stairs straight at me.
“You know, Tim, with the wisdom of hindsight, I should not have used a private server, and I feel just awful about it, really. But right now, three days before the convention, I’m experiencing an overwhelming feeling of both gratitude, excitement, and a sense of great responsibility. And I want to do the very best job I can to fulfill the trust and faith that people have in me,” she says, as she gets up to leave.”
“Wait, Madam Secretary, why was I invited here if you won’t answer my question?”
“You gotta free meal, didn’t you, Tim?”
“It’s Jim, JIM, not TIM!”
“Hill!” Bernie jumps in, again. “How about answering the kid’s questions!?”
“You LOST, Bernie, get used to it!”
“Wait, Hill, If you’re not going to finish your potatoes, can I have them?”
I try again. “Madam Secretary, you still haven’t answered my question.”
“Wonderful meeting you, Tim. Let’s have lunch some time.”
“We are having lunch.”
And… she’s gone.
A short time later, everyone’s left the room except Bernie, me and the big redwood.
“I don’t understand, Senator. She didn’t answer my question.”
“That’s politics, kid. Get used to it. She never answered any of my questions, and I sat next to her on the bus on the way over here. You gonna finish those mashed potatoes?”