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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Farewell Tour Starts Early for Clinton

August 16, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

It was 188 years ago today that we lost Detroit.

British troops captured Ft. Mackinac there on Aug. 16, 1812, a little more than eight weeks after the War of 1812 was formally declared.

Five months later, a village known as Frenchtown, around 35 miles due south on the shores of Lake Erie, became the scene of a very bloody battle. A detachment of Kentucky troops had been ordered to go north and drive the British back. Instead, the undermanned Americans were overpowered.

Some of the Kentuckians were taken prisoner. But others, the badly wounded, were left behind with Indian natives who had taken the Brits' side in the conflict, and these soldiers were summarily killed. Thus ended the so-called "Raisin River Massacre," named for a nearby tributary to the great lake.

After the war was over, Frenchtown returned to U.S. hands and was ultimately renamed Monroe, Mich., in honor of our fifth president, to await a brighter tomorrow in American political history.

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A couple of Southern gentlemen were in the neighborhood Tuesday, to synchronize their watches and to symbolically pass a torch.

Bill Clinton, a man who keeps reminding us in word and song to never stop thinking about tomorrow, came to the Raisin River to send his trusted aide-de-camp, Al Gore, forth into battle.

Why this had to happen there instead of here is not entirely clear. By all rights, Clinton should have felt comfortable--and, more important, urged--to occupy center stage at Staples Center by the vice president's side come Thursday, rather than red-eyeing 2,000-plus miles to the Michigan hinterland, just so he could give Gore a hearty pat on the back and a westward-ho.

It was the beginning of the Bill Clinton Farewell Tour, and his own ungrateful party sent him packing early.

The 42nd president rode into Monroe in a separate vehicle from Gore, for eight years his right-hand man. Ever the people person, Clinton thanked the mayor and cajoled the townsfolk of this community of 22,000 into believing that he had looked out the car window, admiring the green fields along the way, and became nostalgic about a bus junket he had enjoyed across America's heartland in 1992.

Then he gave a six-minute speech about his vice president, a man who "understands where we are, where we're going and how it will affect ordinary citizens more than any other public figure in this country over the last 20 years" -- himself included, the president's implication being--and gave Gore a big hug.

Then, to-thine-own-self-be-true Bill Clinton to the end, he popped over to McDonald's for a sandwich, soft drink and fries.

A scant few hours before, the Arkansas traveler had been here in Los Angeles, pounding on a podium, raising his right thumb more often than Julius Caesar, praising his own presidency. The last time we laid eyes on our leading lame duck, he was swaying to the beat of his campaign theme, a Fleetwood Mac ditty so optimistic about "tomorrow," it might as well have been composed for Orphan Annie.

No serenade about the significance of tomorrow needs be sung to Gore, for it will be on Thursday that the first day of the rest of his life truly arrives. Clinton, the very man who elevated Gore to prominence, will be far away, watching on television, rather than applauding and whooping and thumbs-upping from a few feet away, where a braver Gore should have insisted Clinton be.

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It was a fine, entertaining speech that the president made on the convention's opening night, and he took considerable pride in it. He told reporters later: "I think the crowd liked it. I worked hard on it . . . days and days and days."

At Staples Center -- and for the umpteenth time, it's not The Staples Center, unless you also intend to allude to The Madison Square Garden, or The Stonehenge -- network anchors spoke as if the president were clearing out of town quickly, to get out of his pal Al's way.

Scandal schmandal, it's a shame this was how Gore's boss of eight years was made to feel.

"I had a wonderful time," Clinton assured everybody afterward, putting his best face forward. "I'll never forget this as long as I live."

To send his own second-in-command on his way, though, the president had to go to Michigan, to a remote town and distant battlefield. Al Gore stood by his side during a long and hard eight years. Bill Clinton should have been welcome to stand by him tomorrow.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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