On Being Bill Clinton
A Piece of American Trivia
As I browsed in a Hallmark store one day in the mid-nineteen-eighties, I found a card listing famous people who have the same birthday as me. I was startled when I saw my own name. My father had told me years before about the youngest governor in the nation who shared my name, but the fact that we had the same birthday was news to me.
Bill Clinton became more well-known nationally when he delivered the keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. I had missed that speech, and I feel fortunate. The following day, one of my co-workers called him “boring Bill Clinton.” Four years later, I had moved from Pennsylvania to Georgia (the site of that infamous speech), and Clinton had announced he was running for president.
In 1992, I volunteered to drive a press van when Bill Clinton’s campaign arrived in Atlanta on August 18 during the Republican National Convention. Clinton had decided to build Habitat for Humanity houses on his birthday with former President Jimmy Carter while Republicans gathered in Houston. As the campaign and press arrived at the hotel that first evening, the Clintons and Gores walked the line of volunteers, shaking hands and making small talk. When the Governor shook my hand, I said, “My name is Bill Clinton and tomorrow is my birthday.” He blinked and his mouth dropped open, and without thinking I added, “No shit.”
“You have my name and my birthday?” he said, and I showed him my driver’s license and some reporters took some pictures that I never saw, and I went home feeling pretty good and only a little guilty that I had knocked the passenger sideview mirror off the van while I was driving it.
In 2005, America’s Health Insurance Plans got Clinton to speak at its annual conference, held that year at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The Bush Administration had rolled out the conservative answer to the problem of uninsured Americans — what they termed “Consumer Driven Healthcare” in the form of High Deductible Health Plans coupled with Health Savings Accounts. If a person can’t afford insurance, they reasoned, we’ll offer something cheaper and crappier. At that time, I worked for one of the large national insurance carriers and had been tasked with becoming the department expert on this initiative. I convinced the leaders of my department to send me to the conference.
I packed a copy of the former president’s recently published autobiography. On the morning of the keynote address I attempted to persuade one of the AHIP personnel to allow me to get the book signed. The denial came with a weary attitude. However, after Clinton finished his speech and the floor was opened for questions, the first query came from a man who announced he had brought along a copy of the autobiography and asked if the former president would sign it. Clinton agreed that he would sign it. A second person said, “I also have a copy of your book…” Clinton then graciously announced that after the Q&A he would sign books for anyone who had brought one.
When Clinton approached me in the line I said, “Mr. President, we met before. We have the same name and same birthday.”
He paused a second, then said, “I remember you. How you been?”
How I Been
Having the same name and birthday as a presidential candidate and sitting president and former president does present some challenges. Most notably, I could not order take-out food or make reservations in my name during the decade of the 1990’s. Almost everyone thinks they have the most clever and original one-liner when they learn my name, and it is invariably one of the following:
- “How’s Hillary?”
- “How’s Monica?”
- “How’s Chelsea?”
Some respond with, “Not the real Bill Clinton.” Of course, I am the real Bill Clinton, in that Bill Clinton is really my name. The only time I was ever otherwise was in my youngest days, before I switched from “Billy” (which my non-Hillary wife still sometimes uses). I sometimes use the rejoinder that I am more real than the famous Bill Clinton, since I was born on his fifteenth birthday, and he did not change his name to Clinton until the following June.
To another common question, I respond that I am named after my father, Bill Clinton, Sr.
Others like to commiserate with me. “Boy, it must be hard going through life with that.”
I often respond that it beats being Richard Nixon.
Actually, it is not difficult. Most of the time it is fun. I’ve had my fifteen minutes several times over just because of this strange coincidence.
During the 1992 campaign, an Atlanta classic rock radio station found me in the phone book and gave me a call as part of their morning show. One of the television network affiliates asked me to appear on a news segment — unfortunately, I was traveling back to Pennsylvania for a visit and had to turn it down.
In 1999, I received a call from CNN’s TalkBack Live. The format of that program was an audience participation talk show much like Donahue or Oprah, only hosted by a news anchor and normally focusing on hot button news issues. The Clinton impeachment vote was scheduled for February 12. The producers of TalkBack Live had decided that since the impeachment would dominate the news cycle, they would dedicate that day’s segment to a fluff piece — people with famous names. I appeared with Paula Jones (a singer in the Atlanta area) and Johnny Cochran (a local general laborer). We discussed the ups and downs of having the same name as someone famous.
At the end of the nineties, I moved back to Pennsylvania. A minor league hockey franchise in Philadelphia offered my family free tickets and food if I would join George Bush and Gerald Ford to drop a ceremonial puck at the beginning of a President’s Day game.
A few years later, on another President’s Day, I appeared on David Letterman with nine other guys for “The Top Ten Best Things About Having the Same Name as a US President.”
Bill Clinton was an extremely popular president. Some friends and acquaintances routinely call me “Mr. President.” Upon learning my name, most people react favorably and with good humor. I have a built-in conversation starter when introduced. I sometimes speak publicly and often either I or the person introducing me will toss out a quick one-liner that has nothing to do with the status of Hillary, Monica, or Chelsea.
I ran for local office several years ago, and despite running as a Democrat in a very conservative area I believe name recognition may have helped me win the seat. I had the benefit of being attacked in the local newspaper by a local crank on the basis of nothing more than having the same name as a former Democratic president. His bullying tactic may have backfired into making people curious about what I had to say.
On the Other Hand
My aspiration is to become a published author, and I was also active in theater in the ’80s and ’90s. Once William Jefferson Clinton became a household name, I knew I would have to make some concession to the fact that he was known first. I toyed with a few pen names, but my favorite, (Tao Jones) was already taken. I finally settled on WC Clinton when I self-published a slim book of four stories titled “Two Pairs of Shorts.”
I often encounter individuals who assume that I share their utter dislike for the former president. I suspect this occurs because I am white, male, and have always lived in rather conservative areas. I grew up in a rural community outside of Philadelphia that sometimes has been called “the mini-Bible Belt.” When I moved to Georgia, I lived in Newt Gingrich’s newly formed Congressional district in his Contract with America days — an area formerly famous for the lynching of Leo Frank in 1915 and later famous for losing an Olympic venue in 1996 for being openly homophobic. Currently I reside in an area that produced Senator Pat Toomey and voted for Trump overwhelmingly in 2016.
My most recent such experience occurred during the latest impeachment trial in the Senate. My wife introduced me to a contractor whose services we may use for home improvements. His first reaction was, “You’re not in trouble like the other one?”
I thought, “Trump is on trial for abuse of power, attempting to cheat in the upcoming election, and subverting the rule of law in this country — but you want to focus on a twenty-year-old blow job?” Fox News had done its job on that man.
A Parting Anecdote
Like anyone in my situation, I suppose, I have a favorite story about being Bill Clinton. My wife is a champion volunteer. A friend gave her a refrigerator magnet that says, “Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again!” Naturally, she wasted no time finding several organizations for which to volunteer when we moved to Georgia. She became the volunteer coordinator for one such organization and made weekly calls to set up the volunteer schedule.
One evening while I worked on a story upstairs, the phone rang. I had forgotten that she had been making her volunteer calls downstairs, and I answered the phone just as she made her way into my office. “Who is this?” demanded an angry male voice.
“Who is this?” I shot back, startled. My wife shook her head sadly.
“Who is this?” the voice demanded again.
I laughed. “You called me,” I said.
“You called me!” the angry man asserted against all logic.
We continued in this vein briefly. Meanwhile, my wife quietly informed me of what had prompted this call.
When contacting a certain volunteer, she would often get voicemail. The outgoing message for this person was heavily laden with lengthy personal religious opinions. My wife had taken to saying, “blah, blah, blah,” over the outgoing message as it played. On this particular night, she realized partway through her “blah, blah, blah” routine that the actual person had, in fact, answered the phone. Most people in the early nineties had land-line phones, and most people did not have Caller ID. She did the honorable thing. She hung up immediately.
The volunteer’s husband took umbrage and used the technology that was available in that primitive time — star-six-nine. He had no idea to whom he was speaking, but he knew he had connected with the last number to call his phone.
I finally said, “Okay. Okay. I’ll tell you who I am. I’m Bill Clinton.”
“Yeah? And I’m Al Gore!” he fumed before hanging up the phone.