As easy as he is to mock with decades-old jokes, we've got to hand it to Bill Clinton -- the dude can warm a room like Wayne Newton on crystal meth.
Not that last night's Fontainebleau crowd was a hostile audience. About 300 of Miami's glitterati -- among them sunglass mogul and philanthropist Sanford Ziff, who just looks like money, former Heat baller and consummate good guy Alonzo Mourning, Mayor Manny Diaz, and Schools Superintendent Alberto "Don't Shave" Carvalho -- packed a dining room for the Miami Dream Dinner, a fundraiser to build a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.
You know a dinner is a big deal when it's hard to tell the servers from the Secret Service because both are wearing earpieces. And in the pre-meal frenzy of preparation by the Fontainebleau's employees, Riptide observed a scene that gave us a new appreciation of the art of waiting on high-caliber tables -- a server captain prepping his huddled crew. "There can be absolutely no movement while he's speaking," the boss directed the dozen or so servers. "That's why we need to really serve before he starts speaking, because if he speaks for 40 minutes..."
The captain paused for dramatic effect and, producing from his pocket a down-to-the-minute itinerary, mouthed solemnly the worst-case scenario: "If all of this pushes back, then you really run the risk of serving people an entrée an hour and a half after the appetizer."
Thank the Lord it did not come to that. Clinton swaggered onto stage about 45 minutes behind schedule but kept his remarks casual and relatively brief, delivering more of a chatty monologue than a stirring speech, but charming the audience nonetheless.
Clinton returned often to the thread of history running from Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama, with the first black president's inauguration coming five days after what would've been the reverend's 80th birthday. "There is no question that Obama's inaugural address and Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech are inexorably linked," Clinton declared, shaking his fist loosely in that speechifiying way only he can, "and I can't imagine that one would have happened if the earlier did not."
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In fact, Clinton said he owed his own presidency to King, referencing his meeting the day before with Obama and the three other living presidents -- Bush I and II, and Jimmy Carter: "I thought to myself...three of the five of us owe our legacy to Martin Luther King," explaining there was "no way" Carter and he would've been elected if it weren't for the reverend's mainstream establishment of the equal-rights-for-blacks movement.
Did he just call the Bushes whiteys? Oh snap, he did!
After his speech, which hinged on a call for increased philanthropy despite the financial crisis, he said, "We all still have more money than 99 percent of the people on Earth," apparently unaware of Riptide's gambling debts. Clinton God-blessed everyone and abruptly walked through a door into the Fontainebleau lobby, setting off a Secret Service frenzy as people checking in realized who was in their midst. Apparently, the only way to get a Clinton handshake is to scream "Mr. President!" in the hopes he looks at you and informs the guards, "It's okay; it's okay." The only bystander who didn't have to go through this? Mourning, who sauntered right past the guards and had a long chat with Clinton before the ex-prez jumped into his seven-car motorcade and headed south on Biscayne Boulevard.