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November 22, 2014

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A night with Bill Clinton

At a price, of course

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Leila Navidi

The Mr. Bill Show: Clinton called the health care debate “the most evidence-free slugfest I ever saw.”

It was the best deal Mindy Bradford had received in her years of visiting Las Vegas. A “director of data governance” for Beam Global (That would be Jim Beam, in case Kid Rock is reading this), Bradford was staying at Caesars Palace while attending the Data Warehouse Institute Convention there. Quite understandably, she found herself in need of entertainment, and decided to buy a ticket to see former President Bill Clinton speak. “I’m not a big fan, but how often do you get to see a president speak?” The tickets were a tad expensive, up to $150, so she purchased a two-for-one deal to get a discount. She paid only $65 for the two tickets, and expected to be seated somewhere way in the back.

She ended up six rows from the stage. “I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m not complaining,” she smiled. But judging from the size of Monday’s crowd at the Colosseum—while the main floor was full, the two upper decks were completely empty—perhaps there was a logical explanation for her good fortune. And truly, for an event such as this, seat placement hardly seemed the point. After all, there was no orchestra, no special effects, no audience participation. The House That Celine Built was, for this night only, the world’s largest living room, with Clinton standing at a podium while a comfy chair beckoned him to sit, to get comfortable.

Call it part of the New Age of Vegas, where politicians play showrooms. Only Clinton, normally a man of good humor, wasn’t there to entertain. Oh sure, there were the occasional offerings: “My mother thought she was going here after she died”; “When I was president, a cell phone weighed 5 pounds.” But otherwise it was a 90-minute trek through the current political landscape, both stateside and abroad. “Divorce is not an option,” said Clinton numerous times, referring not, as some smirking audience members suggested, to Hillary, but to how we are now irrevocably connected with the world, and how actions here affect other countries and vice versa.

Although the title of his presentation was “Embracing Our Common Humanity,” fundraising was also a recurrent theme, from a pre-taped plea from Clinton and George W. Bush to contribute to a Haiti fund (“Haitibailout.com,” a guy behind me scoffed) to an announcement by Harrah’s Entertainment’s Jan Jones (a former mayor of Las Vegas) that her company would be donating $1 million to the Clinton Foundation. (No word on where the funds raised from tickets sales from the event itself went.)

Cleverly, Clinton broke down the health care debate to economics, saying that America’s reliance on the current system is costing us $1 trillion more a year than France and Germany. “We’re gonna go broke if we keep spotting the competition $1 trillion before we even get out of the blocks.” Regardless of your party, that fact has to get your attention.

As Clinton ran through his speech, touching on everything from Haiti (he’s obsessed with it) to the differences between poor countries (no capacity) and rich ones (too much rigidity) and how Nevada would be better off if it had only accepted his challenge to become energy-independent years ago, the audience applauded at regular intervals, prompting one woman to note to her husband: “I feel like I’m in Congress.”

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