OUR OPINION: Applause for Dayton's deft handling of crowd
On Sept. 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton stood before Congress to deliver the biggest speech of his life. The subject was health care. The speech was to be nationally televised. Then the teleprompter malfunctioned. Clinton did have a handheld co...
On Sept. 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton stood before Congress to deliver the biggest speech of his life.
The subject was health care. The speech was to be nationally televised.
Then the teleprompter malfunctioned.
Clinton did have a handheld copy of his speech. But he did not have his glasses, and to make matters worse, the handheld copy had been printed in small type. ("Because who really needs it, you know?" as one staff member recalled years later.)
So for nine long minutes, with the nation watching, members of Congress listening and -- off-camera -- a frantic aide fumbling with the teleprompter, Clinton winged it.
Few Americans noticed. It was a masterful display of grace under pressure.
At the time, Clinton had been in office for only eight months; and up until then, most of his appearances had been scripted. So for many viewers, the news the next day that Clinton had improvised the early part of his speech was revealing:
Where politics is concerned, this guy's good, as even professionally admiring Republicans agreed.
On Wednesday, Minnesotans got a similar glimpse of the "inner" Gov. Mark Dayton. And as happened in '93, what they saw was encouraging.
Dayton didn't face teleprompter pressure. But when he entered the Governor's Reception Room for a signing ceremony, he did face pressure of a different sort: an organized and vocal protest.
"Angry people -- some very angry people -- were in the room," Doug Grow of MinnPost.com reported. "Dozens more were trying to enter."
The room was packed. Voices were rising. Police were starting to intervene.
"Dayton's aides surveyed the chaos with looks of concern," Grow wrote.
"My hands were sweating," Katie Tinucci, head of the governor's communications office, told Grow. "We didn't have any idea what he [the governor] was going to do" about the tense scene.
So, what Dayton wound up doing was all the more unexpected:
"The new governor silenced the crowd with a most extraordinary invitation," Grow described.
"He invited those protesting to come forward and share his podium. He would allow representatives from their group to speak, after he had spoken.
"'This is an office where all points of view are honored and respected,' Dayton said."
To their own credit, the protesters honored but did not abuse the recognition the governor had given them. He spoke, they spoke, the sides engaged in some back-and-forth. Then the crowd dispersed and Dayton went on his way.
All in all, it was an impressive moment for Dayton, the kind of thing that looks easy or routine only in hindsight.
Disarming an angry crowd is anything but routine, as former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson knows: "I think it's very gracious of the governor to do that," Carlson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
"Maybe it could set a precedent for future concerns. Well done.
"I wish I had thought of it."
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald