Then Richards steers the discussion toward more personal concerns: "Okay. So what do we think about this kid that Chelsea's goin' out with? I saw his picture, and he looks kinda cute."
The president looks startled. This probably wasn't the sort of question he'd hoped to field in front of a reporter. "He's real cute," he says, after a second. "He's a cute boy."
"And is he smart?" asks Richards.
"Yeah," says Clinton. "He was an all-American soccer player at Washington University at St. Louis, and . . . " Boy, was he unprepared for this. "I took him to play golf in the Dominican Republic." He laughs. "I like him. He's a nice man. He's a really . . . I like him."
Maggie Williams, his chief of staff, has been sitting silently at the head of the table the entire meal. She decides to jump to his rescue. "How did you two meet?"
"I don't have any idea," says Richards.
"We met a hundred years ago, in the seventies," says Clinton. "You're lookin' at 25 percent of the white vote that McGovern got in Arkansas and Texas, right here."
"I was never hesitant about Bill," says Richards. "Right after he got elected, he invited me to spend the night at the White House, which I was thrilled to death to get to do. The next morning, I got up, and I don't know what the room was where you have breakfast and coffee . . . "
"Oh -- the solarium," says Clinton.
"Yeah. It was real nice. Anyway. Bill comes in, he's in a hurry, he's got to go somewhere, and he sits down and starts talkin', drinkin' coffee. So I said, 'The purpose of me bein' here, to tell you the God's honest truth, is we need a new bridge across the Rio Grande, and I cannot get that sucker done to save my life. All I need to know is: Will you sign it if I can get the agency's approval?' And he said, 'Sure!' "
She beams at him. "It took 30 agencies to approve. My ace card was that Bill had already said he'd sign it if we got all those other idiots to agree. And now there's this ol' bridge that's bigger than God."
She pauses. " 'Course, Bush got to cut the ribbon."
They both keel over with laughter.
"Broke my heart," says Clinton.
Richards wipes her eyes and has a look around his office. She notices another archipelago of tchotchkes lining the windowsill and gives it a baleful stare. "In the conference room," she says, pointing to the offending display, "I said you needed to put that stuff in a closet somewhere. And you got more of it here than you do out there."
"I sent most of my stuff home, to the library," says Clinton, a trifle apologetically.
"Well," says Richards, "it's time to send the rest of it."
Ann Richards's critics would say that her only lasting political legacy was a worthy candidate for Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Her fans, like Ivins, say she managed to close the Texas state-budget deficit, build a new slew of prisons, and give the state its own lottery. Whatever the case, politics is scribbled into her DNA. At 19, she spent her honeymoon hanging campaign posters. When she was still a housewife, managing an unruly household of four children, she volunteered to manage the campaign of Sarah Weddington, who had argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, for the Texas State Legislature.
Dorothy Ann Willis grew up in Waco, Texas. Her mother was a tough western woman who tended house and built everything herself; her father was a pharmaceutical salesman who amply provided for his only child, even during the Depression. Richards went to college on a debate scholarship -- her parents always encouraged her to speak her mind -- and told friends she married her husband, David Richards, because she loved his curiosity. David eventually became a prominent civil-rights lawyer, sweeping Ann into the heady, raucous social-political tide pool of Austin in the sixties and seventies. "She was real glamorous in our world," says Hickie, who later ran her campaign for treasurer. "She threw the best parties anyone could ever imagine."
Richards first ran for county commissioner in 1976. She made quite a splash. Richards's fund-raisers typically featured dog shows or skits she did herself. (One of her stock characters, the president of Porko Electronics, required a cigar and the donning of a pig nose for its proper incarnation.) "She was also a huge costume queen," says Lily Tomlin, who sometimes performed at these events. "She'd always be dressing up as something controversial or humorous -- like a box of Ritz crackers."