Ruth Band’s family said they would do anything, and take her anywhere, for her 85th birthday. The Sudbury resident knew what she wanted.
“I wanted to spend it with Bill,” said Band. “Hillary is good too, but I love Bill.”
And so that is how Band ended up at the Boston Opera House on Tuesday night to see former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, speak for 80 minutes about their past life in politics and the current state of affairs.
The point of the event appeared to be simply that people were willing to pay to see the pair and the pair was available. The Boston evening was part of a 13-stop North American tour, produced by Live Nation, the nation’s largest concert promoter.
Live Nation recently produced similar events for former first lady Michele Obama and Beyonce. The Clinton series began in Las Vegas last fall and will wrap up next week in Los Angeles.
The former president and secretary of state have long been popular in heavily-Democratic Massachusetts.
But their stop in the Theatre District, with tickets originally priced at $125, $199, and $375 a piece, might have been too costly for all but stalwart supporters . Hours before the 8 p.m. event, tickets were being offered for resale on Stubhub for $36. While the cheaper balcony seats were full, seats closer to the stage sat empty.
For moments on Tuesday evening, the bookends of the past and future of American politics were playing out on different sides of the Charles River. In Boston, a couple who once dominated Democratic politics for a generation talking about campaigns in the past. Meanwhile in Somerville, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke at a different theater for a sold out audience of 850 at a fund-raiser that had people snaked around the block trying to get in. At age 37, Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is two years younger than the Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea.
Back in Boston, the Clintons were seated on stage in front of five ferns and flanked by Secret Service agents on either side of the stage. They answered questions from Tony Goldwyn, the actor who played the president on the TV series “Scandal.”
After Hillary answered a question about the legacy of the Arab Spring uprising during her time serving as the US Secretary of State, her husband remarked, “I am biased, but I am sitting here thinking we have two people on this stage who have been president and one who should be.”
The night began with the news of the evening: that special counsel Robert Mueller wrote a letter to US Attorney General Bill Barr in late March, apparently unhappy with Barr’s four-page summary of the 448-page report Mueller’s team wrote, exploring whether President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia or whether the president obstructed justice.
“[Mueller] must have been very concerned, even disturbed, when he saw the four-page summary from Attorney General Barr,” said Hillary Clinton. “Had [Trump] not been president he would have been indicted for obstruction of justice.”
As for Bill, he noted that he was pleased with picking Mueller to serve as a US Attorney while president, but said that he had yet read the report.
The couple talked about their time in the White House and global hot spots, but steered clear of any talk about the current Democratic presidential primary contest, the first where the name Clinton hasn’t even been rumored since 1988.
There was only a passing mention of impeachment when Hillary mentioned her work as a lawyer when Richard Nixon was impeached and said it provided context to today’s discussion.
But the one-time first couple did get quite personal with the crowd for a significant period. They spent nearly 10 minutes discussing their high profile marriage, where Bill Clinton grew the most animated during the night.
“People think they know someone and they have no idea,” said Bill.
For her part, Hillary said that their marriage“weathered all kinds of challenges, many of which are known to you.
“But it has also been such a gift,” continued Hillary. “I can honestly say I am a better person … because we have gone through this together.”
The couple also talked about their time as grandparents and how they are looking forward to their daughter having a third child this summer. Recently Bill noted that he returned from his granddaughter Charlotte’s dance recital with her wanting him to join her for the next round at home.
“They teach you not to take yourself so seriously,” said Bill.
Each were asked who — living or dead — they would want to join them at their dream dinner party. Hillary mentioned Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman. Bill said author Gabriel García Márquez and Mary Todd Lincoln among others.
But on a Tuesday night, well over a thousand from Greater Boston chose to spend their evening with the Clintons.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the age of Pete Buttigieg.James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell