Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. Begala is the author of several best-sellers. His newest book, "Third Term: Why George W. Bush Loves John McCain," will be released September 9. Begala is not currently a paid political consultant for any politicians or candidates.
(CNN) -- While the political world held its breath awaiting the two presumptive presidential candidates' vice presidential picks, I slipped out of Washington and paid a visit to the real world.
Paul Begala says a Nevada conference showed the lasting importance of energy as an issue
OK, not the real world. Las Vegas, actually. But I didn't go to gamble and didn't see a show. Instead I joined a convention hall full of energy engineers, policy wonks, labor organizers and business leaders to talk about the biggest issue facing the world.
Not that it doesn't matter who Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain choose as running mates, but before you know it our bated breath over the "veepstakes" will turn to a yawn, and America will still be importing 70 percent of its oil.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, along with the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, brought together the most amazing, eclectic collection of political and policy types I've ever seen.
Only Reid could bring former President Bill Clinton and right-wing Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens together to find common ground. Clinton spoke first. He arrived Monday, direct from Little Rock, where he'd helped eulogize his friend, Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney. The heartache was still etched in his face, but nothing was going to make him break his commitment to Reid.
With few notes and no prepared speech, the former president outlined a comprehensive strategy to spur economic growth and create millions of new jobs while moving America away from fossil fuels and toward saving the planet.
It was a tour de force: so deep in the details that the propeller-heads were swooning, yet simple and compelling enough that I could follow it. On the day before his 62nd birthday, I couldn't help cursing the 22nd Amendment, which limited Clinton to two terms. Heck, he's still 10 years younger than McCain.
Tuesday it was Pickens' turn. The 80-year old strode up to the stage like he was walking up to the OK Corral. And as one of the few Republicans in the room -- and a major backer of the much-hated "Swift Boat" attacks on Sen. John Kerry -- Ol' Boone must have felt like the only fireplug at the dog show.
But, like Clinton, he rose to the occasion. He outlined his plan to move trucks and cars to natural gas, while producing 20 percent of our electricity from wind. He was self-deprecating, clear-eyed and disarmingly candid. Through it all, he conveyed one clear message: American dependence on foreign oil must be reduced.
Obama and McCain are searching their souls as they select their running mates. My own hope is they follow the example of their Senate colleague, Reid.
Reid convinced two of the busiest people in the world to come to Las Vegas in August -- to help change the world. Our next president will need the same leadership, the same ability to reach across the aisle, the same willingness to focus the world's best minds on the world's biggest problems.
I don't know which ticket will win in November, but the Clinton-Pickens ticket Harry Reid assembled has definitely won August.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.
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