Bill Clinton on TV The Politics Of Agreement Bill Clinton’s Arkansas reinvented his politics BY STEPHEN BUEL ONCE AGAIN, with his primary election win in Pennsylvania, Bill Clinton wears the mantle of inevitability. Despite the innumerable setbacks he has faced, the race for the Democratic nomination has unfolded in a manner substantially as anticipated by the Arkansas governor. Following his abdication in Senator Tom Harkin’s Iowa backyard, Clinton scored a New Hampshire showing respectable enough to leave him a frontrunner; then he picked up enough steam in Georgia to sweep the rest of the South on Super Tuesday. He claimed irreversibility with victories in the delegate-rich states of Illinois, Michigan and New York. Since before he announced for president, he saw Illinois as the crucial post-Super Tuesday state for a Southern candidate out to prove he has national staying power. Clinton has visited Illinois early and often, and even picked his campaign manager from Illinois. The governor’s dedication to the art of politics is such that you could even claim he married Chicagoreared Hillary Rodham in 1975 just to help him win the 1992 Illinois primary, and some people probably wouldn’t think you were joking. Bill Clinton has emerged as the Democratic front-runner for a variety of reasons his sheer brilliance, his good looks, the out-andout weakness of the rest of the field and his decades of preparation for the race. Damaged though he may appear today, Democrats who hold fears about their likely nominee’s long-term “viability within the system” as the young Rhodes Scholar once phrased the issue have less reason to be concerned than it would appear. Despite the firestorm of seemingly damaging revelations which have swirled around his candidacy, Clinton has proven remarkably resilient. There is little reason to believe that this will change. Clinton’s years of preparation and his studies of the party’s past presidential defeats have propelled his effort to transform the party’s values. Bill Clinton wants nothing less than to reinvent the Democratic Party. Following his 1980 defeat at the hands of Frank White, an unlikely Clayton Williams sort of Republican, Clinton began crafting a new politics. Call it the Politics of Agreement. To some, Clinton is merely pragmatic, while others deride him for trying to be all things to all people. Certainly, no one knew better than Arkansans what former Senator Paul Tsongas was driving at when he called Clinton a “pander bear.” Stephen Buel is the editor of Spectrum Weekly, a newspaper in Little Rock, Ark., in which a version of this article originally appeared. But Tsongas was wrong; Santa Claus is arguably just the sort of candidate Clinton’s party needs to run if it is to soon regain the presidency, since ideological inflexibility hasn’t worked in five of the last six presidential elections. American presidential politics is a battle for the center, and even Ronald Reagan won the presidency by convincing Americans that he, rather than Jimmy Carter, best representated centrist values. Or, as Clinton might put it, the interests of “forgotten middle-class voters.” The Politics of Agreement are the politics of compromise. Contemplation of his record demonstrates how thoroughly Bill Clinton has made compromises not only with his foes, but with himself. From the unique vantage point of Arkansas, Bill Clinton looks just compromised enough to be president of the United States. Camelot With Beards In 1978, at the age of 32, Clinton was the nation’s youngest governor, and one of its most liberal. As the nation’s youngest attorney general, he ran for governor on an agenda of sweeping reform, stressing energy conservation, education and environmental issues. He easily defeated a weak Republican opponent. Once in office, the Georgetownand Yale-educated former Rhodes scholar assembled an out-of-state brain trust of progressive young reformers a Southern version of JFK’s Camelot, only with beards. He cele brated his inauguration with a big rock-androll dance party dubbed “Diamonds and Denim” and joined the band on stage for a saxophone solo. During his first stint as governor, Clinton was quick to pick a fight, and did so on a number of fronts. He tangled with Arkansas lumber companies over clear-cutting in the state’s national forests; expressed reservations about the state’s old death penalty statute; and anonymously co-authored a savage newspaper article denouncing the state’s largest electric utility for its involvement in an out-of-state nuclear project. Years later, the latter viewpoint became widely shared when Arkansans’ electricity bills shot up to cover the costs of a $4 billion plant the state did not need. At the time, however, his actions made him a bitter enemy of Arkansas’ most dominant political institution. Clinton was already being mentioned by party regulars as presidential timber when he addressed the party convention in 1980, where he claimed to represent a “new generation of Democratic leaders.” His speech resounded with echoes of the Democratic Party of Hubert Humphrey, only mildly foreshadowing his concern for the party’s ability to capture the middle ground. “We have proved that our party is more sensitive than the Republicans to equality and justice, to the poor and the dispossessed,” Clinton said. “But now we must prove that we offer more in the way of creative and realistic solutions to our economic and energy THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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