and environmental problems, and that we have a vision that can withstand the erosion of special-interest politics that is gripping our land.” But Carter wasn’t up to the challenge and neither, it turned out, was Clinton. Following his demoralizing and unexpected slap in the face by Frank White, Clinton found himself on the outside looking in. He retreated to the Little Rock law firm of Wright Lindsey & Jennings and plotted his return to the governor’s mansion. The Clinton who reappeared to face White in 1982 was a more contrite, incremental politician. Reinventing himself as a moderate Democrat and choosing his fights more carefully, Clinton expiated his sins like an adult Catholic attending his first confession since adolescence. The bearded advisors were gone. Gone too were his vocal attacks upon the timber companies, which had bankrolled White in 1980. Also gone was his discomfort about the death penalty law, which was changed to meet constitutional muster; in later years, Clinton would be the first Arkansas governor to preside over an execution since the mid-1960s. And Hillary Rodham was now Hillary Rodham Clinton. He defeated White in 1982 and has won every election since, making him the nation’s longesttenured governor today, and perhaps its most voter-tested. The new and improved Bill Clinton ran on a platform of education and economic development. Both were appropriately liberal messages for a state which often ranked 49th in comparisons of national well-being, but both were also significantly safer than the campaign planks of his first term. During the following eight years he returned to education and economic development again and again, while occasionally emphasizing such issues as utility reform, ethics and governmental reform, highway issues and even the environment. But he chose his battles far more carefully. Instructive in Clinton’s selection of education and economic development as the twin pillars of his administration is the lack of meaningful constituencies opposing either position. Utility reform, by contrast, involves challenging the well-being of the state’s most entrenched economic forces. Likewise, environmental reform means confronting the environmental practices of large industries, such as timber, poultry and livestock, and ultimately, most small businesses and consumers too. Emphasis on, say, social justice issues carries with it an obligation to champion the rights of the minority against the desires of the majority. Education and economic development, on the other hand, are almost universal in their appeal. Major opposition to education takes the form of opposition to tax increases; the media and big business can often be counted upon to help overcome that. Economic development is an even more sure-fire issue in places like Arkansas and times like these; as a rallying cry it only risks offending the treehugger vote those who champion the rural outdoors for its own sake. Typical of Clinton’s new approach to governance was his attitude toward environmen tal regulation. Following his return to office, he was largely silent on the issue for the remainder of the decade, and occasionally he weighed in on the side of business over environmental concerns. Politically, Clinton has generally been able to count on the support of most environmental voters anyway. It was only when the mood of the nation and the state coalesced on environmental matters in the early 1990s that Clinton once again offered a broad environmental agenda. It was heralded by conservationists as progressive and a decade late. The Vision Thing The Politics of Agreement have become not just the hallmark of Clinton’s identity but the millstone around his neck. It’s as if the national news media has taken his assertion of “electability” as an overt challenge to look for chinks in the candidate’s armor. Just as for Gary Hart it was the adultery issue and for Jerry Brown it is his portrayal as a space cadet from California, Clinton’s self-proclaimed electability has become the campaign’s chief litmus test. But like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton seems to be demonstrating that seemingly devastating charges can’t stick to a candidate determined not to let them stick. No matter how murky things got during the lowest depths of the Iran-Contra scandal, all America knew that Ronald Reagan would wake up the next day seemingly unfazed. If Reagan taught us nothing else in his eight years in office , he demonstrated that we Americans want our president to feel good, and to make us feel good. And so, the Gennifer Flowers and draft evasion issues haven’t derailed Clinton primarily because the candidate hasn’t let them. By and large, the so-called Clinton scandals fall into two broad categories: personal and job-related. The personal scandals Flowers, the draft and his admission of marijuana use in the Sixties are both less than clearly relevant to his candidacy and of a type most easily shrugged off by the governor. And as for the seemingly more substantial controversies involving his conduct in office his relationship to his wife’s law firm, his supposed steering of state business to a supporter’s bond firm and his alleged weakening of a state ethics law to a one, these reports are misleading, and reflect the work of a national news media clearly unfamiliar with the political realities of life in a state with no more population than Brooklyn, where everyone simply knows everyone. Throughout it all, Clinton put on a happy face unlike Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis, or Gary Hart during the Donna Rice affair. Clinton just keeps saying how glad he is to be part of the process. Clinton has tried instead, with somewhat mixed results, to focus attention on his vision of what the Democratic party should do for America. Unlike any Democratic nominee since John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton possesses the Kennedyesque talent to express his own agenda and make it sound like the articulated desires of a generation. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to weave together compelling human anecdotes with factually detailed expla nations of the minutiae of governance. Even Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, once his harshest critic on the campaign trail, had no problem conceding that Clinton had what it takes to get elected president. Like many, Kerrey simply argued that Clinton talks a better game than he plays. There can be no doubting that Clinton has out-talked the rest of the Democratic field, offering the most specific and detailed platform of any Democratic presidential candidate. His campaign style stands in stark contrast to the stylistic conservatism of George Bush, who for months held off a nation hungry for economic action with little more than hints to pay attention to his State-of-the-Union address. Clinton kicked off his campaign at a 4,500person rally October 3 on the grounds of the former Arkansas state capitol. A reporter for the former Arkansas Gazette counted 13 uses of the term “middle-class” in the governor’s announcement speech, followed by 12 uses of “responsibility” and 10 references to “opportunity.” These are the themes of the “New Covenant” Clinton proposes to forge between the citizens and their government, which he outlined in microscopic precision in three major policy addresses at his undergraduate alma mater, Georgetown University. Invoking JFK’s famous appeal to personal responsibility, Clinton devoted the first of his addresses to the topic of “Responsibility and Rebuilding the American Community.” It was a bold effort to redefine the terms of debate with in the Democratic Party, away from the perceived class warfare intrinsic in the rhetoric of the party’s liberal wing, embodied in 1992 by the failed candidacy of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. The two subsequent talks addressed the economy and national defense, but it is his focus on responsibility which contains the kernel of his effort to remake the party’s image. An article in New York’s Village Voice suggests that much of Clinton’s program is informed by E.J . Dionne’ s book Why Americans Hate Politics. Clinton stood firm behind such liberal staples as drastic defense cuts, universal access to college education, national health care, higher taxes on the rich, job retraining and welfare for all who need it. But for virtually every program he endorsed, he tempered his support with an offsetting responsibility. If defense spending is to be reduced drastically, he argued, the resultant “peace dividend” should be reinvested in a new domestic research and development agency to redirect the nation’s technical resources toward industrial applic ations without hobbling its industrial sector in the progress. This and much of his economic platform is vintage Robert Reich, the Harvard political economist who has served for years as one of Clinton’s key policy advisers. In exchange for college loans, Clinton proposes a “Domestic GI Bill” that would permit aid recipients to pay back their loans through national service as teachers, police officers or child care workers. Higher taxes on those who earn more than $200,000 would be offset by a tax cut for “the forgotten middle class,” a phrase Clinton liberally sprinkles 8 MAY 8, 1992
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