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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2000/ 27 Elul, 5760

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Consumer Reports

When folks at home give up on a scamp -- LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The legacy of Bill Clinton, a matter of declining importance and relevance everywhere but in the mind of the man himself, comes with a tiny footnote here in the place he once called home.

A lot of his old friends and neighbors are relieved to regard him as a New Yorker now, and good riddance. The arguments they have with the dwindling number of true believers are not so much over whether he's a martyr or a scoundrel — scamp is the kindest euphemism in a place where good manners and consideration for others is still occasionally practiced — as over what the Clinton phenomenon says about Arkansas.

When Arkansas is described by a reporter for The Washington Post "as a place where it seems like somebody is always crawling out from under some rock," the reaction is usually not to consider the source, but to take offense. This offers an opportunity to a skillful scoundrel.

With nowhere else to run, Bill Clinton is trying one last time to combine the native suspicion of outsiders ("we always lie to strangers") and disdain for the newspapers just as most Arkansans are concluding, often reluctantly, that maybe the offender is the native son himself.

The president, his Arkansas friends say, is concerned most about the disbarment proceedings against him, and the stigma that disbarment would leave on his, uh, personal character. Not only that, if he is disbarred and the state Supreme Court lifts his law license, he probably can't serve on the boards of companies regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. This would severely crimp his ability to earn the big bucks he'll need once he can't any longer call on friends who need federal favors to pick up the tab for his lawyers, his wife's campaign expenses and his haircuts.

The men and women who gave him his first success in politics are concerned about the damage he has done to the reputation of this, the native land, the place a Southerner loves above all others. Who, this argument goes, will build up Arkansas if her own people do not?

Once the Clinton presidency is over, observes columnist Richard Allin in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, "Arkansas can lick the wounds that Bill Clinton inflicted upon the self-esteem of our state . . . and we can begin to overlook the fact that during his eight years of the presidency he did absolutely nothing substantive for the citizens of his home state who gave him his start. . . . We wonder how the next ex-president can ever come back to Arkansas without a feeling of gnawing chagrin in his soul. . . . President Clinton will leave his native state behind forever, never to return as a hero, which he should have been, or even as an esteemed visitor. . . . And what memories of this unfortunate former Arkansan will we read on the parapet and on the marble walls of his library? What quotes can give the world the meaning of his presidency?"

The absolutely semifinal temporarily preliminary last word on the Arkansas scandals, filed last week by Robert Ray, the special prosecutor assigned to wind up Kenneth Starr's unfinished business, only supplies fresh fuel for the arguments. The president's apologists have seized on it as triumph and vindication. The Clintons did nothing wrong, argues one apologist who knows better, and cites as proof the "admission" of Mr. Ray. But the president's critics — "haters," the apologists churlishly insist on calling them —note that Mr. Ray did not admit that at all, only that he had insufficient evidence to take before jurors in the District of Columbia, who can be reliable friends of guilty defendants with the just-right qualifications. The district attorney in Cook County never accumulated sufficient evidence to convict Al Capone, either, and a California jury acquitted O.J. Simpson, but nobody argues that these decisions were declarations of innocence.

The president seems to sense that his last line of home defense is threatened, if not crumbling. In that interview earlier this month with The Washington Post, he said the disbarment proceedings are "a setup deal" and accused the hometown newspaper, merely by reporting that several members of the committee had been appointed to various positions in the past by Governor Clinton, of having "basically intimidated all the good people" off the committee assigned by the state Supreme Court to consider disbarment.

Remaining members of the committee don't necessarily consider themselves to be "bad people" even though they are still at work on the disbarment business. Ken Reaves, the chairman of the remaining committee, says he's not saying the president didn't make such a remark, "but it doesn't sound like something someone in his situation would say." Another committee member says "the committee has treated the president fairly, like we treated anyone else." Says still another: "Nothing really surprises me."

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


09/25/00: Gore plot exposed! The secret minutes
09/18/00: Playing politics with the blood supply
09/14/00: Al sets out to find his 'tolerance level'
09/12/00: When it's time for a thumb in the eye
09/07/00: Making a daughter a campaign asset
09/04/00: A footnote to the lie: How he beats the rap
08/30/00: Unbearable lightness of a cyberjournal
08/21/00: Clinton chickens on AlGore's roost
08/16/00: The long goodbye to California's cash
08/09/00: Innocence by proxy is a risky scheme
08/07/00: After insulin shock, an authentic rouser
08/02/00: When it gets hard not to get a little giddy
07/31/00: George W.'s legions of summer soldiers
07/26/00: He's set a surprise --- or a trap for himself
07/24/00: How do you serve a turkey in August?
07/19/00: Would Hillary sling a lie about a slur?
07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit
07/12/00: The Texas two-step, a nudge and a wink
07/10/00: The Great Mentioner and his busy season
07/05/00: No Mexican standoff in these results
07/03/00: Denting a few egos in the U.S. Senate
06/28/00: Bureaucracy amok! Punctuation in peril!
06/26/00: The water torture of American resolve
06/21/00: The happy hangman is a busy hangman
06/19/00: Dick Gephardt finds a Dixie dreamboat
06/14/00: Taking a byte out of innovation
06/12/00: 'Go away, little boy, you're bothering us'
06/07/00: When a little envy is painful to watch
06/05/00: Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak
05/31/00: South of the border, politics is pepper
05/26/00: Running out of luck with home folks
05/24/00: The heart says no, but the head says yes
05/22/00: A fine opportunity to set an example
05/17/00: The Sunday school for Republicans
05/15/00: Hillary's surrogate for telling tall tales
05/10/00: Listening to the voice of an authentic man
05/08/00: First a lot of bluster, then the retreat
05/02/00: Good news for Rudy, bad news for Hillary
04/28/00: The long goodbye to Elian's boyhood
04/25/00: Spooked by Castro, Bubba blinks
04/14/00: One flag down and two memorials to go
04/11/00: Consistency finds a jewel in Janet Reno
04/07/00: Here's the good word (and it's in English)
04/04/00: When bureaucrats mock the courts
03/28/00: How Hollywood sets the virtual table
03/24/00: Dissing a president can ruin a whole day
03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult
03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology
03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain
03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden