- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

OK, it's time. Knock off the Arkansas jokes. Most of them weren't very funny, anyway.

Bill Clinton's a damyankee now.

He spent the first night in his new house with Hillary and he had so much fun he emerged yesterday to promise to make it official: He has no connection to Arkansas now. He'll register to vote in Chappaqua in time to cast a ballot for the missus if she runs for the Senate.

"I've got a particular interest in the election and I want to make sure my vote counts," he said.

Miss Hillary, tugging on what is clearly a shorter leash than the president is accustomed to, noted that she had pulled the president away from making peace between Israel and Syria at their celebrated tete-a-tete in West Virginia, and had put him to Dagwood's work, unpacking boxes and moving furniture. There was a coy hint that the president didn't get a lot of sleep. After 17 years in public housing, the first sleepover seemed to have been quite an aphrodisiac.

"It was a little overwhelming because there is so much to be done," Miss Hillary said of their first night in the new digs. Was that a blush on her cheeks? Was she suppressing a bit of a giggle? Said she: "We stayed up very late."

A neighbor brought over dinner. Except for a few high-toned folks who put on airs in the Episcopal precincts of Little Rock, in Arkansas this would properly be called supper. But the president and the part-time first lady won't ever again have to sup on mustard greens and butterbeans cooked with a ham hock, and corn bread to sop up the pot liquor. There was no word on what the neighbor provided, but it looked like salmon croquettes with a salad of arugula, endive, bean sprouts and the assorted other fashionable weeds that grow along a railroad right of way. Another neighbor slipped past the barricades at the top of the street (the neighborhood can just get used to it) with a bottle of champagne, vintage unknown.

"I think there's been some disturbance for the people," says one of the neighbors, Wilma Rapp. "Other than that, people feel pretty good about the Clintons. You tell somebody you live in Chappaqua and they say, 'Oh! Hillary!' "

Arkansas folks know the feeling. For these seven years every time an Arkansas man abroad tells somebody he's from Arkansas the response, usually a prayer but often an oath, is invariably: "Oh, God! The Clintons." Arkansawyers abroad are back to signing hotel registers with a fictitious Memphis address.

The president's ceremonial sex change as any Southerner would regard becoming a yankee, even by marriage follows Mr. Clinton's speculation earlier in the week that he might return to Arkansas to emulate John Quincy Adams and run for a seat in the House of Representatives. This provoked a few snorts of spluttered outrage from Jonesboro to Texarkana and along Scott Bayou, but mostly whoops of ribald laughter.

"But why run in Arkansas?" asked the president's erstwhile hometown newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. "Isn't that a bit of a commute from Chappaqua, N.Y.? Nevertheless, it would be something having the prodigal home, campaigning at the 'coon supper again, handling folks' problems with Social Security or the IRS. He might even be able to attract some government installation to Arkansas after all these years. And he would be handy to Susan Webber Wright's court and the [Arkansas] Supreme Court's committee on professional conduct." Indeed, if the Arkansas court disbars him, as is now under consideration, he'll need the consideration of the lawyers of New York, where ethics may be more loosely defined.

In any event, the president's new identity as a New York yankee he has demonstrated curve balls and sliders as good as anyone's is already well established. Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City, who affects to regard carpetbaggers with the haughty disdain that a descendant of a Confederate soldier might envy, offered Mrs. Clinton and her consort his usual gallantry.

"I feel very, very proud of the fact that people from around the country want to come to New York, including people from Arkansas," he said. "We welcome all newcomers, and [pause] recognize the fact that they are newcomers." Gov. George Pataki paused, too, in his annual state of the state address to the legislature in Albany, and offered his own welcome: "Why, even people from Hope, Arkansas, understand that New York is the best state to live in."

That's stretching it. At the death of Gen. Ben Butler, the beast of New Orleans who made the rape of Southern women a gala pastime, the Nashville American thundered that "the South pities the devil the possession he has secured." Bill Clinton is no Ben Butler, but for Arkansas, relief is nevertheless spelled "C-h-a-p-p-a-q-u-a."

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