- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

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."

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