Hillary Clinton returned to the scene of the original crime Saturday night, telling the surviving Democrats in Arkansas why they should love her like she and Bill love themselves.
Bubba returns to the old home place occasionally, even if Arkansas is not really home, and Hillary’s visits are rare. Old times there are not exactly forgotten, but seeing old friends is difficult because many old friends are gone with the wind.
The last time she was in Arkansas as a presidential candidate the Democrats owned everything. They held every statewide elected office and the Republicans didn’t bother to put up candidates in three of the four congressional districts. Both U.S. senators were Democrats. In the state House of Representatives, Democrats held 72 of the 100 seats, and 27 of the 35 state senators were Democrats. Now everything — everything — is reversed.
Hillary went back for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, once the big party event of the year. Now it’s all but against the law among Democrats to honor Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson — racists, bigots, slave owners — and some of the Democrats over the years figured they were honoring Stonewall anyway, not Andrew. Hillary must hope that no one hears about how she went down to Little Rock to speak at a dinner honoring evil.
If she charged her usual $250,000 speaker’s fee, the party came up a bit short, because the thousand diners paid $200 each for the eats, though for $15 a loyal but poor Democrat could stand in the back and watch everyone else eat. The party could have got Chelsea for $65,000, perhaps to reminisce about growing up in Little Rock and the day her cat Socks wandered away from the Governor’s Mansion, and never came home.
For whatever she got, Hillary delivered the usual warmed-over boilerplate, talking about Republican greed and avarice (and she should know). But it provided an opportunity to slip the needle to Bubba, who always had a yen for ladies with big hair. “The answer is always the same for the Republicans,” she said. “Trickle-down economics has to be one of the worst ideas of the 1980s. It’s right up there with New Coke, shoulder pads and [women with] big hair. I lived through that. There are photographs. Believe me, we’re not going back.” (Beware, Bubba.)
The Democrats now own very little in Arkansas. The transformation of a state from reliably blue to indelibly red, which over the last few decades has punched far above its weight (only six electoral votes), is nothing short of breathtaking. Bubba was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state, and four years later George W. Bush thumped Al Gore from neighboring Tennessee. In the old days voting for Al would have been the neighborly thing to do, but no more. Thousands of Democrats, a little scared but determined, voted for a Republican and Grandpa didn’t come out of the graveyard, brushing dirt from his tattered gray uniform, wrinkled from his having turned over in his grave. So the thousands did it again.
It’s difficult to imagine why Hillary would spend time and effort in Arkansas, except for auld lang syne (and the money, of course), and the Clintons have never been accused of being sentimental about anything or anybody but No. 1 and No. 2 (this year No. 2 becomes No. 1). It’s no longer “buy one, get one free,” but “buy one, and maybe the other will stay away.”
Some Democrats say Hillary’s appearance was not about winning Arkansas — even the true believers know that’s not going to happen — but seeing a thousand Democrats in one room would be reassuring, proof that there’s still a few of them left.
Mike Beebe, a popular former governor who braved the Republican tsunami and was elected as recently as 2010 with 55 percent of the vote, carrying all 75 counties, says the usual things expected of a loyal alum. He says it’s possible for Hillary to lay on the grits and gravy thick enough to win the state.
“She has to connect,” he tells the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the newspaper voice of the state. “Arkansas will vote for you if they feel comfortable with you, believe in you and it can override whatever the flavor of the day may be. And I’m living proof of that.”
All that requires of Hillary is to persuade the good ol’ boys that she isn’t who she is, that she’s not really the queen of avarice, and that her race to the left-most edge of the earth is not really a frantic race to that left-most edge. Who should the voters believe, Hillary or their own eyes and ears?
Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but even if you could you’ll only get home and find it a vacant lot.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.