Jewish World Review June 18, 2003/ 18 Sivan, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Yellow dogs and Miss Nightingale | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Ma Clinton is gone but not exactly forgotten in Little Rock, where some people remember her more generously than others. On the other hand, Ma and Pa Clinton are not altogether gone, either.

The diehard Democrats, embittered old yellow dogs who instinctively regard all Republicans as direct descendants of John Brown, Ben Butler and General Sherman, if not old Abe his own self, are a diminishing cult in Arkansas, and many of them imagine Ma Clinton to be the Florence Nightingale sent to bind their wounds, which are considerable.

Pa Clinton makes the scene often, now that his presidential library is actually taking shape on the banks of the Arkansas River. The library is counted on to quicken a tract of abandoned warehouses in a dark and decrepit neighborhood that local newspaper columnist Richard Allin calls "Murky Bottoms." Some of Pa's friends here, determined to bask in the last sputtering watts of presidential limelight, are counting on the library to do for Little Rock what Mickey Mouse did for Orlando (or at least what Herbert Hoover's library did for West Branch, Iowa.)

Naive as such dreaming may be, the library in Arkansas should offer considerably more rhinestone charisma and cheap thrills than the presidential library in Iowa. The most exciting exhibits in Mr. Hoover's library are only the corner around which prosperity was foolishly thought to be lurking and the pot that everyone's chicken was never cooked in. Pa Clinton's sideshow - "Step right up, right this way, folks" - will have the aroma and aura of bimbo eruptions, vibrating exhibits where Ma Clinton's missing Rose Law Firm billing records won't be, the reluctant ghost of the doomed Vince Foster haunting the corridors, and of course the replica of the Oval Office pantry where Pa dropped his drawers to "minister," as Ma put it, to an earnest intern. Maybe even Monica Lewinsky's infamous stained dress.

All politics is local, after all, and the publication of Hillary's book has taken Little Rock by brief rain squall if not quite by storm. The display copies at Barnes & Noble are well-thumbed by inquiring minds that want to know, searching the index to see who made living history and who didn't. The credulous reader sought by Ma Clinton lives in Little Rock. Max Brantley, the editor of a yellow-dog counterculture weekly, is eager, like a good Southern gent, to defend the lady against the slings and cuts of the vast right-wing media conspiracy, in which he includes such purveyors of right-wing raw meat as Lloyd Grove and Tom Shales of The Washington Post.

"The book is matter-of-fact and chronological," Mr. Brantley writes. "She shoots the occasional barb at Kenneth Starr, but it's more often dispassionate and occasionally self-effacing. The early media focus on sex is misleading. The book is more of a reflection of her abiding passion for policy. On that count alone, it strikes me as fundamentally honest. ... It is harder now to argue political gain as her reason for sticking with a philandering former president. ... Maybe, too, she has a capacity for forgiveness. ... "

That's a new one on Arkansas folks, the notion of Hillary Clinton as dispassionate, forgiving, self-effacing and fundamentally honest. If this is true, Pa Clinton's book, due out early next year, should be a Sunday-school prescription for cold showers and tightly zipped trousers.

"Bill's book and the Clinton Library is already a part of the Hillary campaign," says Jim Johnson, a retired justice of the state Supreme Court and the most persistent Clinton nemesis in Arkansas. "The draft has started. Watch her poll numbers climb." He cites their books, the library and a coming movie about Hillary and gives her denials of a run next year the weight he gave Pa Clinton's denials in '91.

Ma Clinton has payback for Jim Johnson, decrying his op-ed essay for The Washington Times carefully setting out the particulars against the late U.S. District Judge Henry Woods, a crony of the Clintons. He recalled Mr. Woods' part in a celebrated scheme to scam a highway-construction fund years ago, and how he was saved from prison by a late-night deal of the kind not unheard of here. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, catching the pervasive stink all the way from St. Louis, subsequently removed Judge Woods from presiding over the Whitewater case. Ma Clinton has never forgiven Jim Johnson, whom she accuses of "earning" the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan in a long-ago successful race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Judge Johnson, a very savvy pol with a distinguished career on the court, wanted the endorsement in the way that Ma Clinton wants the endorsement of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in return for her thinking well of the Palestinian intifada.

It's not McCarthyism if a liberal smears a conservative with guilt-by-unwanted association, as we all know. That's just the way the Clintons are. The girl can't help it.

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

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