Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Wed Jun 15, 2016 2:27 am

Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America
by Roger Morris
© 1996 by Roger Morris

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Image

Image
After resigning from Nixon's National Security Council in protest over the Vietnam War, ROGER MORRIS left the White House for a distinguished career as a historian and investigative journalist. Fellow scholar Geoffrey Ward calls him "that rare and precious thing in public life, a former government official who actually gave up his job on a matter of principle." Among Morris's recent honors are a Guggenheim fellowship and the coveted Bronze Medal for the finest investigative journalism in all media nationwide. He holds a doctorate in government from Harvard University, served as a foreign service officer, and acted as senior aide to Dean Acheson, President Lyndon Johnson, and Senator Walter Mondale. Roger Morris is the author of Richard Milhouse Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and acclaimed by the critics as:

"The most detailed and authoritative reconstruction of Nixon's career we have ever had." -- Robert Dallek, Los Angeles Times Book Review (front page)

"Massive ... powerful ... absorbing. It will no longer be possible to damn or defend Mr. Nixon without reference to this great locomotive of a work." -- Kevin Starr, The New York Times Book Review

"STUNNING ... The most revealing portrait of the man anyone has yet written ... A masterpiece of reconstruction." -- Alan Brinkley, The New Republic

Image
In the finest tradition of investigative journalism, Roger Morris goes far behind the public facade to expose the inner politics, personal passions, and gathering moral compromise that marked the rise of Bill and Hillary Clinton. After three years of painstaking research and hundreds of interviews, the author, a prize-winning historian, reveals in riveting detail the untold secrets of one of the most ambitious partnerships in modern politics.

Starting with the roadhouses and mob-ruled politics of the old South, Partners in Power draws the reader into the dramatic, seamy, largely hidden world that gave rise to -- and explains -- the Clinton presidency. Morris weaves together three essential themes: the parallel lives and tortured relationship of the Clintons personally; the essence of the bipartisan misrule that is Washington, D.C. (how the collusive culture of our national government defeats change); and, most telling, the behind-the-scenes story of the making of a president in a world where corrupting money and favors flow freely and the tyranny of wealthy interests and their captive politicians mock democracy.

Beyond myriad scandals -- whether shady bond, banking, and commodity "deals"; the Whitewater imbroglio; abuses of power in covering up sexual infidelities; document "shredding parties"; the Vince Foster tragedy; or a multibillion-dollar Arkansas gunrunning and drug-smuggling ring implicating the Colombian cartel, the CIA, organized crime, and two Republican presidents as well as a Democratic governor and future president -- Morris's evocation of a climb to power is the most candid, revealing, and courageous portrait ever drawn of a sitting president. In its magisterial analysis of a political system gone lethally wrong, Partners in Power offers a brilliant perspective on a government and ultimately a people. As a dual biography of a first couple, it is without precedent in political literature.

Front jacket photo: © Mark Reinstein, 1993/FPG International
Author photo: Nancy A. Cook

In memory of Ida Cox Transue 1888-1962
and for Coleman Hammer-Tomizuka

Table of Contents

• Prologue: 'Times When Hope Is Palpable"
• BOOK I
• 1. Sikeston: "Riding on, a Smile"
• 2. Hope: "Bright Little Orphan"
• 3. Hot Springs: "The Power to Save"
• 4. Georgetown: "They'll Know What I'm Doing Here"
• 5. Oxford: "Every String He Could Think Of"
• 6. Park Ridge: "She Had to Put Up with Him"
• 7. Wellesley: "Tomorrow, When YouAre the Establishment"
• 8. Yale I: "She Saw Right Past the Charm"
• 9. Yale II: "She Never Drew Her Identity from Him"
• 10. Fayetteville: "An Aura of Inevitability"
• BOOK II
• 11. Regnat Populus: "The People Rule"
• 12. Little Rock I: ''A Guy Who Supposedly Has an IQ of a Zillion"
• 13. Washington I: "A Slow-Motion Coup d'Etat"
• 14. Little Rock II: "You'll See They Love You Again"
• 15. Washington II: ''A Little Too Much Like What It Really Is"
• 16. Little Rock III: "Best of the New Generation"
• 17. Washington III: ''A Culture of Complicity"
• 18. Little Rock IV: ''A Feller Could Live Off the Land"
• 19. Little Rock and Mena: "A World Nearly Devoid of Rules"
• 20. Little Rock to Washington: 'We Saw in Them What We Wanted to Believe"
• Afterword
• Acknowledgments
• Sources and Notes
• Select Bibliography
• Index

Early in 1984, a twenty-nine-year-old Arkansas trooper named Larry Douglass Brown was eagerly applying for work with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Brown was no ordinary state policeman or routine CIA applicant. Known at the mansion and the capitol -- and by CIA recruiters -- as Bill Clinton's "fair-haired boy," he was the governor's conspicuous favorite among the troopers assigned as his personal bodyguards. Ten years Brown's senior, Clinton treated the avid but less polished young man from Pine Bluff with an avuncular, patronizing warmth, urging on him books from his own collection and engaging in more substantive conversation than the small talk and ingratiating vulgarity he usually reserved for his state police escorts. Yet L.D., as his friends and colleagues knew him, was far more than a protege. His wife-to-be was Chelsea Clinton's nanny, his future mother-in-law the mansion's administrator. Guard and driver for many of the governor's trips out of state as well as around Arkansas, he was one of several troopers and other aides serving as procurer or cover in Clinton's ceaseless quest for extramarital sex -- and claiming what he called "residuals" among the women the governor wasn't interested in. He was also among those who saw evidence firsthand of the far more serious and sustained affair, dating from the mid-1980s, between Hillary Clinton and Rose partner Vince Foster.

As he told his story with impressive substantiation from other accounts a decade afterward, Brown had been privy to some of the Clintons' most personal liaisons, their biting relationship with each other, their behind-the-door bigotry toward "redneck" Arkansas, and other intimacies; he and a stoic Hillary had even talked earnestly about problems in their respective marriages. At one point in the early 1980s, Brown had come in contact with Vice President Bush during an official gathering. The "rather conservative" young officer, as one friend described him, had been impressed by Bush. Afterward Clinton had twitted him about his Republican "hero," though the two remained close. Regarded as among the better state police officers, Brown received some of the most sophisticated training that national law enforcement agencies offer regional police officers, including advanced courses provided by the DEA and Customs in intelligence gathering, drug importation, and conspiracy cases. Because of Brown's extensive training, Clinton handpicked him to serve on a state committee studying the drug epidemic to help develop educational programs in Arkansas, and Brown wrote several of the panel's position papers later cited as evidence of the state government's fight against narcotics.

Brown and the Clintons eventually had a falling-out when the governor reneged on a state job offer in 1985 and later on his half of a political bargain to raise the pay of the state police, whose association Brown headed. Brown gradually went from favorite to outcast, menaced with a prejudicial "investigation" of his work and smeared as a liar and incompetent by aides who not long before had been jealous of how much Clinton trusted and respected him. Yet the deeper break had begun in the autumn of 1984, when Brown had witnessed matters far more serious than the Clintons' personal excesses.

By Brown's repeated accounts, including hundreds of pages of testimony under oath and supporting documentation, the sum of the story was stark: The governor had clearly been aware of the crimes of Mena as early as 1984. He knew the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible, knew that there was major arms and drug running out of western Arkansas, believed the smuggling involved not only Barry Seal but also a cocaine dealer who was one of Clinton's most prominent backers, and seemed to know that approval of the Mena flights reached as high as Vice President Bush. Brown remembered how Bill Clinton had encouraged him to join in the operation -- "Clinton got me into this, the governor did," he would testify -- and how Clinton had then dismissed his repugnance at the evidence that Seal was trafficking cocaine under CIA auspices. The state policeman watched in "despair," his brother recalled, while the governor did nothing about the drug smuggling. Brown would still think a decade later that Bill Clinton "was surprised only in that I had found out about it."

Clinton had urged him to answer a newspaper ad for CIA employment that ran in the New York Times on April Fool's Day, 1984. "L.D., I've always told you you'd make a good spy," Clinton remarked to him when Brown showed him the paper and asked "if this is for real?" "Well, you know that's not his name," Clinton said of a personnel officer listed in the ad, "but you need to write him a letter." Brown did just that two days later. "Governor Clinton has been an inspiration for me to further my career in government service," he wrote, "and in particular to explore the possibilities of employment with your agency."

Clinton proceeded to show an avid interest in Brown's application. He urged Brown to study Russian for an intelligence career, and Brown characteristically took the advice to heart, practicing the foreign script in a copybook and artlessly, proudly informing the CIA of his "understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet." He and Clinton talked, too, of the role of an operations officer, with Clinton explaining the CIA's diplomatic cover abroad and the recruitment of informers. "It was strange, you know. He was into the fiction aspect of it and intrigue," Brown remembered.

At one point Clinton told him he would personally call the CIA on his behalf. "He, obviously, from all our conversations, knew somebody," Brown recounted in a sworn deposition. "I don't know who he called, but he said he would. He said he did. I made a note one day that he made a phone call for me." But in a private conversation Brown would go even further with the story of the call. Clinton, he said, had not bothered to go through any officeholder's liaison or other formal CIA channel in Washington but had simply telephoned someone directly at the agency, someone whom he knew on a first-name basis and with whom he talked for some time. As usual, Brown was impressed with his boss's knowledge and contacts. Early in the process the governor had begun to greet him whenever they met with a grinning question they both understood to refer to Brown's relationship with the CIA. "You having any fun yet?" Clinton would ask.

As part of his CIA application Brown was to submit a writing sample, and together he and Clinton chose as a topic the current foreign policy controversy over the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. "We decided that I would write a paper on Marxism in Central America. Governor Clinton and I." Typing in the troopers' guardhouse at the mansion because he had no typewriter at home, Brown wrote what he thought "a pretty decent essay," which he gave to Clinton to read. Some eight hundred words, it was a rough, largely unpunctuated, and simplistic rendition of the Reagan administration's own views, warning of the "growing threat of spreading Marxism south of this country's borders." Clinton made some word changes and suggested what he should "expound on," but the final essay remained, with Clinton's approval, very much "about defeating Marxism in Central America and aiding the Contras in the United States and the domino theory and all that," as Brown testified later.

At odds with more informed views of his own party in Congress and even in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, Clinton's response to Brown's essay is one of the few surviving marks of his opinions on the subject. To the extent that he agreed with what he left unaltered, it was obviously a reactionary, rightist approach to the raging controversy over Central America, accepting the myth that the leftist but fiercely independent Sandinistas were tools of Soviet expansion in the Western Hemisphere, implicitly viewing social revolution in the Americas as a sinister threat to US security. Whether conviction or calculation, the tone seemed well suited for CIA recruiters. Brown himself was never sure his essay reflected the governor's thinking, whatever Clinton's urgings to "expound." They had played the bureaucratic game. "To be quite frank, I think we both thought it was something they wanted to hear more or less," Brown testified in 1995.

By the end of the summer of 1984 -- four months after taking and passing a CIA entrance examination -- Brown had met with a CIA recruiter in Dallas, someone named Magruder, an "Ivy League-looking guy" who spoke "admiringly of Clinton," and whom Brown would later recognize in photographs and identify to congressional investigators in 1996 as a onetime member of Vice President Bush's staff. This was the man who asked him if he would be interested in "paramilitary" or "narcotics" work as well as "security." Brown said he wanted to be considered for such assignments and, in the course of the interview, duly signed a secrecy agreement. Somebody, he was told, would be giving him a call.

On September 5 he received formal notification of his nomination for employment. Scarcely a month later the expected CIA call came to his unlisted number at home. As Brown testified, the caller "talked to me about everything I had been through in the meeting in Dallas, . . . made me very aware that he knew everything there was to know." He asked Brown to meet him at Cajun's Wharf in Little Rock, a popular restaurant and bar off Cantrell Road in the Arkansas River bottoms just below the white heights. His name, he said, was Barry Seal.

At their meeting, the corpulent Seal was memorable for the athletic young state trooper. "Big guy. He had on one of those shirts that comes down ... outside your pants, big-guy kind of thing." Seal was cryptic but again seemed clearly to know details Brown had provided on his CIA application. "He knew about the essay and everything I had done, so absolutely there was no question in my mind," Brown testified. Seal also spoke vaguely about working for the CIA: "He'd been flying for the agency, that's all I knew." In conversations over the next few weeks, Seal referred casually to Clinton as "the guv" and "acted like he knew the governor," Brown recalled. He invited Brown to join him in an "operation" planned to begin at Mena's Intermountain Regional before sunrise on Tuesday, October 23, 1984.

Impressed with the gravity of it all, Brown told no one about the talk with Seal, except the governor, who seemed "excited" as usual at Brown's progress with the agency. Seal was nothing like the CIA Ivy Leaguer he had met in Dallas, Brown told Clinton. "El Gordo" Barry Seal "was kind of devil-may-care." Again Clinton seemed knowing, encouragingly nonchalant. "Don't sweat it, you can handle it," he told his bodyguard. "You'll have fun."

Arranging his shifts at the mansion to make time for the flight, Brown met Seal at the Mena airport in the predawn darkness and was surprised to find them boarding not a small private craft but a "huge military plane" painted a dark charcoal with only minimum tail markings, its engines roaring with a "thunderous noise," he remembered. "Scared the shit out of me just taking off."

Seal ordered him matter-of-factly to leave behind all personal identification, including his billfold, keys, and jewelry. Along with Seal at the controls sat a copilot whose name Brown never learned, and in the back of the aircraft sat two men, "beaners" or "kickers" the trooper called them. Though he did not know it, Brown was aboard the Fat Lady, and his later account marked the flight as one of Mena's routine gun-and-drug runs.

After a refueling stop in New Orleans and the flight to Central America, the C-123K dived below radar, then climbed and dipped again for the "kickers" to roll out on casters large tarp-covered palettes, which were swiftly parachuted over what Brown could see out the open cargo door was a tropical, mountainous terrain. Later Seal told Brown the loads were M-16s for the Contras. On the return they landed in Honduras, where Seal and the "kickers" picked up four dark green canvas duffel bags with shoulder straps, which Brown did not see again.

Back at Mena Seal handed Brown a manila envelope with $2,500 in small bills, presumably as payment for his time -- "used money just like you went out and spent," Brown recalled -- and said he would call him again about another "operation." As the ambitious young trooper testified later, he was diffident about this apparent audition with his CIA employers, reluctant to ask questions, even about the cash. "This guy [Seal] obviously knew what he was doing and had the blessing and was working for the agency and knew everything about me, so I wasn't going to be too inquisitive."

At the mansion on Brown's next shift following the run to Central America, Clinton greeted him with the usual "You having any fun yet?" though now with a pat on the back. With a "big smile" Brown answered, "Yeah, but this is scary stuff," describing "a big airplane" which he thought "kind of crazy." But Bill Clinton seemed unsurprised and unquestioning, casual as always about what Brown told him about the CIA, Seal, and Mena. "Oh, you can handle it," he said again. "Don't sweat it."

Brown was startled at the governor's obvious prior knowledge of the flight. "He knew before I said anything. He knew," Brown testified. Asked later under oath if he believed the Seal flight had been sanctioned by the governor, Brown would be unequivocal. "Well, he knew what I was doing. He was the one that furthered me along and shepherded me through this thing." Did he have any doubt that Clinton approved of the flight from Mena to Central America? "No," he testified. Did he believe the Seal run "a sanctioned and approved mission on behalf of the United States?" "Absolutely. I mean, there is no doubt."

Not long afterward, in the later fall of 1984, Seal called the trooper as promised, again inquiring about Clinton: "He always asked me first thing, how is the guv?" They talked about the first flight and Seal, ruminating on his service for the CIA, confirmed that they had dropped a load of contraband M-16s for the Contras. "That's all he talked about was flying and [the] CIA and how much work he had done for them, and that's all he did. That's all we would talk about," Brown recalled. They met again, this time at a Chinese restaurant near the Capitol, and arranged for Brown to go on another trip in late December.

On Christmas Eve, 1984, once more with the governor's encouragement, Brown again flew with Seal to Central America on what he still understood to be some kind of orientation mission for his CIA employment. Seal picked up two duffel bags on the return through Honduras, and just as before, back at Mena he offered Brown $2,500 in small bills. Yet this time Seal also brought one of the duffels to Brown's Datsun hatchback in the Intermountain Regional parking lot and proceeded to take out of it what the former narcotics investigator instantly recognized as a kilo of cocaine, a "waxene-wrapped package," as he called it, "a brick."

Alarmed and incensed, Brown quickly told Seal he "wanted no part of what was happening" and left, speeding back to Little Rock in mounting agitation, not least over the role of the state's chief executive. ''I'm just going nuts in my mind with all the possibilities," he would say. ''I'm thinking, well, this is, this is an official operation. Clinton got me into this, the governor did. It can't be as sinister as I think it is.... He knew about the airplane flights. He knew about it and initiated the conversation about it the first time I came back."

Returning to the guardhouse, Brown first called his "best friend," his brother Dwayne in Pine Bluff, who remembered his being "terribly upset" and later went to the mansion to see him when the Clintons were away. According to the two men, Brown told his brother part of what he had encountered, though without mentioning the CIA involvement. "Who's pushing this. Who is behind it?" his brother asked at one point. In reply, as each recalled clearly, Brown "nodded over towards the governor's mansion."

Brown decided to approach Clinton directly about what he had seen. When they were together soon after the second flight, a smiling Clinton seemed about to ask the usual question. But Brown was angry. He asked Clinton if he knew Barry Seal was smuggling narcotics. "Do you know what they're bringing back on that airplane?" he said to Clinton in fury. "Wait, whoa, whoa, what's going on?" the governor responded, and Brown answered, "Well, essentially they're bringing back coke." More than a decade later, Brown would testify to his dismay at Clinton's response: "And it wasn't like it was a surprise to him. It wasn't like -- he didn't try to say, what? ... He was surprised that I was mad because he thought we were going to have a cordial conversation, but he didn't try to deny it. He didn't try to deny that it wasn't coming back, that I wasn't telling the truth or that he didn't know anything about it."

In waving off Brown's questions about Mena, Clinton had made another remark as well, added as what seemed both justification and warning. "And your hero Bush knows about it," he told Brown. "And your buddy Bush knows about it."

Brown was chilled. ''I'm not going to have anything else to do with it ... I'm out of it," he told Clinton. "Stick a fork in me, I'm done," he added, an adolescent phrase from their shared Arkansas boyhood. The governor had tried to calm him: "Settle down. That's no problem." But Brown turned away, hurried to his car, and drove off, leaving behind his once-promising career. "I got out of there, and from then it was, you know, not good."

The trooper immediately called the CIA to withdraw his application, albeit discreetly. 'Just changed my mind," he recalled telling them. But he saw no recourse, no appeal to some higher level of government in a crime in which both the governor of the state and Washington were knowledgeable and thus complicit. "I mean if the governor knows about it ... and I work for the governor," he remembered thinking, "exactly who would I have gone to and told? I mean, the federal government knows that this guy is doing this ... I don't know what authority I would have gone to." More than a year later, as they were having drinks in Jonesboro, Brown would tell the commandant of the state police, Colonel Tommy Goodwin, but even then he acted out of a desire to confess his unwitting involvement rather than out of any expectation that Arkansas would move on the crimes. All the while, he was bothered by the role of his onetime hero at the mansion. "Number one," he would testify later of Bill Clinton, "he didn't deny it. I wanted him to tell me, oh, good gosh, that's terrible. We've got to report this. And I wanted him to deny knowing anything about it or to explain it away to me . . . they've got a big sting planned, and they're trying, you know, to make a case on such and such, but no. It was no surprise to him. He was surprised, I think -- this is what I think -- that Seal showed it to me. That's what I think to this day."

At the time, the bodyguard had been inconsolable. From the moment of the second flight on Christmas Eve, 1984, until L.D. left the governor's security detail in June 1985, his brother thought him at "a high level of despair." What the eager and patriotic young trooper had discovered about government, Dwayne Brown worried, had left him almost suicidal.

But perhaps what had most disturbed L. D. Brown was a direct reference by Clinton to a member of the governor's own inner circle. Clinton "throws up his hands" when Brown mentions the cocaine, as if a crucial, somehow rationalizing distinction should be made between the gunrunning and the drug trafficking.

"Oh, no," Clinton said, denying that the cocaine was related to the CIA Brown was hoping to join. "That's Lasater's deal."

***

Danny Ray Lasater would signify their most telling relationship of all -- the man Bill Clinton mentioned on impulse when he assured his security guard, "That's Lasater's deal."

Three years older than Clinton, Lasater was born in remote White County, Arkansas, not far from Jim McDougal's hometown and only miles from Whitewater. As a boy he had moved to Kokomo, Indiana, and after high school worked as assistant manager and manager of a local McDonald's. He was not yet twenty, he later told the FBI, when he became partners with his father-in-law, a former sheriff, and with a Kokomo car dealer in a fast-food restaurant. In a meteoric rise that others would later find remarkable, he and his partners would open their own chain of Ponderosa steakhouses, branching out into various states with a succession of investors. With someone else's ample capital, he would at twenty-three become part owner of a chain, and at twenty-nine a multimillionaire. Neither Lasater nor Ponderosa was ever charged with wrongdoing. But his quick fortune -- made in a largely cash industry that federal and state law enforcement saw increasingly exploited by organized crime and characterized by what one US attorney called the "skim and scam" of the cash profits by managers -- attracted the attention of investigators in several states.

Early in the 1970s Lasater took his company public, sold his shares, and invested his millions in thoroughbreds -- another industry rife with allegations of penetration by organized crime, drug-money laundering, and other corruption. With farms in Kentucky and Florida, Lasater would attract the top breeders, and his horses would be among the leading money winners. Along the way he developed a close relationship with Kentucky's Democratic governor, John Y. Brown, and other related figures, including Brown's old friend and partner Jimmy Lambert, whose links to the mob and conviction on drug charges in the mid-1980s would shake Kentucky and help shatter Brown's own presidential plans. The Lambert ties placed Lasater himself under investigation by the Kentucky State Police for his own relationship to organized crime. It was also "Jimmy," as Lasater told the FBI after Lambert's indictment, who gave him his "first" cocaine around 1978 at Lambert's Cincinnati and Lexington nightclubs. But by then Dan Lasater had moved back to Arkansas, first trying a new restaurant, then a more profitable Little Rock bond brokerage -- and, not least, acquiring a close relationship with another ambitious governor.

In Little Rock he became part of the drug scene, sniffing cocaine with the Clintons' friend Barrett Hamilton, Jr., and others in the white heights and holding raucous parties at his impressive home or his Quapaw Towers apartment, which happened to be ten floors above that of a local television reporter named Gennifer Flowers. In partnership with a state legislator, Lasater's "bond daddy" brokerage made a million dollars in profits by 1982 but was already infamous in local investment circles for its flow of cocaine as well as its shady financial practices. Lasater himself commonly snorted the drug at the office. "Cocaine was so pervasive in the investment banking community," a Lasater broker was reported to have confessed to a local judge, "that he feared it would be hard to stay away from the drug if he remained."

Like Red Bone's commodity brokerage in Springdale, Lasater's company received professional censure after censure -- in 1982 from the National Association of Securities Dealers for excessive markups and unlicensed sales, in 1983 for buying and selling bonds for a savings and loan without authority of the thrift's board, in 1984 for making more unauthorized trades, and over a period of time for violating multiple securities rules and regulations. The state securities commissioner under Frank White's governorship sanctioned the firm for "cheating customers" in 1982.

By 1983 Lasater had personally given thousands and had held fundraisers producing tens of thousands more for Clinton's gubernatorial campaigns, most crucially the 1982 comeback. As those most familiar with the governor's routine well knew, however, Danny Ray Lasater was never merely another big donor to be paid special deference but rather an extraordinary intimate whom Clinton visited regularly at his brokerage and who came to the mansion whenever he pleased, entering by the back gate and walking through the kitchen.

Entering through the domain of the mansion's commanding black cook, Elizabeth Ashley, was a privilege reserved only for family and the most senior staff. In the mid-1980s Lasater enjoyed it as no one else outside that circle. It was no wonder, as Clinton's closest aides knew, that the governor had turned to Lasater to give Roger Clinton a job or that the millionaire had loaned the governor's addicted half brother money to pay off a drug debt during Roger's 1983-84 crisis.

Lasater was given to "drop-ins," as trooper bodyguard Barry Spivey put it, "just kind of off-the-cuff. Day and night, weekends, all day, he just came when he wanted to." Spivey, who served at the mansion from 1979 to 1984, remembered that throughout his tour, "Dan never was shown in through the front door." Another trooper recalled that, "there is [sic] not many people that just drive through the back gate and their driver pulls them up and they go in the back door. . . . He was a fixture." Among the many ironies of the troopers' waving him through the back gate was that Lasater's chauffeur was not simply a "driver" but a convicted murderer who carried a gun and was widely known to deal drugs on the side.

The governor and the bond dealer saw each other frequently, and with the same familiarity, at Lasater's brokerage, where Clinton would stop for unscheduled visits, telling his state trooper escort to take him to Lasater's office if they happened to be in the vicinity. "A lot of times he would just be in the area and he would say run by Dan's or run by Lassiter's [sic] for a minute," Spivey testified. "We very seldom were in the area when he had any time on his hands that he didn't run in." Clinton's state police drivers would circle the block or simply sit and let the limousine idle while the governor and Lasater "would be upstairs and behind closed doors or something," as one remembered.

When Bill Clinton told L.D. Brown that the Seal cocaine smuggling was "Lasater's deal," he was not talking about someone he met from time to time or knew only in a limited context, but rather about the most intimate of friends and associates.

Beyond frequent private meetings at the mansion and Lasater and Company, there were extensive social contacts as well. Other troopers remembered accompanying Clinton to Lasater's large homes or his downtown apartment, to his private box at Hot Springs's Oaklawn track, where Lasater courted the governor's mother as well, or aboard his Lear jet. Some escorts, like Brown, were concerned about the cocaine spread so lavishly at Lasater's parties, extraordinary even amid what Brown called Little Rock's "real robust party atmosphere." At Lasater's apartment, one witness told the FBI in a handwritten statement, cocaine was given to high school girls in a special "graduation party," and on another occasion Lasater threw a party for a woman friend and impressed everyone with his extravagance by writing "Happy Birthday" in cocaine on the glass coffee table. At one typical gathering Brown tried to usher the governor out to avoid a scandal, though it was clear that Clinton knew about the rampant drugs. "There was a silver platter of what I thought was cocaine and I got the governor out of there. I said we need to go. Let's get out of here," the state trooper remembered. "He had to have seen it. There were a lot of people there, a lot of girls there. He had to have seen it. I mean, it was obvious. . . . He said something to Lasater and I got him out of there."

The millionaire would lend his plane to Clinton for campaign trips and, in 1985, for flying celebrities to a charity function organized by Hillary. In May 1983, less than five months after Clinton's triumphal return to the statehouse, trooper Barry Spivey would accompany Lasater and the Clintons on a flight to attend the Kentucky Derby, where they met the host governor, John Y. Brown, who was a friend of Clinton as well as Lasater but whose longtime positioning for the presidency was already beginning to be clouded by questionable associations. With Roger Clinton "running bets for Dan and Bill," as Spivey recalled, all of them made money on the winner, Sunny's Halo. But behind the gathering of smiling political notables was another reality as well.

Law enforcement agents would remember that 1983 Derby as one of the most heavily surveilled sporting events in history. State and federal plainclothes agents rubbed elbows with the celebrities and the crowd at Churchill Downs as part of a still incipient but widening probe of organized crime, money laundering, and other corruption in Kentucky and surrounding states. Lasater was among those being watched, though the FBI and other agents would not learn until later that Lasater had given a paper bag containing $300,000 in cash to Governor Brown by way of Jimmy Lambert. The Kentucky governor had asked Lasater for a million dollars, a Lasater partner told the FBI, but the broker had decided to give "only" $300,000. "I just took care of John Y's money problems," an associate recalled Lasater's telling him afterward....

Lasater enjoyed an impressive and ever-growing share of state business. Listed to underwrite state housing bonds in 1983, soon after Clinton was sworn in and only a year after the brokerage was formally established, Lasater and Company began to rake in management fees and still more in sales commissions. Despite being "the new boy," as a US attorney called him, Lasater suddenly ranked fifth in the established and competitive field of state housing bond underwriters, ahead of major concerns and longtime Clinton supporters such as Goldman, Sachs and Merrill Lynch. When, at Clinton's initiative, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority took over most of the lucrative state bond offerings in 1985 -- under legislation drafted in part by Webb Hubbell and with the governor and his political appointees to the ADFA board personally approving each issue -- Lasater and Company would continue to be a major beneficiary of the ubiquitous fees and commissions spread among Little Rock investment and law firms. In the brief period prior to the fall of 1986, ADFA would award it fourteen issues worth more than $600 million, and brokerage fees to Dan Lasater of $1.6 million.

At the same time, almost every Lasater public appearance in the mid-1980s would have its dark shadow. In Little Rock society the broker was a showy philanthropist for children's causes, but in private he was a relentless purveyor of cocaine.

In 1984 he purchased the fashionable Angel Fire ski resort in northern New Mexico for nearly $20 million and was given free rein to use Bill Clinton's name commercially to help promote the isolated development in the mountains east of Taos. Undercover law enforcement agents later found the resort a center for drug running, what a US Customs investigative report called "a large controlled-substance smuggling operation and large-scale money-laundering activity." While Lasater held "Arkansas Week" at the resort with Governor Clinton's endorsement and entertained politicians from Santa Fe as well as Little Rock, local New Mexico sheriffs and district attorneys were hearing reports from Angel Fire reminiscent of Mena -- strange nighttime traffic, sightings of parachute drops, even hikers' accounts of a "big black military-type cargo plane" seeming to come out of nowhere and swooping low and almost silently over a deserted mountain meadow near the remote ski area.

Over the same period, witnesses told investigators, Lasater was bragging about fixing horse races, "putting one in the boot," as he described it to an employee. He was also said to pay frequent visits to Las Vegas, where he allegedly laundered cash in the time-honored manner of the old mob-dominated casinos, losing money, according to an associate, and then winning it back, plus some.

-- Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America, by Roger Morris
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Wed Jun 15, 2016 2:34 am

... the man who believes in nothing, and therefore has space for everything, has a terrible advantage over us. What passes as a kindly tolerance in him is in reality a craven acceptance of the world's worst crimes. He's an immobilist, an apathist, and a militant passivist. . . And of course he's a dear sweet man.

-- John le Carre


Prologue: "Times When Hope Is Palpable"

They wait patiently, quietly. In the gentle valleys of central Virginia, where the small frame houses hug the highway, some people stand on their porches, still in bathrobes, their coffee cups steaming in the chill morning air. Others press closer to the road. They hold little American flags and lift small children to their shoulders for a better view.

This is opposition country. Some towns and counties have voted overwhelmingly to reelect the Republican president, George Bush. Like the rest of the nation, the region has given nearly twenty percent of its votes to eccentric independent candidate Ross Perot. Everywhere there are hand-lettered signs scrawled on cardboard and even bedsheets -- pleas, warnings, benedictions: "Keep Your Promises," "Small Business & Agriculture Need Help," "AIDS Won't Wait," "Don't Forget Bosnia," "We Are Counting On You." Over Culpeper a small airplane trails a kind of ultimatum against the pale winter sky: "CUT SPENDING NOW OR ROSS WILL IN '97." A woman along Route 29 near Warrenton holds up a message of two words: "Grace, Compassion."

For the moment, votes and old allegiances seem not to matter. As the fifteen-bus caravan speeds by, the people on the porches and along the roadside cheer and wave, and many are weeping. "We need to give the man a chance," a schoolteacher from Madison County tells a reporter. "He's going to be a president for all the people," one longtime Republican says to a stranger, as if in a kind of reassurance.

Governor William Jefferson Clinton of Arkansas is on his way to Washington to become the forty-second president of the United States. His own bus bears the license plate HOPE I, after the small town where he was born in southwestern Arkansas. A reportedly prodigal young governor, what he calls a New Democrat from the New South, he is the first of his party to win the White House in a dozen years and, at forty-six, the third-youngest chief executive in American history. He is not alone, just as he has never been alone in an unswerving twenty-year political career since law school. At his side is the woman who has been there from the beginning, eighteen years as his wife. A year younger than the new president, Hillary Rodham Clinton brings her own vivid history to this moment. If the new president carries hope, so does she, the symbol of a matured liberation and equality of women. For now at least, on the eve of her husband's inauguration, she promises to become the most powerful and significant First Lady in American history.

In a theatrically choreographed entry into Washington on a January day described as "drenched in symbolism," the president-elect and his wife are retracing in 1993 the path taken to the capital in 1801 by the first Democratic president, Thomas Jefferson. Inside Clinton's bus, the secure communications of the modern presidency are already in place, the special electronic phones that allow him to be briefed in secret on developments a world away in Somalia or Bosnia. But outside, the procession is to evoke history, tradition, legitimacy. The drive has begun at Jefferson's picturesque eighteenth-century plantation at Monticello. On narrow old back-country highways, the buses wind north for 120 miles across the rolling countryside of the Old Dominion and down the corridors of Civil War drama, through Brandy Station, where the greatest cavalry clash in North America took place on the eve of Gettysburg, past Manassas, with the blood-soaked battlefields of Bull Run.

Yet nothing is more impressive than the simple, uncontrived eloquence of the people at the roadside. When the buses have passed, the crowds in the little valleys drift away only slowly and reluctantly. In the wake of the motorcade, there is an expectant quiet once again, as if they are still waiting.

• • •

The Clintons arrive later that afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington for a televised pageant, replete with symphonic fanfare, a flyover of military jets, candlelit processions, and celebrity performances. The president-elect listens in rapt admiration as rock stars sing "We Are the World," and in tribute to his own musical instrument and his favorite performer, ten famous saxophonists render Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel." It is the first of four days of carefully scripted, Hollywood-produced ceremonies, climaxing in the inauguration itself. At one point, at a Capital Center extravaganza, Bill Clinton will weep at the tributes paid him by movie stars and vocalists and will be unable to resist mouthing the lyrics while singer Barbra Streisand performs a sentimental hit. "The television cameras drifted away from Streisand, as Clinton knew they must," wrote Harper's editor Lewis Lapham, "and discovered the tear-stained face of the new president devouring the words as if they were made of chocolate."

Beyond the elaborate staging, away from the scaffolding and cameras and microphones, there is the same spontaneous sense felt along the Virginia roadsides. On a mild Sunday afternoon a great throng has gathered around the memorial's reflecting pool, churning the wintry mud of the parkway, surging forward here and there to be nearer the show. For all its vastness and variety, the crowd is good-natured, strikingly polite. "Thousands of black faces, yellow faces, white faces" is the way one observer describes the scene. "No pushing, no shoving."

"Cynics don't buy this," records a diarist who has been attending inaugurals for sixty years, "but there are times when hope is palpable."

In Washington proper, there are more professed Democrats in the crowd. There seems more sheer relish for the victory of faction and party. After twelve years of Republican presidents and the visible prominence of their wealthy backers, many ordinary citizens have a new feeling of inclusion and power. "In the past, you had to be a fat cat to get to the inauguration," says one Clinton supporter, a young worker with two small children. "And now we're the fat cats."

Of the Democrats' own genuine "fat cats" there will no doubt. "The air in the nation's capital these days is rich with the smell of curried favors," writes a correspondent. More than two hundred large corporations and several prominent individual contributors have provided nearly $20 million in interest-free loans for the Hollywood-produced galas. Others with similar stakes in government policy have paid an added $2.5 million to underwrite public events.

Just as during the inaugurals of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, private and corporate jets are parked wing to wing on the tarmac at National Airport, chauffeured luxury cars jam the fashionable narrow brick streets of Georgetown, and many celebrants of the new administration are laden with diamonds and sable. "Democrats look just like Republicans," observes a society reporter. "The two parties are now stylistically inseparable."

Even the Democrats' relative racial diversity seems bounded by class. "The explosion of black yuppies around the Clinton-Gore galas is truly a sight to behold, with lots of fur and limousines," writes black columnist Courtland Milloy, who is repelled by the display of ostentation in the offspring of a community still wracked by poverty and prejudice. "A sense of entitlement to privilege was not a Bush thing. It was a white thing," he adds. "For black people to think that real power will be relinquished just because a Democrat is in the White House is foolish."

The night after the Clinton buses arrive, there are four exclusive dinners, at $1,500 a ticket, for what the Washington Post calls the "new Washington royalty." Many of the invited guests have given or raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, for Clinton -- and some have done the same for both the Democratic and Republican candidates. "These people worked very hard to elect Bill Clinton. We're all here to pat each other on the back," one Democratic politician explains. "These people -- the big law firms, the associations, the big corporation lobbyists -- are the permanent ruling class here," says Charles Lewis, director of a small Washington organization called the Center for Public Integrity. "And they are guys who always back both horses .... This week they'll kick in some more, because they realize that putting up $100,000 or so is chump change in relation to what they'll get back."

Though journalists are barred from such gatherings, cordoned off in hotel lobbies or across the street, a witness repeats what the president-elect has said to at least one gathering of his wealthy contributors. "You're my friends," Clinton assures them, "and I won't forget you." As he makes his rounds of the parties, outside each is a handful of picketers, other Democrats from a group known as the Pioneer Valley Pro-Democracy Campaign, residents of the Berkshire Mountains of New England. "The face in the White House is changing," says their spokesman, "but the people who pull the strings behind the scenes are still the same."

The Clinton campaign itself has been dominated by those who represent and serve the governing interests outright, by the old capital harlotry. Among many others, campaign director Mickey Kantor and Democratic Party chairman Ron Brown, both appointed to the new cabinet, have made careers and small fortunes as part of the legion of lobbyists epitomized by the influential law firms and powerful pressure groups arrayed along Washington's K Street. Scores more like them will make up the new administration.

So natural a part of the transfer from politics to government, the caste privileges of the ruling interests now rankle even political consultants like James Carville, a plainspoken political strategist from Louisiana whose advice has been crucial in Clinton's long struggle for nomination and election. Though his own fees are always paid by the same interests, he is reminded abruptly where power lies in Washington. The night before the inauguration Carville is furious when he is refused fifty musical-event tickets for his young campaign workers. "They claim they're for kids," he tells a reporter, "and when I ask for tickets, they say, 'Oh, well, you can have six.' Right. They have to give them to the K Street puke fund."

In part at Carville's guidance, Clinton has won his highest margins among voters under thirty -- an age group that once supported Reagan and Bush -- as well as from more traditional Democrats over sixty-five. Yet the president-elect's own generation, more than seventy million voters in their thirties and forties, have given strong support to Ross Perot and have divided almost evenly between Clinton and Bush. In the end, the winner has taken only 43 percent of the national vote. In the three-way race, with Perot's 19 percent also against Bush, it has been enough. Bill Clinton is a minority president. But change has won in a 62 percent landslide.

On the eve of his inauguration, polls show the remarkable public faith and hope running through the crowds in and around Washington. A large majority of Americans expect Clinton to make "substantial progress" in dealing with grave problems of the economy, health care, race relations, the environment, and education and, most of all, in making government itself serve the country's needs rather than the interests of the rich and powerful or the stagnant habits of bureaucracy. "Even Republicans," reports the Wall Street Journal, "sense that the nation is almost desperate for things to start working better."

On these evenings of glittering celebration before the inauguration, at the luxury hotels and private parties, desperation seems invisible, almost an abstraction. But only a few minutes from the White House, the eight homeless shelters of the nation's capital are always full. At Mt. Vernon Place, the line forms at 2:00 p.m. to reserve a bed for the night. Only blocks away from the seat of government, teeming public-health clinics are open late into the night to provide thousands of the sick and suffering with their only chance for medical care or prescriptions.

At nearby junior highs, pupils will be excused to attend Bill Clinton's inaugural parade and then will return to their studies past ominous signs warning them not to smuggle in weapons, drugs, or beepers. The partly squalid, partly besieged capital of the United States is scarcely alone in these proclamations of fear. This inaugural morning, students in over a quarter of all schools in urban America will go to class by passing through metal detectors. Sitting at their desks, walking the hallways or playgrounds, they are statistically more likely to die of gunshot wounds than were most of the men who served in the military in the nation's wars. Revolvers and automatic weapons are now a chief cause of death among America's young people. As the Clinton presidency begins, the lives of many of the country's children are ending.

Among the guests come to town for the inauguration is Gordon Bush, the mayor of East St. Louis. He has paid his own way because his city cannot afford his air ticket. With most of its citizens receiving some form of public assistance, East St. Louis has 50 percent unemployment, pandemic drug use, a crushing debt, low tax revenues, and the highest murder rate in the United States. The mayor is hopeful President Clinton will do something to help preschool children. "When kids are thirteen years old," he says, "it's too late."

For much of the country, it has been possible to view the ruin of the great cities -- nonwhite, poor, violent -- as something apart from their own lives. But the desperate conditions, like the hopes for the new president, are now nationwide. In the eleven weeks since the election, there has been a vivid symbol of a wider decline. In these seventy-seven days alone, while the economy reportedly grew by 3 percent, while business confidence was said to gain and stock and bond markets were preening, firms large and small announced the loss of over three hundred thousand jobs, most of which will never return. Beyond the violent writhing cities, the rot runs to the very marrow of the nation, eating into a middle class once thought secure and affecting every aspect of American life.

"I desperately want to make a difference," Clinton tells a group of his fellow governors at a Library of Congress luncheon on January 19. His earnestness and empathy have overcome early and apparently deep-seated public doubts about his character. Nearly half of those who voted for him tell exit polls afterward that they are still convinced he is a "liar." "But at least he wasn't Bush, who offered no hope of change," says one analyst, explaining the public sense of the lesser of political evils. "On the campaign trail, Clinton came into contact with people in real pain, fighting real struggles, and this transformed him," says an aide. "Their pain became his and so, temporarily, did their struggles. That's how the guy managed to convince us he was for real." Now, on the last day before he takes the oath of office, there is a deepening sense of this new president's unique paradox-and danger. "He labors beneath the burdens of no real confidence in him on one hand and too much hope on the other," Steve Erickson reports for the Los Angeles Weekly, "a mix by which the spirit of the country becomes weirdly com bustible."

Along the Mall, there is another milling crowd at a festival of special exhibits, including a Brooklyn artist's "American Town Hall Wall," an eight-foot structure covered with what a passerby remembers as "hundreds" of small paper notes provided for scribbled statements to the new presiden t, "myriad messages of hope and despair." One well-dressed couple strolls by and reads many of the six-inch squares with visible dismay. "I didn't know," the man remarks to the woman, "that there were so many of them. " During the afternoon Hillary Rodham Clinton pays a visit to the wall. As Secret Service agents clear the way, she stops briefly by a table provided for writing messages. A woman with a small girl takes the future First Lady's hand, and says softly, "We need health and education, Mrs. Clinton. Health and education. And don't let anybody fool your husband." The next man at the table hands her one of the small squares of paper. On it is written simply, "Courage!"

***

Inauguration day arrives bright and cloudless, a southern winter sun soon melting the glaze of frost off Pennsylvania Avenue. At Blair House, across the street from the White House, Clinton begins his rituals at six-thirty with the daily presidential briefing on world affairs. This inaugural morning a Bush aide soberly explains the "Football" -- the omnipresent small box conveying thermonuclear-attack codes. The electronic card to unlock the ciphers will pass to Clinton's side as he takes the oath of office at noon and will remain with him until the last moment of his presidency. It is part of the new man's beguiling initiation into the cultivated mystique of foreign policy.

The morning is full of emotion. Attending an early service at a historic African American church, once a stop on the underground railroad for runaway slaves, Clinton hears the Reverend Gardner Taylor of Brooklyn's Concord Baptist Church deliver a moving sermon on what the minister calls "the grandeur and the grime" of contemporary America. As Scripture is recited, the president-elect rocks back and forth in his pew and wipes away tears. As soloists sing a succession of traditional gospel hymns. he weeps again. Bill Clinton is "all nerve endings," a member of his staff will say later, "the most empathetic person of all time."

Sitting there in the church is another figure who knows something about Bill Clinton's feelings, about the tortured emotional history they share so intimately. His mother, Virginia Kelley, has risen early in her suite at the Mayflower Hotel to perform her forty-five-minute ritual of applying makeup, "putting on my paint," as she calls it. She still sees in the new president the child she raised with an alcoholic, abusive stepfather. "When he's hurting," she will say of her Billy, "he's just a big, old gray-headed version of my little boy." Across and beneath the city, Washington's subway is already packed with people making their way to the inauguration. Once again the crowds are genial and uncomplaining. On a swaying Orange Line train out of the Virginia suburbs, young girls in the middle of a car begin to sing softly: "Kumbayah, my Lord, Kumbayah. Someone's praying, Lord, Kumbayah." The jammed passengers fall silent, look awkward for a moment, and then smile at one another.

At the same moment more than ten thousand police and agents from several different forces and jurisdictions are dispersed throughout Washington, waiting for both Clinton and the crowds. Unprecedented security measures have been taken. There will be everything from antiaircraft guns and rooftop marksmen to sealed manhole covers. Even the decorated, suddenly polite inaugural capital has lately experienced what officials call '"an increase in random and violent crime." Armed teenagers have terrorized and robbed tourists at the Smithsonian Institution, and visitors have been assaulted inside other national museums.

The inauguration proceeds without incident. In an earnest if unremarkable speech -- written by an old friend and then a team of ghostwriters but edited in the end, like all his other major addresses, by Hillary Clinton -- the president speaks of the hopes that have put him in office. "The American people have summoned the change we celebrate today. You have raised your voices in an unmistakable chorus," he tells the vast throng spread from the ornate west front of the Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue and off into the distance toward the familiar white obelisk of the Washington Monument. "There is nothing wrong with America," he assures them, "that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

After the ceremony one witness thinks it a "seam in the fabric of time," another the "melding of moment and persona." Clinton has paid formal tribute to George Bush for "his half century of service to America." Behind the protocol, the loser himself is rancorous. For his flight home to Houston Bush has invited old friends and early supporters, not the journalists who customarily accompany a former president on this parting journey. It is "a reminder," reports the Washington Post, "of Bush's bitterness toward the media from his unsuccessful reelection campaign."

Back at the Capitol, meanwhile, Clinton is being honored at the traditional luncheon with leaders of Congress. In the obligatory exchange of remarks an English reporter sees him radiate "the deliberate, and perhaps calculated, charm we have come to know, and occasionally to suspect." But as senators and representatives drone on, Clinton seems to shed the mask and grow pensive, suddenly drawn, looking in a moment to one observer "very young and very scared." He has been president of the United States scarcely an hour. From around the country during the afternoon and evening there are already stories of people praying and lighting their own candles for the nation's new leader. "Now our emotional investment in Clinton is frightening," writes one correspondent. Another writer calls it "the country's most reckless leap of faith yet."

That night there are more than a dozen official and unofficial inaugural balls -- for wealthy backers, environmentalists, animal-rights advocates, gays and lesbians, even for several hundred homeless people who are advised to wear their best "church clothes." President Clinton will again make the rounds of the parties, playing the saxophone he learned well as a boy in Hot Springs, Arkansas, hugging friends, and working the crowds with "an efficient geniality," as one writer describes him, "a blue-collar craftsman of the squeeze." His sixteen-car motorcade now includes two dozen bodyguards, the trailing Secret Service "war wagon" with its special platform and armor-piercing portable artillery, a van full of reporters, and the now inevitable military aide handcuffed to the Football.

Sooner or later, at most of the parties, they play the theme song of the new administration: "Don't stop thinkin' about Tomorrow ... Yesterday's gone, Yesterday's gone." The song has been chosen almost casually early in the campaign by a Clinton aide in Little Rock, but nowhere will the words prove more poignant or ironic than at the Arkansas Ball at the Washington Convention Center, packed with some seven thousand from the president's home state, ardent "FOBs," Friends of Bill. They are exultant in their victory and, typically, fiercely proud of their state, a place often ignored or ridiculed by outsiders. "Everybody knows where Arkansas is now," says a woman from Paragould. "It's a new era," announces another from Little Rock. The most prominent among them, about to assume important new roles as presidential appointees or else highly paid Washington lobbyists, have been celebrating for days -- at what an Arkansas reporter calls an "elite" dinner for a hundred in the Georgetown mansion of Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, at a Blue Jean Ball with chicken donated by Arkansas's own Tyson Foods, at the Grand Hyatt, where an Arkansas driver's license is the ticket of admission and the featured performance is by Politics, the band of the president's exuberant half brother, Roger Clinton.

Though there is no sign of it this night, among the happy Arkansans are several whose tenure in the new presidency will soon be troubled or will even end tragically -- the First Lady's law partner and closest friend, Vince Foster, her other law partners Webb Hubbell and Bill Kennedy, Little Rock businessman and Clinton financial adviser David Watkins, White House aides Bruce Lindsey and Patsy Thomasson. At the other balls and parties around Washington are still more ranking members of the new government who will be gone and disgraced within the next two years -- Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, Deputy Secretary and later Secretary of the Treasury Roger Altman, along with a number of his aides, White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, and others. They will share a common bane. They are all to be haunted less by what happens in the new administration over the coming months than by what has already happened in Arkansas over the past decade and more. And in that they are typical. The fate of the Clinton presidency will be its past.

***

Only once and fleetingly in his inaugural address has the new president referred to what awaits him after the bus rides, the ceremonies, the balls. "To renew America we must revitalize our democracy," he says halway through the speech. "This beautiful capital, like every capital since the dawn of civilization," he continues, "is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way.... And so I say to all of us here, let us resolve to reform our politics, so that power and privilege no longer shout down the voice of the people .... Let us give this capital back to the people to whom it belongs." When the president speaks this last line, there is a ripple of applause he will never hear, behind the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, far from the inaugural platform.

Afterward no words in the many thousands spoken in observance and celebration will seem so important, so relevant to the struggle between Clinton's promises of change and the defeat -- or the betrayal -- of the hopes he embodies. Praising Clinton's clarity of vision, the New York Times nonetheless admonishes him about the Washington he now enters, "where the public interest gets ground into the midway dust of a circus of greed." He cannot confuse "mere assertion with real accomplishment," they warn, or display "a self-righteous streak and a quick temper." With the same portent, the London Economist cautions the new president about his own Democratic Party "at his back -- positioned perhaps to stab him eventually .... Already crowding into the lobbies are the groups that elected Mr. Clinton with their money and votes, or both, and have come to collect." Even the official inaugural poem Clinton has commissioned from Maya Angelou is foreboding: " ... face your distant destiny./But seek no haven in my shadow./I will give you no hiding place down here."

The ceremony ends. "Quietly, tentatively," as one person remembers, some of the people around the reflecting pool have begun to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." They pause as the rest of the crowd melts away. Like the people along the Virginia roads after the buses passed, they are waiting, reluctant to leave.

But they will not find an answer there. It begins with an earlier story from a moonlit spring night nearly a half century before, along a curving highway in a remote corner of Missouri.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Wed Jun 15, 2016 2:35 am

BOOK I

1. Sikeston: "Riding on a Smile"


They were local hoys from the Missouri boot heel. John Leu and Chester Oldham were driving south toward Sikeston on a warm Saturday night when they heard the back tire blow on the big maroon sedan ahead of them on the curve. They watched wide-eyed as the Buick swerved wildly off the narrow pavement or old Highway 60, skidded on the soft shoulder, vaulted across the drainage ditch, then turned over twice with the muffled crunch of mud and steel. In moments it was over. The car came to rest upside down on the edge of an alfalfa field, its radio still offering country music in the sudden silence, its headlights still reaching out through the darkness.

Leu and Oldham pulled over and made their way toward the wreck, "scared to death" of what they'd find, Leu told his wire later. The doors were closed, the driver's window down, but the car was strangely empty. In the back seat was a case of bourbon, the bottles somehow unbroken. Nervously they began searching the dark field and the bank of the ditch. Others were stopping now, drawn by the accident, their flashlights darting in the country blackness. Somebody went for the state trooper in Sikeston.

"Finally we had to go into the ditch," Lett remembered. They waded and poked in the three feet of brackish water. At first one man thought he heard something up the road, "kind of a gurgle and a splash," he said later. But the sound seemed too far away. They continued looking near the overturned car with its ghostly lights and tinny music.

It was near midnight, May 17, 1946, and America was changing. Three months before, US diplomat George Kennan had sent his fateful "long telegram" from Moscow about generic Russian treachery, impressing on receptive officials in Washington the sinister threat of the Soviet Union. In March, not far up the road from Sikeston, in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill had spoken much the same omen and fear in the famous "iron curtain" speech. Across the country, powerful interests were financing the great red-baiting campaigns that would bring to power the Congress that launched Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, the Congress of Taft-Hartley, the Hollywood Ten, and the Hiss case. This same weekend in May the deadline was to expire on a nationwide railway walkout. Part of a vast wave of labor grievances that had built up during the war years, it was an opening struggle for economic democracy in the coming boom. In a few days, however, a defiant President Harry Truman would seize the railroads and break the strike, a historic act of his own instinctive aversion to deeper reform, his own accommodation to what he and other Democrats saw as the forces of the moment. It was the beginning of the postwar era in the United States.

In the darkness along Highway 60 in southeastern Missouri near the Arkansas line, they were searching for a man none of them knew. Some had glimpsed him as he passed their cars on the road a few minutes before, speeding by in his shiny 1942 Buick, "a nice-looking young fellow," one said later, "somebody in a hurry ... a stranger who didn't know the road."

***

His name was William Jefferson Blythe II, and in a sense his car came hurtling that night out of a different America, a country before the cold war and its anxious politics of fear and reaction.

The family called him W.J. to set him apart from his father and namesake, Willie, a lean, hawklike man who had married a thirteen-year- old girl named Lou in Tippah County, Mississippi, near the Tennessee border, and then had moved west across Arkansas in a covered wagon to settle on the hot, windy plain of north Texas. W.J. had been born there in 1918, the fourth of nine children. He grew up in a cramped four-room farmhouse of canvas and paper walls, without plumbing or electricity, pitched on forty acres of hard-scrabble cotton and scanty pasture near the Red River, halfway between Sherman and Denison.

They were never far from want, and with the depression they became one more story of the torment in rural America. By the early 1930s, the scorched farms of north Texas were dying, and Willie Blythe along with them, a slow, agonizing death from colon cancer. The oldest son still at home, Wj. rose at three in the morning to keep the farm going and worked eight hours every day after school at nearby Ashburn Dairy, bringing home a little extra milk or butter with his few dollars in pay. His sisters remembered that his bed was set in the front room of the farmhouse, near the door for his comings and goings, and that he scarcely slept in it. They could never afford a hospital or regular medical care for Willie. Toward the end, their father lay in the back of the little farmhouse, shaking and screaming with convulsions. W.J. would calmly take a crippled sister and others out of the house, then go back in to give the writhing man some morphine, and emerge a few minutes later to assure them everything was all right. "He was always smiling," one of them remembered, "always so easygoing no matter what was happening or what he felt inside."

For two years, as Willie suffered and died, they had held on to the homestead with an emergency loan through a New Deal farm program. But in the summer of 1936, two payments behind and with less than a hundred dollars due on the note, they lost it to the bank. W.J. watched as his mother became a hotel maid in Sherman, a destitute widow in her midforties -- almost the same age at which her grandson would become president of the United States fifty-seven years later. "There wasn't nothin' wrong with the Blythes 'cept they was poor," a relative who lived with them said afterward. "Rag poor," another added.

But there was to be something more about W.J. than poverty and pain, more than the loyalty and sacrifice of a young man trying to save the farm and care for a broken family. In this son of tender feeling there was also a more self-seeking purpose and ambition. Out of the boy who gave with such innocent ease there came a man who used others easily and took advantage of their own innocence. "He wasn't ever going to be a farmer or least of all be poor or unimportant," said a sister. When they lost the farm, the family moved to a shabby apartment in Sherman. From there eighteen-year-old W.J. was soon gone, on the road selling auto parts in Oklahoma and beyond.

He had quit the old White Rock School after only the eighth grade, but he would seem more educated than he was. He now called himself Bill Blythe, relying on a quick, naturally glib intelligence and on the methodical sunniness that became with strangers a winning, lasting charm, and he found his calling as that legendary American figure of two centuries, the traveling man, the itinerant salesman-"the fellow that chats pleasantly while he's overcharging you," as one country humorist put it.

Yet Bill Blythe was so likable, so sincere, so smooth without ever seeming smooth that even the sale -- or its wounds afterward -- could seem unimportant. People remembered how he was always touching, patting friends and customers on the back, often holding both their shoulders as he spoke or, more important, listening intently. "He made you feel like you were the only one in the world," said a close friend and customer. "A gentle, conscientious, beautiful person," another called him. "He was a wonderful salesman, a perfect salesman," said a member of his family. "He was always eager to please. And he sold himself."

It began, and ended, with the territory. The traveling man took it as he found it, the easy sells and the hard, the spenders and the cheap, the competitors honest and corrupt. There was the business as the public saw or imagined it -- and then there was the inside reality of the favored, the exclusive, the rigged. The traveling man discovered early those seamy secrets of the trade and, like his fellow salesmen, kept them as a kind of private possession, not for the ordinary world to know or use. The salesman's route was the end of a relentless food chain on the raw outskirts of American capitalism, at once free and easy and unforgiving. "When they start not smiling back, that's an earthquake," said a famous figure in the trade. "And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat and you're finished."

The good salesman never changed or openly challenged his brittle, perishable world; he talked and smiled his way through and around it. There was no hard or soft sell, only the smart or the stupid. Technique took over, became substance. He drawled with the good ole boys, spoke fluently with the city people, learned just enough about every product, every customer to talk with seeming authority, without threatening or losing them.

In the late 1930s and on into the early 1940s, Bill Blythe sold car-alignment equipment throughout the Midwest and middle South for the J. H. Pereue Equipment Company of Memphis, driving from dealer to dealer, big town to small, hotel to tourist court, often towing a tool of the trade, what one account called "a bulky wheel-alignment-and- balancing contraption." It was a white-collar life of company cars and ample pay, of "relentless good cheer," as another account described it, and of many people well-met, some of them becoming friends, though none too close or for too long. In the end, if he allowed himself to think about it, the traveling man was mostly alone, with the next sale, with the run. "There is no rock bottom to the life," Arthur Miller wrote about a kindred Willy Loman. "He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine .... It comes with the territory."

***

Then, too, as in the folklore, as in all the bawdy old jokes about traveling salesmen, there were women -- especially for Bill Blythe.

Less than a year after his father died, WJ. drove across the state line into Oklahoma to marry, somewhat furtively, a girl he had known in Sherman, eighteen-year-old Adele Gash. For a while they were crowded together with another Blythe son and his wife in one of the tiny rooms of the old farmhouse. "I never lived with so little," she would say later. But when Adele went to visit an aunt in Dallas, W.J. didn't come for her as he had promised. "I knew it was over," she would say, "when I got this package from him with all my clothes." They were divorced at the end of 1936, and by then the new Bill Blythe was on the road. Still, he went back to Adele often after the divorce and, the following spring, fathered a baby boy by her, Henry Leon, born in January 1938. Adele and her sister soon moved with the baby to northern California and for a time lost touch with Bill completely. "He was a wonderful, good-looking ladies' man," Adele would tell her family. "He wanted so much to be liked. Everyone liked him."

At a Nevada, Missouri, roadhouse early in 1940, he met a pretty dark-haired seventeen-year-old named Wanetta Alexander. She was skipping choir practice on a lark from a nearby town across the line in dry Kansas. "I was just standing there by the jukebox when a handsome young man walked over and asked me to dance," she would say. "I said no, but then "Alexander's Ragtime Band" came on. He insisted, 'You are going to dance with me.' And I did." He was stocky then, just under five feet ten inches tall, weighing about 180 pounds, with blue eyes and dark brown hair combed straight back. Wanetta thought him "a living doll ... good-looking, good clothes, smart, classy." Later that year they met often at the Netherlands Hotel in Kansas City, where Bill sometimes stayed for weeks while making his rounds in western Missouri and Kansas. "We'd ... hit all the hotels, restaurants, and dance halls," she recalled. "He was wonderful, gorgeous, fun, and happy-go-lucky."

By the end of 1940 Wanetta was pregnant, and Bill Blythe had gone to northern California, supposedly to see Adele and his first child. "He played with the baby like he loved it, and he was just his old self," said a friend. But after a few days Bill had suddenly run off with Adele's pretty younger sister, Minnie Faye. "W j. wanted to marry Faye because he got another girl pregnant and wanted to get out of it," one relative explained. "He was a traveling salesman, I'll tell you," said another witness. "He sold himself to the ladies."

Bill and Minnie Faye Gash were married on December 29, 1940, in Durant, Oklahoma. That, too, was soon over. "Faye was calling Adele back in California and saying she had to come home," a member of her family recounted, adding the familiar refrain about Bill Blythe the charmer, the irrepressible seducer. "But she almost always spoke highly of W.J., just like everybody else."

Under pressure from the Alexander family, his hasty marriage to Minnie Faye was annulled in Little Rock in April 1941, and in less than a week he was in a judge's chambers in the Jackson County courthouse in Kansas City, marrying Wanetta. He had hurried through the rain to be there, and arrived just minutes before the ceremony. Eight days later, he was on the road again while his new wife gave birth to a baby girl. They named her Sharron. "Sure am glad that you are all right," he said in a telegram to the hospital. "How is the baby? ... 1 love you always. Love, W.J. Blythe."

He traveled with Wanetta and the baby about six months that summer and fall, driving through southern Missouri and Oklahoma in his trademark robin's-egg-blue Buick, feeding and diapering the infant in the back seat of the car. They settled for a time in Monroe, Louisiana, in an apartment she remembered as "a dump." But within six months Wanetta was gone, too, taking their baby back to Kansas City. "Bill was cheating on me," she said later. "I know there was a lady at one of the nightclubs."

Over the next year and a half following Pearl Harbor, Bill Blythe stayed on the road, a man in his midtwenties facing the expanding wartime draft even with a wife and child. "The war has about drove me crazy," he wrote Wanetta in the spring of 1942. "Tell everyone hello and kiss the baby for me." Over the following months he wrote her often, worrying about his job and his draft status, thinking about joining the Coast Guard. "I was very glad to here [sic] from you," he wrote her again in January 1943. "I am going to Calif. Maybe then if you still want to we can start all over again. Love, Bill."

Six months later, on a hot July night, he was out with a woman in Shreveport, Louisiana, when she suddenly fell ill. He took her to Tri-State Hospital, and while she was being treated he noticed the pretty, personable student nurse on the evening shift. She was Virginia Dell Cassidy, from a small town in southwestern Arkansas. Then barely twenty, with large eyes, full red lips, and long raven hair, she had an easy laugh and an air of worldly exuberance that belied her age or origins. She was engaged at the time to a high school sweetheart but was immediately taken with Bill Blythe and his striking good looks. The salesman had started to leave the hospital but then hesitated, turned back, and walked up to the young nurse to ask about the ring she was wearing. Without hesitation she replied that it didn't mean a thing, surprised at her own response. They went out for a soda that evening and kissed good night. He rented an apartment in Shreveport and took a job selling cars. "Yes, she's lying right here beside me," he once said with disarming candor when her roommate called looking for her. Swept away, Virginia would later describe the courtship in words that took on the flavor of a country western ballad. She soon pressed him to marry. He had not told her -- and never would tell her -- about his current wife or his children or any of the others.

Though Blythe did his best to resist marriage, Virginia was not to be denied. It wasn't long before he hurriedly wrote to Wanetta, saying he had "met a nurse down in Louisiana," and wanted out of their marriage. The young mother in Kansas City agreed and filed papers immediately that summer. "He was my first and only love," Wanetta would say afterward. On April 13, 1944, a Missouri court granted the divorce, ordering the absent William J. Blythe to pay forty-two dollars a month in child support. But even then it was too late. On September 3, 1943, after their swift late-summer romance, Bill Blythe had committed bigamy by marrying Virginia Cassidy before a justice of the peace in Texarkana.

He joined the army and was sent abroad only five weeks after his marriage to Virginia. A mechanic in an auto-maintenance battalion, he served first in North Africa, then in the liberation of Rome and the bloody Italian campaign north to the Arno River. A niece in the Blythe family remembered writing him once during the war, asking for a leaf from Europe for a school project. "Sorry, there are no leaves on the trees. They're all shot off," he wrote her back. Faithfully, Blythe sold his GI-issue cigarettes at a profit and sent the proceeds back to Virginia, who had finished training and returned to live with her parents in Hope, Arkansas. She wrote him, she remembered, "every day."

He was discharged as a technician, third grade, in December 1945 with a commendation for his service. He went back once after the war to see Wanetta and their daughter, and she remembered him walking with a limp, even using a cane, though there would be no military records of his having been wounded. "The boy had been through hell," an employer would say later.

For reasons of sentiment and privacy, she remembered, Bill had his reunion with Virginia in Shreveport, and after a brief stay in Hope they soon moved to Chicago, where he had a job selling on the road for an Illinois equipment company. He planned to settle down there eventually and open his own business. Virginia became pregnant almost immediately. Her conception came at the beginning of the great postwar baby boom.

That winter he was still driving two hundred miles a day, coming back at night to their apartment near the Loop; his rural Arkansas wife walked about the great lakeshore city somewhat wide-eyed. In an echo of his own painful past, Virginia flew back to Texas in February to nurse his dying mother, but Lou Blythe was gone before Bill could get there himself.

They had bought a small bungalow in Forest Park, just west of downtown Chicago. The transaction was taking longer than expected. Her baby due in August, still suffering acute morning sickness, Virginia planned to go home to Hope to give them both a respite while their suburban house was vacated and cleaned.

On a last evening out together with friends at the Palmer House, they posed for a nightclub photographer. Later they sent relatives the portrait, inscribed, "All our love, Bill and Virginia." She is in dark lipstick and long false eyelashes, with bright nail polish, a corsage, and a cigarette, he in a natty tweed sport coat showing the white points of his pocket handkerchief, a full-faced young salesman of twenty-eight, giving that reassuring smile.

In mid-May the Forest Park home was ready, their furniture moved in. Bill was hurrying his Buick through the Missouri night to get her, carrying a case of bourbon for his father-in-law, down country roads he had traveled so much in another time.

***

It was nearly two hours after the accident that they finally discovered the body lying face down in the shallow water several yards away from the wreck, out in the unsearched darkness near where one of them had first heard the faint sounds. He had been thrown clear or perhaps had crawled from the car. When they found him, handsome Bill Blythe's hands were still clutching the ditch grass, trying to pull himself up and out. Though barely injured, only a small blue bruise visible on his head, he had been stunned enough to drown in the ditch where he fell, a simple narrow drainage channel dug by the New Deal to reclaim swampland and rescue poor farmers much like his own family in Texas. He was still forty miles from the Arkansas line, more than three hundred miles from Hope.

Virginia mourned big Bill Blythe as the great love of her life. Family and friends, ex-wives and abandoned children all gave the martyred young salesman the benefit of their fonder memories, discreetly burying the rest.

The good-natured baby born three months later bearing Bill Blythe's name would become president of the United States. Much of the father is evident in the son he never knew. Equally important, the salesman's death meant that his talented little boy would grow up not in Chicago but in Arkansas, with quite another father, another heritage -- and that, too, would shape a presidency.

In 1993 his own side of the family often wondered what the charming, stoic traveling man might have thought of it all. There were differing memories about Bill Blythe's political views. Some thought him a Roosevelt Democrat, others a business Republican. But then a good salesman's convictions had to fit the moment -- or else were put aside. His real politics, after all, were the sale.

A relative visited Bill Blythe's grave the week his son was inaugurated in Washington. "It made me feel better," she said. "But, you know, you could just never tell about W.J. Not really."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Thu Jun 16, 2016 2:13 am

2. Hope: 'Bright Little Orphan"

They buried Bill Blythe at Rose Hill in Hope. Sheltered by ancient oaks and glistening magnolias, it was the oldest white cemetery in the small town, just across the road from where Virginia's father had a grocery store and not far from Julia Chester Hospital, where she would have their baby later that summer of 1946.

In its southern sun and shadows Hope had long been a place of passages. A few miles away ran the historic Southwest Trail through the Louisiana Purchase, winding to an end just short of the Texas line and what was once an international border with Spanish America. The nearby trailhead of Washington, Arkansas, had housed Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, as well as the blacksmith who tempered James Bowie's famous knife, the field headquarters for US invasion forces in the Mexican War, and an emergency Confederate capital of Arkansas, a gathering point of die-hard Southern fugitives from Union victories. The politics and politicians of the place were raucous and legendary though ever serious, from the antebellum Know-Nothings to Arkansas's leading secessionists. News of Abraham Lincoln's 1860 election "fell on our little community," recorded one resident, "with the awfulness of a death knell."

Soon after the Civil War the first national railroad through the region bypassed the trail. Stranded, the old towns passed their hovering history on to the newer settlement growing up around the tracks of the Cairo & Fulton and the Missouri Pacific, a site the railroad maps christened Hope. The region was populated by refugees from spent cotton fields of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama, "Southerners goin' West," one writer called them. Hope and its Hempstead County would always have something of the flavor of the border it marked-not only the Spanish moss or plantations left behind to the south and east but the vast country beyond, "the wide-brimmed Stetsons and stockmen's boots that," as a visitor noted, "symbolize the nearness of grasslands extending to the Rio Grande."

The migrants homesteaded in the pasture and forest basin of the same meandering Red River that ran southwest to Bill Blythe's Sherman. In their relative isolation they seemed almost a separate ethnic group of native-born, inbred Anglo-Saxon whites. Then and later, they were set apart by the fervor of their evangelical Protestantism, a warm, often fierce attachment to family and locale, and fortitude -- if not resignation -- in the face of what they had come to in this obscure corner of one of America's most impoverished states. Only a handful were merchants or professionals. Most had been dirt farmers, clerks, ordinary laborers. They and their descendants seldom escaped their lot, part of a deeper, enduring inequity that was the mark of very rich, very poor Arkansas throughout the twentieth century.

In the 1920s a traveling salesman hoping to promote his latest hybrid seeds offered local farmers prizes for producing oversize fruit. Hope soon became the watermelon capital of Arkansas by force-feeding and pampering ordinary strains into specimens of nearly two hundred pounds. The contrived melons brought civic pride and publicity but proved bitter. By 1946 they had become a metaphor for the town's economy. When a wartime military installation and a proving ground were curtailed, Hope's seventy-five hundred people found themselves thrown back on the hinterland of marginal cotton or fruit farms and on a handful of tiny prewar local industries, a brickyard, a sawmill, furniture and crate factories, a handle plant.

Ironically, Hope's black community had been remarkably prosperous for a time, in stark contrast to African Americans in the Mississippi Delta and the rest of Arkansas. Pinched white settlers had brought few slaves to begin with. But the railways offered blacks steady jobs beyond sharecropping, and after 1900 Hope became a magnet for those workers and soon a showcase of generational progress, with black-owned businesses and African American professionals common on East Division Street and beyond. Even during the depression, the old brick downtown was more lively with traffic and shoppers than most of the rest of Arkansas was, and the new black elite shared in the relative prosperity. By the 1940s, however, with the railroads dying and big chains already breaking local enterprise, the moment ended. "A forgotten Hope," one account called it. Though blacks constituted forty percent of the town's population -- a much higher percentage than they did statewide -- by 1946 they were fading back into the traditional poverty of southeast Hope, what whites had begun again to call Niggertown.

***

Hope drew much of its population from smaller towns. Virginia Cassidy was born in the nearby Ebenezer community near Bodcaw -- a tiny Arkansas town. Her parents were third-generation Arkansans and typical of the struggling migration of often strong women and plodding men. Her mother, Edith Grisham Cassidy, insisted the family move into Hope to raise their only daughter and later became a practical nurse by doggedly poring over a correspondence course at her kitchen table. Her husband, Eldridge, went from job to job in a mill, the handle factory, and a liquor store, laboring for years as an iceman before borrowing the money from a local landowner to open his own country grocery near Rose Hill. By all accounts Virginia's parents earned little despite long hours and hard work.

Behind the doors of the Cassidy home there was a still uglier reality. Virginia remembered her father as kindly and easygoing, a laughing, storytelling man though often bent under the burden of their want. "I saw my father crying for the first time in my life when he couldn't get me a new dress for Easter Sunday," she recalled. Yet the deeper torment for both was the woman they lived with. She "met every day with anger," Virginia said of her mother, whose wrath was directed against her husband and daughter.

A heavyset, hauntingly beautiful woman with tight curly hair and piercing black eyes -- "those eyes could bore in on you and almost disintegrate you with their heat," said her daughter -- Edith Cassidy exacted her revenge in countless acts of cruelty. Virginia remembered vividlythe frequent childhood spankings and whippings with a specially selected sharp branch that left her small legs bloodied. Almost every evening there were jealous tirades against her father. Possessive and bitter, Edith accused her easygoing husband of infidelity with women along his ice route and blamed him for the family's poverty as well. In her nightlong rages she often attacked Eldridge physically, though he remained passive, placating, taking the blows. The violence was to last more than a decade, Virginia would remember. The child who had suffered similar humiliation, who would lie awake in the darkness listening to the savagery from the next room, absorbed the hurt in her own way. By the age of twelve she had already learned how to carry her "dark secrets."

For all of that, Virginia Cassidy grew into an outwardly happy adolescent, determined to see the goodness in others and radiating an irrepressible, even flamboyant cheerfulness. By the 1940s she was in many ways typical of her time and place in rural Arkansas and yet, in her sheer ordinariness, somehow different -- defiant, with the voluptuous sexuality and free, robust quality that had drawn Bill Blythe that hot night in Shreveport, "a proud, positively cocky woman," said someone who knew her.

In 1946, her husband suddenly gone and his child yet unborn, Virginia Cassidy had already decided to leave the infant with her parents and study in New Orleans for a year to earn credentials for higher-paying work as a nurse-anesthetist. During her pregnancy she worried often about how she would care for her child; the decision to leave home to secure a career came only after much soul-searching. Though there were visits back and forth, their separation formed one of the son's earliest, most poignant images. "I remember my mother crying and actually falling down on her knees by the railbed," he would recount, describing a scene at the New Orleans station when he was barely two. "And my grandmother was saying, 'She's doing this for you.' "

He was William Jefferson Blythe III, though just Billy in the family. He lived the first four years of his life in the Cassidys' two-story frame home on Hervey Street, where screen doors banged and dogs barked in the southern stillness, and his grandmother Edith, "Mawmaw," as he called her, still shrieked at her husband in the night. Though there was apparently none of the physical abuse she had inflicted on her daughter, the angry woman with the burning eyes was a dominant and domineering influence in his early childhood. During his mother's year in New Orleans and even after she returned, Edith Cassidy remained the controlling and indulgent surrogate who spared no expense in the care of her grandson. So completely did the older woman take over the care and training of the little boy that the daughter still found the practical work of parenting unfamiliar well after her son's birth. Even after four years of motherhood, the feisty and loving Virginia said she was "as green as a blackjack table."

In the late 1940s there was scant diversion in Hope for children or adults. "We spent the evenings at the show, ballgames, or watching the Missouri Pacific passenger trains come through," said one native. From the beginning, Cassidy and Grisham relatives doted on Billy. "The bright little orphan," one account called him. When he was old enough to walk, the men took him with them, especially to Eldridge's wooden-countered grocery to observe the Southern commerce of poor whites selling to poorer blacks.

Long afterward Bill Clinton would reminisce about lessons of tolerance and fairness learned in the store, how his family extended credit to penniless black farmers hostage to the seasons. But racial tolerance was not evident in the rest of the family at the time. The store credit, after all, was part of a system whereby sharecroppers had access to cash for only a few weeks after the fall settlement.

Away from the grocery, Billy lived in a neighborhood, played, and went to school with white children only. Campaigning years later, he came across the single black figure he recognized from his Hope boyhood, the Cassidys' housecleaner, Odessa. "I remember rocking with her on her porch," he told a reporter. He did not know her last name.

What he recalled more readily were the men of the family talking to him, telling him their inexhaustible stories. Along with a grandfather and great-grandfather, there was his mother's favorite uncle, Oren "Buddy" Grisham, a profane, easy-drinking, likable man fond of his innumerable dirty jokes. Uncle Buddy had quit school after the fourth grade and become almost a caricature of the good ole Arkansas boy of homespun humor and authority. Some of the talk was political. The Cassidys were southern Democrats, bound to the traditional party all the more by the populism of the New Deal.

Arkansas boys were taught the rewards of preparedness, the saving virtues of "a good pocketknife, a true rifle, and a cold-nosed coonhound," said one who heard the stories. The ability to spin or elaborate tales was a prized gift. In the larger house just behind the Cassidys, one of Billy's playmates, Vincent Foster, had an impressive, magnetic father known as the Fascinator for the circles of children he enthralled.

"The Arkansas frontier encouraged the rejection of all authority and an every-man-for-himself attitude" is how one historian described the tenor of a people who felt relentlessly thwarted and cheated. The hero or protagonist of the local parables came away with a shrewd sense of the necessity of submitting to the odds, if not the basic immutability, of the larger order they confronted, the man-made political and economic world as well as the natural.

The Cassidys held out ambition and encouragement for Billy, telling him that by ability and hard work he could rise above the generational sense of Arkansas inferiority. "I was raised by people who deliberately tried to disabuse me of that idea," he would say, "from the time I was old enough to think." Such aspirations were never at odds with the knowing resignation and crafty concessions prescribed in local lore and wisdom. It was what a traveling salesman had to learn. In the end the smart fellow got ahead far more by mastering the system than by defying it. "There is a streak in the Arkansas character," Garry Wills would write, "that militates against expecting too much from life (and militates, as well, against political reform)."

On the eve of his presidency forty years later, the man who listened intently as a boy on Hervey Street and in the grocery -- and who later spoke and thought in a subtly similar idiom as a state and national leader -- would call his storytelling grandfather and uncle "the main male influences in my childhood." He remembered his great-uncle Buddy Grisham as "the wisest man I ever met."

***

Yet there was another man of crucial influence in Hope, a figure who might have come straight out of one of those more cautionary tales.

Roger Clinton emerged from much the same Arkansas of privation and pain. He had grown up poor in Hot Springs in the 1920s and was himself an abused child. His father had been a parole officer and then a butcher in a family grocery, his mother the tyrannical and manipulative Mama Clinton in what many saw as a matriarchal oppression not so different from the Cassidys'. The youngest of five children, at once mistreated and excused, Roger would be known as Baby Boy into middle age and would remain in the shadow of an aggressive older brother, Raymond, whose "waiting hands," as one relative saw it later, inherited the mother's considerable power. Watching him come out of that family life, his friends thought Roger Clinton lost almost from the beginning in the bustling resort city. He peddled papers on a corner, never finishing high school. "Roger was just in the street too much," one of them said afterward. "He saw the rest of Hot Springs doing well, and he could never measure up."

Before the war he worked for a time for Raymond, who was already becoming a prosperous Buick dealer in Hot Springs. Then, in the early 1940s, in the beginning of a patronage that would shape a history far beyond that of the two men themselves, Raymond Clinton used his influence with General Motors to set Roger up in his own Buick agency in Hope. Though the younger son had never wanted to leave their hometown, he leaped at the chance to ape his imposing brother. At the new dealership in Hope Roger would proudly throw an expansive Christmas party for customers and friends, just like Raymond's annual celebration back in Hot Springs.

The young Buick dealer cut an impressive figure in the tiny railroad town. Personable, free-spending, a slim man with dark, wavy hair who was vainly impressed with his own good looks, Clinton stood out in dour Hope for his snappy clothes, the tailored sport coats, and two-toned shoes. His friends called him Dude. Above all, he was known as the life of the party, with a special charm and attraction for young women.

But beyond the smiles and the shoes there was a side to Roger Clinton that only a few ever saw clearly -- his reckless drinking and insatiable gambling, a penchant for violence, a ready willingness to flout the law, not only to accept but to join and exploit the legendary local corruption that he had known firsthand in the wide-open town where he grew up. In his youth he had badly injured a Puerto Rican boy in a poolroom brawl in Hot Springs, and only Raymond's intervention had saved him from the consequences. The older brother rescued him again after Roger set up a rigged crap table in Hope and had the "audacity," as one person put it, to draw in a powerful city official among those he cheated.

When Hempstead County went dry during the war, Roger bribed local police officers and sheriffs to give him the liquor they seized in raids on local moonshiners. Serving high-proof whiskey at his own raucous private parties, he boasted to girlfriends about his source of supply. Roger's best friend, Gabe Crawford, a future patron of some importance, owned a string of drugstores in Arkansas. When he opened another in Hope in the late 1940s, he and Roger had brought down three bookies and some slot machines from Hot Springs to ensconce in the backroom of the new pharmacy. It seemed that some of the citizens of dowdy Hope had gotten it into their minds that it was time to look to Hot Springs as an example of what a "drugstore" could be.

The family grocery at Rose Hill, it turned out, had also offered something more than the credit for struggling black farmers, and Hervey Street was more than the ordinary childhood home, or "my log cabin," as Bill Clinton would call it when he became a politician. It wasn't long before Roger Clinton went behind Virginia's back to make it possible for customers from Hope to buy a bottle without having to drive the thirty-five miles to Texarkana. Nor was her father the only bootlegger in the family. Townspeople remembered that between stints as a practical nurse, his stout and fierce wife, Edith, sold whiskey herself out of the house on Hervey Street.

None of the freelance vice, however, seemed to make up for the eventual failure of Roger Clinton's Buick agency. The Hope market never met Raymond's expectations, even with the postwar demand for new cars. But by the later 1940s Roger had begun to squander what profits there were in reckless wholesaling and in carousing weekends in San Antonio, literally taking money from the agency till on top of his $10,000 salary, "stealing from himself," as a secretary at the business put it. "He never grew up," said a relative. "It didn't matter to Roger. He was just a kid at heart and not very serious."

In 1947 Roger Clinton was leaving his wife of nearly fourteen years, and her family suspected that he was already involved with the lively young Hope widow Virginia Blythe, that they were "shacking up together," as one of them said, even while Virginia's baby stayed with her parents on Hervey Street. She had started seeing Clinton less than a year after Bi1lBlythe's death, often staying at his Hope apartment or spending the weekend with him in Hot Springs. He was in his midthirties, more than ten years older than the vivacious, equally high-spirited nurse, and she was captivated by his high life in the small town. The parties were wild and frequent and on more than one occasion Virginia could be seen mounting a nightclub stage in Hot Springs to sing along with the evening's act or on a counter at Gabe Crawford's apartment belting out her own special song, ''I'm the Hempstead County Idiot." It all made for the sort of gossip that flooded Hope, where "everyone knew everyone else," according to a man who grew up there after the war, "and if you misbehaved, your mama knew it before you got home."

Their affair was stormy, punctuated by memorable fights over his promiscuity. On one occasion Virginia had defiantly marched three-year- old Bi1lyalong with her to Clinton's apartment, where the boy watched as she methodically cleared out another woman's belongings, hanging the lingerie on a clothesline outside for the scandalized neighbors to see. But there were also acts of tenderness, Clinton twice paying Virginia's airfare home from New Orleans to visit her son. After her return to Hope, where she took up her work as an independent nurse-anesthetist, she saw more and more of him, he less and less of other women. "They sort of drifted together," said a friend.

For her part, Edith Cassidy was, as usual, unreconciled. Deploring Roger Clinton, seeing her own increasingly dissolute daughter on the verge of a marriage that would take away the grandson she had raised as her own second child, she told Virginia early in 1950 that she was going to seek legal custody of Billy. "The blackness inside her had finally taken over," thought her daughter, "and there was nothing left but the blackness itself." The moment ignited yet another searing quarrel in the Hervey Street bungalow, Virginia screaming and frantically clutching at her son, the grandmother unusually and frighteningly reticent and composed. Edith Cassidy would go so far as to consult a local lawyer, though she never filed the threatened custody action against her own daughter.

Roger Clinton and Virginia Blythe were married in June 1950 on a balmy Monday evening only days before the outbreak of the Korean War. Aptly, the ceremony took place away from Hope, at a parsonage near the Hot Springs racetrack they both frequented. Gabe Crawford and his wife, Virginia -- Roger's niece -- were with them. But there was no one else from either family: Billy was still watched over by his embittered grandmother, and the Clinton side frowned on the wedding because Roger had still been married when the Blythe widow began seeing him in Hope. Only much later would Virginia learn that her second husband was often derelict in court-ordered support payments to his former wife and two stepchildren, that his Buick wages had been garnished as early as the 1948 divorce filing, and that by 1952 he owed more than $2,200 in arrears, nearly a quarter of his yearly salary.

Clinton moved his new bride and her four-year-old into a white six-room wooden bungalow on a corner lot on East Thirteenth Street, a plain postwar tract house then on the outskirts of town. For an interval little seemed to change. They continued to leave Billy with her parents while they spent weekends drinking and gambling in Hot Springs. Soon after the move Virginia had made a point of sitting Billy down to tell him in some detail about his real father, how they had met that night at the hospital in Shreveport, what a charming and lovable man Bill Blythe had been, how he had been officially commended for his service in the war, how he died on a Missouri highway, coming back for them. As always, he had listened intently, then and afterward enthralled with the legend, and the sudden death, of his father. Yet Billy was also obviously happy to have another man to fill the void that always evoked so much vocal pity and memory around him. From the beginning, he had called Roger Clinton Daddy, and in school he would gladly accept and use the new name Billy Clinton, not only for appearances or to make it easier for him, but also to welcome his new father. Virginia remembered a space at the back of the new house they turned into a playroom, where Roger set up a Lionel electric train set for his stepson and the two played for long stretches. Like many mothers she had doubts about which of them enjoyed the toy more.

There had been similar moments with the stepchildren in his earlier marriage. "We had no problems and did all the good things," one of them remembered. But Roger Clinton was already drinking steadily in those years and had started to abuse his first wife, if not her children. In her divorce complaint, she had accused him of hitting her with his fists and even the heel of a shoe. Now, soon after the move to Thirteenth Street, the new marriage began to suffer even more his bouts of drunken quarreling and violence.

Enraged one day that Virginia and Billy were going to visit her dying Grisham grandmother, he screamed, brandished a gun she did not even know he had, and drunkenly fired a round into a wall. They fled across the street to a neighbor's house to call the Hope police, and five-year-old Billy watched as they arrested his new father. Raymond Clinton drove down to Hope that night as soon as he heard, expecting to make his importance known, as Virginia told the story afterward, and once again to rescue Roger from another drunken escapade. But the local police were protective of Virginia Cassidy, the hometown girl, and not so easily influenced. Roger spent the night in the Hope jail despite the insistent blustering of Raymond. It was a time they all remembered. "There was a bullet hole in the wall. It could have ricocheted, hit my mother, hit me," Bill Clinton said, recounting a still palpably frightening story forty years later. "I ran out of the room. I had to live with that bullet hole, look at it every day." In the week he and Virginia spent away from Roger after the frightening and dangerous incident, however, the mother would admonish her fearful little boy to speak to his new father the next time he saw him and to treat him respectfully.

The shooting was more "grist for the busy rumor mills of Hope," according to a later account. Years afterward, when the Clintons had become famous, most of the neighbors who had lived along Thirteenth remembered little about the details of Roger's drunken abuse except that it obviously continued after the incident with the gun and the arrest. In the tiny corner house there were frequent shouting arguments through the night, Roger screaming accusations of infidelity at his working wife -- "his tantrums," she called them -- much like the dusk-to-dawn ranting of Edith Cassidy against Eldridge. Some of the neighbors would recall "vividly," as they brought back the scene, the intense little boy with cowboy boots and hat, so often out in front of the white bungalow after those nightlong ordeals. He always seemed to be transporting himself in some imaginary and furious flight, "racing up and down the sidewalk on his tricycle ... over and over," remembered Brack Schenk, who watched him out the window, "leaning over, ... churning down the sidewalk as fast as it would go."

***

The indulgent family, especially Edith, had taught Billy to read at three, and in the autumn of 1951 Virginia enrolled him in Miss Mary's kindergarten. Set in a proper neighborhood on East Second Street, a white frame home remodeled to mimic a country schoolhouse with bell and steeple, Miss Mary's was a mark of respectability in the town. There was a single big classroom and small recess yard where the prim middle-aged mistresses, spinster sisters Mary and Nanny Perkins, supervised the activities and socialization of five-and six-year-olds. Discipline was gentle though firm, patriotism a part of good behavior for the nearly forty students, all of them scrubbed, neatly if modestly dressed, and, of course, without exception white. Staring down at them was the inevitable print of Gilbert Stuart's George Washington. One of Billy's classmates first mistook it for a portrait of the rather regal Miss Mary herself, pearl-white hair pulled back severely from her lined, dignified face.

"It was accepted," said Joe Purvis, who was in Billy's class in 1951- 52, "that 'the leaders of tomorrow's free world are on Miss Mary's playground today.' " To Miss Mary's pretentious school were sent the children of Hope's "better families," of the town's nascent postwar elite of middle- and upper-middle-class businessmen. In the school along with Billy was agreeable, sandy-haired Thomas F. McLarty III, little Mack, heir to one of the largest automobile leasing and dealership operations in the South. There was also the earnest, well-behaved Vincent Foster, whose father, the Fascinator, was becoming extraordinarily successful in Arkansas real estate. While the backyard of Billy's grandparents' home on Hervey Street was "scarcely deep or wide enough to accommodate a clothesline," according to one description, the adjoining lawn of the big Foster house "could handle a marching band."

Launched out of this sleepy, unlikely railroad town with its force-fed watermelons and fitful economy, these boyhood friends would go on to lucrative careers in Little Rock as corporate executives and lawyers, part of a very different world of wealth and power. It was a remarkable kindergarten class, though it would owe its later fame, if not much of its fortunes, to the curly-haired, cheerfully grinning Billy Clinton, who had a background, both visible and hidden, rather less auspicious than that of most of his classmates -- and who tried terribly hard, they remembered, to make everything right.

Billy was intent on belonging. "He wanted to be everyone's friend. It upset him if someone in any group that he went into didn't seem to like him," said his classmate George Wright. "It would trouble him so much that he seemed to be asking himself, 'What have 1 got to do to make this person like me?' 1 can remember that from when 1was six years old." A bit chunkier and taller than his peers, he seemed awkward, "not as coordinated as the rest of us," one recalled. But he used his size and sunny disposition -- always "friendly and joyous," said another classmate -- to intercede in any disputes. "A peacemaker," Joe Purvis remembered. "Unlike most little boys, he didn't like to see quarreling and fighting, and he would be the one who tried to break up a scuffle and smooth things over. He wanted everyone to be happy and have a good time." Billy Clinton was, "even at five years old, a natural politician," thought George Wright. "I can tell it still hurts," Wright would add decades after their time at Miss Mary's, "when people say derogatory things about him."

By 1953 Roger Clinton finally lost his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilferage. Once again Raymond would fill the breach, eventually taking his brother back as parts manager in his own thriving dealership. Billy was due to enter the second grade when Roger Clinton suddenly announced to Virginia and him that they were moving to Hot Springs. Virginia was relieved, if not elated, thinking the distance would keep family and friends from learning the worst about her already tortured marriage. Though many in the small town knew the truth she tried so hard to hide, Virginia believed she could leave Hope with the family's reputation intact.

Over the years to come, Billy returned frequently to visit his mother's relatives in Hope, riding the Greyhound bus back and forth by himself to stay weekends with the Cassidys or others. He felt "surrounded by a great big loving family when he was down there," he once told Virginia. As a young man far away from Arkansas he told colorful stories about the town's miraculous watermelons. As a politician he irresistibly evoked the name of his birthplace: "I still believe in a place called Hope," he would say again and again in the years ahead.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Thu Jun 16, 2016 2:15 am

Part 1 of 2

3. Hot Springs: "The Power to Save"

There was no town like it in America. The old spas had come and gone. A few, like fashionable Saratoga Springs in upstate New York or FDR's Warm Springs in Georgia, were well known. But none had been more broadly or colorfully patronized than picturesque Hot Springs, Arkansas -- and none was so pervasively, hypocritically corrupt.

"Let each come here, for here alone exists the power to save," promised a civic poem. "Here tottering forms, but skin and bone, are rescued from the grave." Wedged between forested slopes, the stone and brick spas of Bathhouse Row dispensed the steaming flow of forty-seven thermal streams, percolating a million presumably medicinal gallons a day from the depths of looming Hot Springs Mountain. An enthralled visitor in the 1940s found "singing birds in every bush and happy smiles on happy faces ... in this Scenic Spot of [the] Southland." Others judged it "an immense field for quackery," as a Harper's writer once noted, though the US government itself seemed to be taking the cure. Perched on the mountainside above Bathhouse Row stood the ten-story tower and adjoining wings of the huge five-hundred- bed Army and Navy General Hospital, a nineteenth-century relic rebuilt during the depression, and in the 1950s still occupied by casualties from World War II and Korea.

When Roger Clinton took his family there in 1953, the miniature city of twenty-five thousand was "a bit of a metropolis," said one account, "dropped among the green-clad Ouachita Mountains." Postwar medicine and drugs were already beginning to empty the baths, but throngs of health seekers still milled among the magnolias of the slightly worn spas -- the wealthy and famous let off from their limousines onto Bathhouse Row alongside the abject, often crippled poor, headed for what the US Park Service advertised as its "free bathhouse for indigent persons." Visitors now came for the pulsing resort itself more than for the waters. Nightclubs billed the touring acts of the era, typically Xavier Cugat's Latin band, popular singers Patti Page or Georgia Gibbs, and familiar movie stars like Mickey Rooney. Souvenirs and celebrities, racetracks and shooting galleries, alligator and ostrich farms -- there seemed something for every taste among the year-round swarm of visitors.

On the surface it was a tourist economy, though the town also enjoyed a thriving trade from farms and settlements in the verdant hills around it. Up winding streets from Central were the bungalows and English manor-style houses, the frame gingerbread and imitation Southern mansions of the local middle class, notably better-off than most of the rest of Arkansas. Set away in southeast Hot Springs were its five thousand African Americans, mainly spa attendants, maids, cooks, and waiters, with their own proud blocks of small brick homes, their own hotels, hospitals, schools, and, of course, bathhouse. Behind all this, however, there was still another Hot Springs, more integral than the baths, more discreet than its black quarter.

Native author Dee Brown once alluded to "the city's long-standing record of tolerance." For nearly a century the little city in the gorge was a fount of vice and official venality, gambling and prostitution, protection rackets and other graft that constituted a backroom criminal economy far larger than even the bustling open commerce along the Row. Celebrity gangsters of the 1920s declared the town neutral ground, and made The Springs, as everyone called it, their favorite resort. AI Capone was said to have permanent lease on Suite 443 in the stately old Arlington Hotel on Central, holding it even after he went to federal prison. By the 1950s, however, the corruption had gone well beyond slot machines or call girls, and local factions fought over the inevitable spoils. As in the rest of America, Hot Springs vice became largely corporate, with organized crime and business-government accomplices ultimately controlling the lucrative black market in casinos and more.

"Liquor flowed, the Oaklawn racetrack beckoned, and illegal gambling and brothels flourished under the averted eyes of local authorities," said one account of the years after Roger Clinton came back with his new family. "Everyone had a back room with game tables and decks of slot machines," recalled a resident who grew up with Bill Clinton. A Justice Department investigation in the early 1960s concluded that picture-postcard Hot Springs had "the largest illegal gambling operations" in the United States. "You name it," said William Harp, who reported for the town's Sentinel-Record during those years, "you could buy it here."

Among the regular purchases were politicians themselves, legendary for bribery, graft, and vote fraud. Prostitutes and madams publicly paid the authorities a monthly "pleasure tax"; they were routinely escorted by police to the Garland County courthouse to pay the prescribed kickbacks. In the 1930s it was five dollars per whore and ten for madames. Returning veterans in 1946 led a "GI revolt" against city hall, making one of their own, Sid McMath, mayor of Hot Springs and eventually governor of the state. In the classic Arkansas pattern, however, reform was fleeting, the old politics enduring. When a local madam eventually retired from the largest bordello in town, her graphic memoirs in the 1960s charted the cynical return to business as usual after a brief postwar reform. As if to make the point, the lady's colorful history would be banned from the local library. The era from the mid-1950s to the mid- 1960s was the "hottest" in the colorful annals of Hot Springs, Virginia Clinton herself later recorded, concluding that her new town was simply "addicted" to its gambling and other vice.

"For all of Roger Clinton's life," Virginia would reflect, "Hot Springs had been ... a place where gangsters were cool, and the rules were made to be bent, and money and power -- however you got them -- were the total measure of a man." It had all depended on the hypocrisy and in many ways the collusion of respectable Hot Springs, thick with churches and civic clubs -- and on a wider state corruption enveloping the capitol in Little Rock, where Springs politicians routinely passed on bribes "to a number of state officials," as one participant remembered. Among Virginia Clinton's closest friends in Hot Springs would be a woman who, as she described her, "actually carried the brown bag full of money to the governor's office" during the heyday of the regime. "Everybody knew," said a lawyer raised there in the 1950s and 1960s. "Baptist Arkansas just looked the other way, and a lot of people did real well." The town where Bill Clinton was raised, concluded a European journalist, was "a rhinestone of corruption on the southern Bible Belt."

On closer view there was a deeper melancholy. Hot Springs long harbored large numbers of itinerant, impoverished elderly. Not far from the strollers on Bathhouse Row and the glamorous customers at the nightclubs, seedy women's hotels and dingy back corridors of boardinghouses were home to wandering, blank-faced widows. Pathetic small colonies of the mentally ill were tucked away in run-down motor courts on the edges of town. "The Springs always had that roughness and tackiness to it, a real sadness as well as shadiness," said a native looking back on the postwar years. "Always."

Inevitably the place took its toll on even the outwardly secure. Shirley Abbott records in her poetic memoir, The Bookmaker's Daughter, the larger impact on values. In the end, she thought like many others, the pervasive corruption of the Springs "deconstructs and demolishes the American dream of virtue and hard work crowned by success, as well as all the platitudes and cant about the democratic process and small-town American life."

Roger Clinton had known much of that reality from growing up on the streets of the resort. Though Roger himself "wasn't much interested in politics," according to a relative, his brother Roy, an affable "yellow dog Democrat," as one friend called him, was elected to the Arkansas legislature in the 1950s. Now a part of the Hot Springs Clinton clan, little Billy Clinton came to enjoy passing out campaign leaflets for the legislator and, when he later went into politics himself, returned with some ceremony to seek Uncle Roy's political advice along with his great-uncle Buddy's in Hope. But neither man was the genuine political force among the wider circle of relatives. In politics as in the family, the far greater influence behind the scenes was Raymond's -- and it would be to big Uncle Raymond that Billy turned again and again in matters of real power and ambition, albeit far more discreetly than when he undertook his ritual journeys home for filial wisdom.

Raymond Clinton was a remarkable character. A large, handsome man, shrewd and domineering, he was the most ambitious of the Clinton sons. Virginia and others thought he shared the weaker Roger's taste for the high life of the Springs and for the town's furtive worship of money and power -- though he was far more its master than its victim. As a young man working at a drugstore only a few doors from the infamous Southern Club, he often watched as Al Capone strode down the sidewalk with a pair of bodyguards in front, behind, and to each side. ("You couldn't miss him," Raymond once told an interviewer.) He had found a partner to put up capital for an automobile dealership franchise in the 1930s and then promptly ousted him to take over the business. Clinton Buick soon became "a gathering place for powerful, politically savvy men in Hot Springs," as one person put it, the "magnetic" owner chairing the group and making deals on the phone while Roger stood behind the parts counter in the back. Raymond went on from the booming dealership to invest in real estate, liquor stores, and other ventures, joining the requisite civic clubs and aspiring to local society along the way. "He wanted in," said a member of the family.

Like other Hot Springs businessmen, Raymond Clinton was widely known to make his fortune and gain his influence from much more than "out-front" business or investments. "He ran some slot machines that he had scattered throughout town," said former FBI agent and Garland County sheriff Clay White. There was also convincing evidence of the prominent car dealer's links to organized crime and to the still formidable Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas. Like much else in the Springs, his dual life and power were an open secret. Once when Raymond's house was evidently firebombed, neighbors in the affluent area had little doubt that the incident was a result of his shady ties. "A lot of us just knew that it was either the Klan or the mob, and maybe some combination -- certainly something to do with Raymond's considerable dealings in the underworld," said a local physician who knew him well.

The Clinton patriarch seemed to accept the risks just as he savored his influence. The relationship between the two brothers was convoluted in that Raymond had filled or taken the same authoritarian role as Mama Clinton. Toward Roger's avid young stepson Billy, however, Raymond was doting and avuncular from the beginning, treating him as a favorite nephew and then protege, caring for him and even protecting him amid the alcoholic abuse by Roger Clinton. "Roger was pretty careful not to mistreat Billy in front of the Clinton clan, especially Raymond," said a relative, "but I've seen and heard of times when big ole Raymond stepped in, quietly and not so quietly, to scoop up that boy." They all saw Billy respond with delight and affection. Later there might be differences of view between the educated young man and the reactionary patriarch. But there seemed no question of Bill Clinton's underlying warmth and considerable respect for his uncle's power, for the refuge Raymond provided and the role he fulfilled. "While governor," a statehouse reporter would note later, Bill Clinton "frequently referred to Raymond G. Clinton as the most commanding male presence in his life, on several occasions referring to him as a father figure." Years later, an elderly relative in Hot Springs would view the disarray in the Clinton White House and reflect poignantly, "He needs an Uncle Raymond, and he hasn't got him."

Some thought the powerful older man saw Bill's political aptitude early on, perhaps even imagined him as a successor, building on power Raymond had only begun to develop and always coveted. "Raymond had a use for everybody, including the folks he loved like Billy," said a woman who knew him well. His loyalties seemed no less self-serving or expedient outside the family. Virginia remembered his supporting one old friend for sheriff, then abandoning the man when his daughter was to marry into the more prominent family of a rival candidate. By the 1960s Raymond Clinton had powerful friends beyond Hot Springs as well. He was a generous patron of Arkansas's senior US senator, John McClellan, among other ranking Democratic politicians, while also an avid backer of then-staunch segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama, personally driving Wallace whenever he visited Arkansas. "He was definitely politically connected," a nephew would say. "If you wanted to get something done, Uncle Raymond was in a position to do it."

***

Roger Clinton and his family lived first on a four-hundred-acre farm owned by Gabe Crawford some miles outside Hot Springs. In the alcoholic haze of failure in Hope, Roger had grasped at anything to put off returning to work for his older brother and bumptiously decided on farming. The Dude now dressed each morning in his two-toned shoes and sharply creased trousers to tend cattle and sheep. But the rigor of the place, the drafty old house with its outdoor privy and ceaseless chores, soon told. Explaining it to his wife as a new "opportunity," Roger took back the old job at Raymond's dealership, and they moved to another house Crawford had for sale, a spacious old two-story frame bungalow at the northern edge of Hot Springs only about a mile from the heart of town.

The green-trimmed Tudor-style home sat on a high terrace above Route 7, the narrow highway grandly named Park Avenue as it angled down toward the Arlington Hotel and Bathhouse Row. Inside, the setting seemed altogether fitting for their life and the Springs. Across from the living room, decorated in bright pink, were Bill's bedroom and next to it Virginia and Roger's room with a bay window and a game table at the foot of the bed. Upstairs, running the length of the house, was what Virginia remembered as a fabulous party room, with Mexican furniture, familiar prints of dogs playing cards, and a built-in bar, backed by a mirrored wall with a candy-striped awning. Duly impressed Virginia thought it all "just what the three of us needed." She would also think for years that Roger had bought the house for them from their friend Gabe Crawford with his profitable drugstores and bookie operations and that her own earnings turned over to her husband were going toward house payments and equity. But like so much else then and later, the property had been secretly purchased instead by Raymond Clinton; Roger, his wife, and his stepson were only renters.

Virginia enrolled Billy in St. John's parochial school at first, reluctant to put him in the notorious public schools, whose teachers as late as the 1950swere still not required to have college degrees. Within two years, however, he was at the old red-brick public elementary school, Ramble, with its wooden floors and daily morning assemblies, where pupils trooped into the auditorium, as one remembered, "for pledge, prayer, and song." The prayer they took for granted. Here, as in Hope, Billy was surrounded by the state's white fundamentalist majority. More worldly Hot Springs contained only an occasional Jewish family and a handful of Catholics, with their rare parish school. When the integration crisis erupted in Little Rock in the late 1950s, dozens of white families in the capital sent their "refugee" children the fifty-five miles to the Springs's still rigidly segregated, quietly traditional southern schools.

To a succession of housekeepers, black and white, who cared for him after school while both parents worked, Billy was always an amenable, genial child. "So easy to please," remembered Earline White, who loved cooking for his robust appetite, "and didn't have foolish, childish ways." Another saw in the talkative yet deferential little boy the potential charisma of a tent revivalist. "Have you ever thought about it?" she once asked Virginia. "How he could lead people to Christ!" Though she seldom attended church herself, his mother had taken him to Sunday schools in both Hope and Hot Springs. When he was only eight, the earnest youngster began to show his own religious devotion, rising early every Sunday to bathe and dress himself in coat and tie and then walking alone the four blocks to the Park Place Baptist Church, one of the city's largest congregations. There he "professed his faith at an early age," said a friend who recalled the ritual coming forward, the laying on of hands, the submerging baptism in the special tank above the pulpit. To church Billy carried a Bible given him by the family and duly inscribed, "William Jefferson Blythe III."

His outward serenity and conciliatory manner impressed other children just as they had on Miss Mary's playground in Hope. "I never remember Bill having a fight with anyone," a classmate would echo. Rose Crane, who lived nearby through much of their childhood, thought him "the most genuinely kind human being I've ever known." In the Park Avenue terrace house he would thicken into a soft chubbiness outgrown only in his teens. Rose saw that rotund boy of eleven or twelve in his ineffable delight and tenderness toward his little brother, Roger, Jr., born in 1956. She remembered how much, over the years, Billy Clinton wanted everyone, especially the younger children whom others left out, included in games or outings and how he got down on his knees to dance with her little sister because "she was too small and didn't have anybody for a partner" when they played their favorite Elvis Presley records.

Only the very striving itself seemed disagreeable. At St. John's he received low marks in deportment, the nuns recognizing his ability but trying to discourage him from jumping to his feet with the answer to every question before any other student could speak. For some time afterward, the family recalled, Virginia's son was so precocious, so assertive she actually had to take him out of school from time to time. "She had to curb it," one recalled. "It was just unseemly. Billy was such a handful." But Virginia Clinton was always far more proud than concerned. Little Bill would go to great lengths to avoid punishment, she remembered, because it was such an insult to his dignity. Boastfully she repeated the tale of her ten-year-old coming home from an errand with another child carrying a load they were supposed to share. "Mother, if you use this," he said in her story, pointing to his head and then holding out his empty hands, "you don't have to use these."

A sensual woman with her own self-conscious sense of glamour and worth, Virginia Clinton was in her thirties as Billy went through school in Hot Springs. She had herself used Raymond's influence to break into the town's clannish medical establishment and soon had a brisk practice contracting as a nurse-anesthetist. In the habit of sleeping in her heavy makeup because she was always on call, she changed it in a morning ritual that took ninety minutes before she later managed to reduce it to only forty-five. From a home behind the Park Avenue house, Rose Crane saw the thoroughly cosmetic Virginia Clinton, immaculate in a stiffly starched white nurse's uniform, set off with long dark hair, burnished penny loafers instead of ordinary nurse's shoes, and perfectly manicured, brightly lacquered fingernails.

She usually returned from her hospital shift by midafternoon. In warmer months she invariably changed into shorts and halter to tend her flowers. Afterward, sipping a tall drink, she stretched out on a chaise in the yard to cultivate her deep tan -- with "dark bare limbs, stomach and cleavage showing, painted eyebrows, long wispy eyelashes, dark eyeliner, bright glossy lipstick, fingernails and toenails as vibrant as the flowers in my garden," as she later described herself -- all to the inescapable notice of neighbors and passersby, not to mention her son and other youngsters. "She was always attractive," Crane would say, "always well-groomed and with a style." Out of the starched uniforms or gardening halters, Virginia was fond of lounging in tailored men's pajamas and fuzzy mules, chain-smoking Pall Mall cigarettes and delivering one-liners in a slightly husky voice to her son's duly impressed preteen and adolescent friends. "Real Hollywood," one of them remembered her. "She was a good-looking lady and hilarious ... like a walking female Will Rogers."

As in their courtship, she and her husband were now very much a part of the livelier, seamier Hot Springs, driving around town in familiar black or white company convertibles from the Clinton Buick dealership. They frequented the Tower Club, the Belvedere, the Wagon Wheel, and the Southern Club, and she claimed that she was on hand for every show at the Vapors, always impressed by its chandeliers and red velvet drapery, and the backroom which contained a full complement of slot machines, crap tables, blackjack dealers, and roulette wheels.

By day they were also regular bettors at Oaklawn, the popular Springs racetrack with a tiny golf course on the infield. At one point Roger even bought a thoroughbred, though it produced no triumphs. During the season, Virginia routinely scheduled her cases as early as possible in order to arrive at the track by midday, and she was notorious for reading racing forms on duty at the hospital. For months on end she hurried away from her job, left Billy with a housekeeper or else as a latchkey child -- in later years to take care of his baby brother -- and appeared daily at the two-dollar window at Oaklawn.

She impressed many as possessing, beneath her garish image, an underlying seriousness, shrewdness, and strength -- and a confidence beyond that of most women of the time. Family and neighbors were aware that as a nurse-anesthetist she made more money than her husband did and, in any case, was clearly the more responsible of the two. "Bill grew up with a woman as the real breadwinner in the household, as the real grown-up figure," one relative observed. "I saw Virginia Clinton," Rose Crane would say with the force of the impression still audible in her voice, "as a very powe1ul woman."

The bond between mother and older son was deeply forged and never simple. Family and friends in Hot Springs remembered how soon she had treated a very young Billy "just like an adult." "I had never had any trouble thinking of Bill as a grown-up," she said later. It struck his own peers, then and later, that he had almost no chores around the house -- "was really spoiled in that way," said one -- and that he was "on his own so much of the time," as another recalled.

The small boy readily became a staunch ally and companion-and later something more. "Even when he was growing up," the mother remembered, "Bill was father, brother, and son in this family."

In a kind of routine, Virginia would come home from the hospital or track, put on some coffee, and begin to talk to her son and his friends with her customary zest and earthiness about what she had seen or heard, commonly some outrage small or large among the local medical community, with whom she had running feuds. The talk was almost never political or social in the larger sense and rarely went beyond the personal or the petty. At only eight or nine, Billy had mostly listened, taking it in. Later he spoke up, sometimes argued. "In high school he would debate her tooth and nail," and "neither would give an inch," said a childhood friend, David Leopoulos. "There were some red faces and bulging veins. . . . I was never sure who won . . . was afraid to ask."

Like many other Hot Springs boys, he tried the slot machines in the back rooms, but "natural stinginess soon made him give up," according to one account. Along with his friends he called to tie up the customers' line of Maxine, a prominent local madam. "Mainly to hear her cuss," he described later. "We never heard a woman use language like that." The devout young Baptist was neither ignorant nor innocent of his profitably decadent town.

But when, as an adolescent, Bill first accompanied Virginia to her beloved racetrack or to the Vapors to hear the famous Jack Teagarden play the tenor saxophone that Bill himself was learning, he was visibly uncomfortable -- and disparaging, if not reproachful. "The dumbest thing I ever did," he had muttered leaving Oaklawn after only one race. The moment Teagarden's performance was finished, Virginia remembered clearly, Bill had turned to her and pointedly asked to leave.

She thought Bill disgusted by the high life around him in this wide-open town, though, she would say, adding that "Bill's reactions to Hot Springs's excesses have also probably helped shape him." Yet the aversions that molded a future president were always closer to home as well. "He made it clear," thought one writer, "that parts of her lifestyle were not for him." Remaining the loyal, intimate son, he would also begin -- slowly, subtly, carefully -- to set himself apart from his family, much as he would remain in and of Arkansas while marrying and reaching beyond it.

***

Roger Clinton's rampages worsened as his alcoholism progressed. Soon after the move he began to beat both his wife and his stepson. In their first years in the Springs, Virginia often took Billy with her to the hospital to sleep during her night calls or shifts rather than leave him at home alone with her sodden, volatile husband. Though Roger now more than once proposed to adopt the boy formally and her son now commonly went by the name Billy Clinton, she adamantly refused to share legal custody.

As a smaller child especially, he spent "probably the majority of his free time at the houses of his friends," his Hope classmate Joe Purvis remembered. On weekends in the early 1950s, while his mother and his stepfather gambled, drank, and fought, all with equal passion, Billy often fled back to Hope, taking the bus by himself on Friday evenings and returning Sunday afternoon. Even his grandmother's noisy house on Hervey Street became a refuge. Most of the time there was no escape of any kind. Virginia would recall vividly how she and her son used to wait together every evening in the kitchen at Park Avenue and invariably "tense up" as they heard Clinton drive in and walk from the car. They had been in Hot Springs only months when she first packed their bags in the midst of an eruption and hurried Billy away with her to stay at a friend's apartment house for some days. Forty years later the mother would remember how unusually "soundly" her young son slept next to her that first night away from a torturous home.

In public Roger Clinton still fell into drunken brawls, often defending his equally hard-drinking and abusive backroom friend Gabe Crawford, who tended to pick fights he could not finish. But increasingly the violence also burst open in jealous rage over Virginia. She had danced with another man one night at the Tower, and Roger "beat him to a pulp," as she described it. He was now "mad at me ... most of the time," she recalled, and as his life became more chaotic his anger and rage toward his wife only deepened. Afterward she would admit to taunting her husband by flirting with other men on their rounds of the clubs and casinos, though his alcoholic's suffering and abuse, their motive force deep within himself alone, needed no outside provocation.

Roger and Virginia took their screaming and flailing from the nightclubs and streets back to the terrace above Park Avenue and to an awakened, terrified child. "On nights like that, our house was just bedlam from the time we got home until dawn's early light," Virginia remembered. At eight, nine, and ten years of age, Billy lay in his room listening to what his mother called Roger Clinton's "accusations of infidelity, pitiful rants," bitter nightlong quarrels with persistent violence and profanity. In a cruel pattern, the fights repeated what his mother had heard as a young girl in Hope and foreshadowed exchanges with his own wife in the governor's mansion in Little Rock. (Nearly forty years later, with unconscious irony, a Washington reporter would also use the word bedlam to describe the chaotic decision making within the Clinton White House.)
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Thu Jun 16, 2016 2:15 am

Part 2 of 2

There was to be no respite. Around the same time in the mid-I950s, Billy went through yet another telling episode with his imposing grandmother. Not long after they left Hope, Edith had suffered a stroke. Even unconscious, she oppressed the local hospital in Hope with her shrieking and thrashing. A physician carelessly resorted to morphine to quiet her, and she was soon addicted. After her partial recovery from the stroke, the Cassidys moved into a small apartment near Park Avenue in Hot Springs to be close to their daughter. But Edith was now a full-blown drug addict. In desperation, Virginia arranged to have her committed to the Arkansas state asylum at Benton, only thirty miles from the Springs. "Oh, God, it was an awful place," the daughter wrote of an institution that authorities would still document as one of the worst in the nation under Bill Clinton's own administration decades later. There Edith Cassidy remained for several months. Virginia often took Billy to visit her on Sundays in 1955, the two women sparring endlessly. A seemingly benign white-haired figure with her burning eyes behind sedate rimless glasses, Edith alternately begged and connived to be let out of the state madhouse.

After her release, her morphine addiction seemed kept at bay only by what they all saw as her formidable will, and Edith was once again a forceful presence in her grandson's life. She was often at the Park Avenue house, ever reminding him of the martyred Bill Blythe and how much she hated Roger Clinton. Other children remembered her as constantly at pains to find a way to show a photograph or extoll the many virtues of "Bill's real father."

By the autumn of 1955 Virginia was pregnant again. Both she and her husband wanted to have a baby together, although she must have known that the prospect of a new child obviously would do nothing to relieve their plight. She had already begun to put aside money, "rat-holing some of my paycheck every week," for a divorce she still resisted because of its social stigma as well as the economic sacrifice. The night after Roger Cassidy Clinton was born in July 1956, his father went out carousing, leaving nine-year-old Billy alone. Lying in her hospital bed, Virginia phoned home to find her first son abandoned and was forced to call Raymond Clinton to go over and take care of him. It was to become a familiar pattern: Roger Clinton would disappear for days at a time -- even passing out at a girlfriend's house the night his father died -- and return with pathetically implausible excuses that became a family joke. Yet as Billy and the rest of the family understood, proud Virginia Clinton never questioned or snooped. The husband's frequent betrayals went on almost as routine, with a kind of immunity and with an inevitable message to the boys watching it all. "Women who run around trying to find their husbands doing this, that, or the other thing just kill me," Virginia would say near the end of her life in a remark many thought aimed at her famous daughter-in-law as much as at anyone else.

After the birth of little Roger, as they called him, there were several nights when she fled the house with both children, taking refuge in a nearby motel. Virginia found her own escape in the attentions of other men, including a friend from the track and her hairdresser (a future husband), Jeff Dwire, who would be convicted some years later of securities fraud. Roger was now drinking his whiskey from tumblers, managing to keep the job at the dealership while becoming more wanton than ever at home, even erupting in obscenities during a children's birthday party. He was given to kicking or slapping Virginia in public or throwing her to the floor of their bedroom, where he hit her with her own shoe.

And though the abused wife could not bring herself to confess it even in her often-florid memoir, both friends and medical sources close to the boys' pediatrician in Hot Springs recalled that Billy and little Roger were themselves beaten and brutalized far worse than anyone later admitted. Their injuries were treated more than once at their doctor's office and even at the hospital, friends recounted. "A member of my family doctored them for some pretty bad stuff -- stitches and all that," said a Hot Springs attorney. Virginia staunchly saw to it that no records remained to embarrass them later. There were apparently heated discussions about reporting the incidents to the police -- often in front of an injured Billy. Each time, Virginia Clinton prevailed on the doctor and nurses to hold back the shameful secret of the battered children, saying "she would handle it herself," as one witness remembered.

At least twice during the late 1950s the police were called to the Park Avenue house. On one of those nights tiny Roger wailed about the danger to Dado, as he called his mother, while Billy telephoned his mother's lawyer to summon the officers. Again Roger Clinton was arrested for brandishing a gun. On one occasion he drunkenly refused to dress for the police and was taken to the station in his underwear, and in April 1959 Virginia angrily filed for divorce but promptly gave in to Roger's pleading after he promised to change.

By his own account, Bill Clinton was fourteen when he first stood up to the violence himself. As a high school freshman in 1960 he weighed more than two hundred pounds and stood nearly six feet tall, already substantially heavier and even taller than his stepfather. Listening one evening to yet another fight reverberate from his parents' closed bedroom, he busted in. "I just broke down the door," he recalled. "Daddy, I've got something to say to you, and I want you to stand up. If you can't stand up, I'll help you," he told a mumbling Clinton slumped at the game table. "I don't want you to lay a hand on my mother in anger ever, ever again, or you'll have to deal with me." This time it was Virginia who called the police, and once more big Roger spent the night in jail.

"The Clintons had three things that most Hot Springs residents of the 1950s would love," Rose Crane recalled wistfully. "A Coca-Cola box that was regularly filled, a convertible, and a mother who routinely served chicken and dumplings with plenty of white meat and no bones." The admiring neighbor's typical memory reflected how carefully and completely -- despite the screaming, despite the police coming and going in the night -- they all concealed the horror within. Even a staggering Roger Clinton, with his slurred speech, could suddenly appear steady and coherent when his own family telephoned or happened by. At any rate, his wife did nothing to break the deception, cautioning her children to conceal the horror as a family disgrace. "My mother just put the best face on it she could," Clinton himself would tell a writer in 1992. "A lot of stuff was dealt with by silence."

But by all accounts it was the outgoing, apparently open young Billy Clinton who maintained the most impenetrable mask. "Now that I know what was really happening inside that place," said a friend, ''I'm blown away with how he never let on, never let himself go. He covered up like a dog burying a bone real deep." Early on, the boy who would be president inhabited the divided world so characteristic of his later profession, the chasm between public and private realities. Like many other children of alcoholics, he learned "to lie automatically," as one observer put it, "without any sense of guilt." His was a home, as many looked back on it, in which much was concealed and many falsehoods were glibly, persuasively voiced and even believed.

By high school or perhaps junior high, young Bill had grown into a charmer who reflexively spoke what others wanted to hear -- in the mode of his most intimate family transactions. "We can only guess now how he hated it all," said a close childhood friend -- "the stepfather, probably also his mother, who let it happen and who the rest of the family was always saying was trash anyway, just the whole lying life he really had but always had to hide so well." Not until the 1992 presidential campaign would Bill Clinton speak publicly of the enduring torment of his childhood -- not, that is, until advisers deemed a suitably expurgated version of the dysfunction and abuse to be a poignant, humanizing story and its telling an undeniable political asset.

It all seemed to reach a climax in the early 1960s when Virginia chanced to learn the "devastating" news that the Park Avenue house belonged to Raymond Clinton after all, and she resolved to leave as soon as she could afford to. For nearly two years she wavered over what she called her "frightening" decision. "Roger would be sweet and funny one day," she remembered, "and I'd think, Maybe he's changed." Finally in April 1962 she braced herself to announce to Clinton that she wanted a divorce, triggering another explosion. The next day mother and sons packed their bags and left the terrace for the last time.

With the money she had been squirreling away for years, she bought a new home in a development on the southern edge of Hot Springs and defiantly moved her boys into a setting that was fashionably middle class, if not affluent, by local standards. "Earned by my own tears," as Virginia termed it, the house was the latest Gold Medallion all-electric model of the late 1950s.A red-brick ranch-style residence with picture windows and white wrought iron, it boasted a central vacuum system with outlets in each room, a large master bedroom with mirrored vanity and sunken bath, a spacious den, and two added bedrooms. Attached was the obligatory double carport, sheltering Virginia's familiar convertible, a black high-finned Buick coupe Bill drove during high school, and the small aging Henry J that Roger and Virginia had once cavorted in, its top cut off to make another convertible, which Bill took out in the summer.

There were other substantial houses and impressively filled driveways in the subdivision, some with the ubiquitous little cast-iron black groom out front, the small, smiling figure prized here as elsewhere in suburban white America as a touch of genteel history. The neighborhood was an obvious step up from Park Avenue. The Wheatley family, who owned most of the real estate in downtown Hot Springs, lived in the area. Next door was a comfortable Baptist parsonage, whose resident took polite note of Virginia's seasonal appearances, her inimitable yard work in full makeup, halter, tight shorts, and bare midriff. She was amused by the stir she created in a community that included a Baptist minister. Yet the three of them fitted easily enough into the outward respectability of the neighborhood. For two blocks in front of their home was a lush field of rose, pink, and deep purple peonies, harvested by the town each year just in time for Mother's Day. To friends it seemed idyllic. "Amazing!" one of them said of Bill Clinton's sleek new house on Scully Street.

New status did nothing to rescue the family from the old turmoil and relationships. Divorce depositions by both mother and older son that spring revealed only fragments of the violence they lived with. "He has continually tried to do bodily harm to myself and my son Billy whenever he attempts to attack me when he has been drinking," Virginia testified. The accompanying statement of fifteen-year-old Billy supplied details he would later omit -- notably Roger Clinton's uncowed and fierce reaction to his defense of his mother, however taller and heavier he had grown. There had been much abuse and violence since that episode in 1960; Bill called the police again as late as April 1962, just before their leaving. "He has threatened my mother on a number of occasions and because of his nagging, arguing with my mother, I can tell that she is unhappy and it is impossible in my opinion for them to continue to live together as man and wife," he swore in language prompted by a lawyer. He added, though, a story with the ring of real life: "The last occasion in which I went to my mother's aid, he threatened to mash my face in if I took her part."

The Garland County chancery court in Hot Springs granted the divorce on May 15, 1962. For a time, Bill even began to escort his irrepressible mother on her rounds of the local nightclubs. "I guess he'd been playing the role since he was four or five," said a close friend, "but with Roger gone, Billy was a daddy and husband for sure now." It was a brief interval. Drawn and gaunt from a sudden loss of weight, Roger Clinton soon appeared on Scully Street, parking his car across the road to wait until Virginia inevitably came out to talk to him. After weeping and pleading to reconcile, he frequently spent the night on their front porch, she remembered, "like a derelict."

The Clintons told her big Roger was suffering terribly. It was in pity but with affection that she eventually took him back, even though Bill had "conflicted feelings" about the divorce, as she put it in her memoirs. At the time, however, he was utterly opposed to any reconciliation, arguing that his stepfather "would never change," according to a friend. At one point during the period of divorce Bill and big Roger had managed a long talk alone together, in a car parked in another part of town. "A real conversation," as the younger man would call it later, it was in touching contrast to their usual relationship and no doubt part of Roger Clinton's anguished contrition. But not even that had persuaded Bill. "Virginia went back to him in spite of Bill's objections," said another friend. They apparently never discussed the reconciliation again. "Imagine the feeling of loss of control when Clinton could not convince his mother not to remarry Roger Clinton," wrote a psychotherapist discussing the event after it was publicly revealed. But once more Bill had suspended his anger, striving to please his mother. "She felt that Roger Or.] needed a father," Bill later explained, omitting, thought one observer, "what seems the obvious and (in this case) the real reason -- that Virginia loved Roger."

Virginia often related how Billy went to a Hot Springs judge on his own initiative that summer to change his last name legally from Blythe to Clinton. He did it either for his younger brother, so they would both have the same last names, or as a gesture toward a stepfather he still loved, as she explained it. Asked later by reporters, Bill himself could never remember exactly when or why the step had been taken. In fact, Arkansas court records showed that it was Virginia Cassidy Clinton who petitioned for the change -- on June 12, 1962, barely a month after the divorce and well after Roger began to appear so imploringly on Scully Street.

Despite the objections of the new Bill Clinton, Virginia and Roger were remarried on August 6, eighty-three days after their divorce. When big Roger rejoined them, however, he would be sleeping with Virginia in one of the smaller rooms along the hall, supplanted by what they all saw as the "third adult" in the family. As it had from the moment the mother and boys moved in months before, the imposing master bedroom belonged to sixteen-year-old Bill.

Then, as before and after, as always, the boy in the master bedroom energetically concealed his anguished private life behind a cheerful, apparently serene public face. There, as in the old bungalow, Bill gathered friends around him to practice their musical instruments, to take part in activities he organized and led, and often simply to have them there for reasons he could never explain. The Clintons' Baptist neighbor was not quite sure his daughter was entirely safe in a home where the parents drank and gambled with such gusto. But what most of Bill's friends saw was a normal, outgoing, even joyful teenager, especially loving to his half brother. To little Roger, Billy became the hulking and masterful Bubba -- in the outside world an indulgent and mentoring big brother, a surrogate parent and secret protector only within the family. Few guessed how demanding both roles were.

Virginia now routinely took little Roger to school before dawn, leaving him with a janitor rather than home alone with his father. Not long after the remarriage, the six-year-old had found Roger Clinton bent over Virginia in the laundry room with scissors at her throat and had run out to find his brother in the next-door parsonage, shouting hysterically, "Bubba! Bubba! Daddy's killing Dado." There was another familiar episode of shrieks and sobbing that ended only when Bill slammed the door in Roger Clinton's face and sent the drunken man careening out of the house.

High school classmates remembered ever-smiling Bubba Clinton driving the little cut-off Henry J through Hot Springs or to out-of-town games, wearing a huge four-foot-brim sombrero that became, like his glibness and ebullience, a personal trademark. Few seemed to notice the underlying melancholy, the periodic anxious telephone calls home to check on his mother and little brother. He was "pretty happy" as a child, Bill Clinton said of himself decades later, though when asked about intimacy with or loving memories of his stepfather he was suddenly at a loss, unable to recall even the warmer moments from Hope. "He took me to St. Louis in a train once," he told a reporter tersely after a prolonged pause. "There just weren't many times. It was sort of sad. . . . I missed it."

"I think it strengthened Bill," his mother said of the tumult and fear. As usual, the older son agreed, at least in public. "She really taught me a lesson that I've always applied to my political life," he once said, "about sucking it up and working through the tough times." Others came to see it in different terms. "He was always taking care of his little brother because big Roger couldn't ever be trusted, always calling when he was out because he was afraid," said a friend who knew them all. "The burden was enormous, and as I look back on it, Bill Clinton never really had a chance to be a child or a teenager." Behind the mask, the unrelenting tension between image and reality was already producing a young man haunted by nervously hidden bouts of depression, by a sometimes morbid uncertainty, and still more by the compulsion to win favor -- to make peace and make everything right -- at virtually any cost. "One of the biggest problems I had in fully maturing," he reflected on one occasion, "was learning how to deal with conflict and express disagreement without being disagreeable, without thinking the world would come to an end, without feeling I would kind of lose my footing in life."

Ultimate loss, death itself, seemed to add to the specters and pressures. "I thought about it all the time," he would say about his natural father's accident. "I always felt, in some sense, that I should be in a hurry in life, because it gave me a real sense of mortality." One of the most chilling experiences of his youth, he confided one night years afterward on the campaign trail, was the enigmatic death of a friend's older brother, a young man strikingly similar to what Bill Clinton was striving to be. "He was a perfect kid, handsome ... smart . . . popular ... one of those guys who everybody loved," he said in tones his listeners never forgot. "He went to sleep one night and the next morning they found him dead. No sign of anything. He just died."

Bill Clinton, the boy who had leaped up to answer every question in the elementary grades, plunged into high school with the same fervor to please and excel. Never well-coordinated or athletic despite his size, he made his mark in music and academics. With childhood lessons, Ozark summer camps, and sheer hard work, he became one of the most accomplished tenor saxophonists in the state. As band major, he organized fund-raising on behalf of the high school music program and had his first peer contacts with African Americans, "the first blacks Clinton respected," said one account. Eventually he played in his own talented jazz combo, won state prizes and music scholarships, and in the process, as one fellow musician recalled, "amassed a large network of friends throughout Arkansas." But while music remained his fond avocation, and later even a career asset of sorts, it was never a match for wider school politics.

"He has an enormous modesty, bordering on inferiority, about his personal experience. There are a lot of things about him that aren't self-confident. He needs a lot of assurance and validation that he's doing good," one of Clinton's closest associates in Little Rock would later remark. Another observer said, "There's a veil over his voice, a veil over his face. He has this smile all the time. There is a veil over his whole being."

The principal of Hot Springs High School, Johnnie Mae Mackey, was in a sense his first political patron beyond Uncle Raymond. Widowed in World War II, she worked avidly in the American Legion Auxiliary, held an elaborate Flag Day celebration each year, and in a strong southern voice "boomed her admonitions to patriotism," as one student recalled. When a color guard went by during a rain-soaked football game without receiving what Mackey thought due respect, the large and imposing lady roused the huddled crowd to its feet by crying out, "If there's a red-blooded American in this stadium, stand up!" "Service through elected office was considered a high calling," Clinton's friend Carolyn Staley said, describing the school's robust ethic, "and cynicism was an unfamiliar impulse."

Mackey had no difficulty inspiring the school's gregarious and amicable first-chair tenor sax, whose political aptitude she quickly recognized and proceeded to nurture. But then, Bill Clinton seemed to run for president of every organization he joined and to join everyone in reach. With ridicule and rancor as well as good humor, his classmates soon nicknamed him Billy Vote Clinton. Eventually his cheerful grasping moved even the leadership-minded Mackey to put an unprecedented limit on the number of extracurricular groups to which any one student could belong. "Or Bill would have been president of them all," she confessed. As it was, several students believed the high school's political system was "rigged," as one put it, on behalf of nonathletes and other "favored" students like Clinton. "We had a bit of a sit-down strike in the auditorium over it," remembered Peggy Janske, a cheerleader who saw Bill and those like him as "too good to be true," deferring to the administration rather than independently representing students' concerns. "We felt like Mrs. Mackey was catering to Billy," she told a reporter years later.

Close beneath the charm he was fiercely competitive. "I beat Jim McDougal on a math test! I beat Jim McDougal on a math test!" Carolyn Staley remembered Clinton as "just screaming" when he bested a local prodigy. Having been president of the sophomore and junior classes, Clinton ran for a senior class office against an old friend and during the balloting told her with grim seriousness, "If you beat me I'll never forgive you." He lost, and they remained friends -- though she never forgot the sudden, almost menacing force of the remark or the raw feeling it exposed.

Bill Clinton always enjoyed popularity. There were close friends, many who respected him for his intelligence, others who liked him for his sheer warmth and congeniality. Still, there were mixed reactions among his peers, though few spoke out when the state and national press later came asking about the adolescent who had become a powerful politician. "Several of us looked down on him," a Hot Springs native would say after Clinton was elected president of the United States and the ritual mythology of his difficult but "normal," "outstanding" boyhood was already forming. "In the presence of elders or anyone who could help or hurt him, he was always safely in the background. He'd always hide his true feelings." Another saw the same trait in Clinton's claimed aversion to alcohol and drugs because of allergies or revulsion at his drunken stepfather. "It wasn't because he couldn't or didn't want to get high," said a man who grew up with him. "Bill just didn't have what it takes to risk the disapproval in getting caught, to risk his political future." From early on, the paradoxes of his expedience, opportunism, habitual sincerity, anger, and implacable ambition ignited ambivalence in friends and acquaintances.

"He always had the girls carrying his books home for him after school," Virginia bragged to a friend. Yet, in his early teens at least, a still pudgy Billy was not the attractive or assertive young man he would become with women. "I think there were years growing up that he felt kind of like he was fat and rejected," said one classmate. Clinton himself later seemed to echo some of the same self-consciousness and uncertainty. Encouraging the son of a political friend to overcome his shyness, the then-governor of Arkansas drew the young man aside at a dinner party in Little Rock. "I was a fat boy and the girls hated me," Bill Clinton told him solemnly in an earnest and rare confession. "But look at you. You're skinny, and they'll love you."

In his later high school years, grown taller and slimmer, he seemed eager to make up for earlier doubts. There were proms and parties and long hot summer nights spent cruising Central with girls in the convertibles -- though neither Clinton nor most of his circle dated steadily. "Bill's taste ran toward the strikingly attractive, a bent I wholeheartedly agreed with," wrote Virginia, adding, with her unabashed sense of the cosmetic, "I liked what I called beauty queens -- girls who wanted to look pretty." The mother later admitted as well that neither she nor her alcoholic husband ever talked with their sons candidly or openly about sex and that they had only a vague sense of the boys' ethical and moral grounding. Bill appeared a "straight arrow" compared to her, Virginia Clinton reflected, and on matters of values and character "seemed to do all right." Even more than in most families of that time and place, the model of relationships between men and women -- matters of sexuality, loyalty, commitment, equity and equality, ultimately intimate friendship and love itself -- had been left largely to what Bill and little Roger had seen and felt so sharply at home.

Promoted by Johnnie Mackey, Bill ran for the American Legion's Boys State the summer before his senior year. Wealthy Mack McLarty, his kindergarten friend, was elected "governor" at the state meeting. But as he hoped and maneuvered to do, Clinton won nomination to the national assembly in Washington, DC. There, on July 24, 1963, almost four months to the day before the assassination, John F. Kennedy shook his hand in the White House Rose Garden, producing a memorable photo of the two presidents a generation apart, the self-consciously grinning sixteen-year-old from Arkansas and a handsome young celebrity president almost the same age the boy's father would have been, a politician whose style Bill Blythe's son would emulate in a number of ways.

He went on to lunch in the Senate dining room with the Arkansas senators -- his uncle Raymond's friend John McClellan and another idol and a future employer, William Fulbright. He had once considered medicine as a career, "seeing how much his mother looked up to doctors," recalled a friend. But in later legend the Washington trip was said to seal his choice of politics. "I could see it in his eyes when he came back," Virginia told a reporter. "I had decided what I wanted to do well before I met Kennedy," Clinton would confide to a friend. "He always knew what he wanted to be," added the same friend, "a lot more than what he wanted to do with it."

He asked Fulbright's and McClellan's staff, as well as school counselors, about a choice of college. At their suggestion and without much apparent pondering of his own, he applied only to Georgetown's School of the Foreign Service in Washington, drawn by its sheer proximity to government -- though he never contemplated a diplomatic career, and his Hot Springs counselor in some confusion thought it one of "the Ivy League schools ... most difficult for a Southerner to get into." At Hot Springs he would finish fourth in a class of 323, a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist with prizes in Latin and music, feats of memorization in English literature, though surprisingly few other traces of maturing intellectual conviction or originality. In his US history textbook, Perry Miller's conventional Errand into the Wilderness, the future president underscored the author's optimistic if nebulous judgment of the American experience on the eve of the 1960s: ''This is a chronicle of social self-consciousness."

On Scully Street his sense of ambition was more than ever fortified by his fiercely proud mother. Virginia now framed his band medals on velvet, making a corner of the living room "a kind of Bill Clinton display," as one person remembered. His friends called it "the shrine." Some saw the poignant contrast with the increasingly morose Roger Clinton, who by the mid-1960s seemed to customers and old friends a thoroughly withdrawn and broken man. "Now that I think about it," said one, "Virginia really belittled her husband, went around saying, and sort of winking at, what a weak drunk he was, and made Bill the real object of her pride and affection." She recorded her son's frequent public appearances with a home movie camera, telling relatives and friends that he would surely someday be president. His benediction at commencement she carefully typed out beforehand, sending copies to relatives and others. Ironing his gown, she had wept so much that the tears visibly stained the fabric. "I was so proud of him I nearly died," she wrote her mother about the prayer their boy impressively intoned over the public address system at the high school stadium. "He was truly in all his glory that night."

Georgetown accepted him later in the summer of 1964. The Hot Springs he left behind would change over the ensuing years, its more egregious illegal gambling finally closed down by the reform state administrations of Winthrop Rockefeller in 1967-70. For a time they even boarded up some of the store fronts on Central, prompting hookers and drug dealers to spill out onto the streets more brazenly than ever. Yet the tenor of the place remained. The flow of tourist dollars eventually resumed despite the waning popularity of miracle waters or the absence of back room gambling. Even in the leanest times of its relative legitimacy, the famous Vapors would never gross less than half a million dollars annually, as insiders testified to federal vice officers. Raymond Clinton and other powers of the old Springs found new channels for their wealth and influence. Organized crime adapted and maintained its presence, making Arkansas a pivotal province of its drug empire as it had once made the old spa an open city for its vacationing warlords.

Bill's absence produced what Virginia called a "void" for both her and his brother. For eight-year-old Roger, "there was nobody left whom he knew could protect him all the time," she would say. Soon after Bill went to Washington, Virginia invited her mother to come live with them. Both soon regretted it.

Of Bill Clinton's friends in the town where he grew up, many would be fellow students, though even more were former teachers and other adult contacts he had made a point of cultivating in his adolescence. They included several people in the town's business community, where he was well known by the Kiwanis, the Elks, and Civitan as a ''junior Businessman of the Year," a Master Counselor of the Masonic Demolay, and other honors he tirelessly accumulated. "He was always a gentleman, showing respect and good manners," said a typical older admirer, "loved by his peers, teachers, and yes, even the civic leaders."

In the end he appreciated them more than most then knew. As he left for Georgetown, Bill Clinton had already meticulously compiled hundreds of Hot Springs names, addresses, phone numbers, and personal notations on small index cards -- for future votes, campaign organization, and, of course, fund-raising.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Thu Jun 16, 2016 11:05 pm

4. Georgetown: "They'll Know What I'm Doing Here"

Spread across a hundred acres on the rolling bluffs above the Potomac in northwest Washington, the Georgetown campus was one of the capital's landmarks. Overlooking the river were the Gothic spires of the venerable and picturesque Georgetown College for arts and sciences. The plainer, newer brick building of the School of the Foreign Service was tucked back up Thirty-sixth Street on an old tree-lined cobblestone avenue and, along with the schools of business and languages, formed part of what was called the East Campus. Altogether, the Jesuit-run university bordered the exclusive Georgetown section of Washington, with its fashionable business blocks along Wisconsin Avenue, its undulating colonial brick sidewalks and rows of federal townhouses, and its discreet mansions and even wooded estates.

The curriculum in which Bill Clinton enrolled in the fall of 1964 was prescribed training for prospective diplomats or others in international relations -- four years of required courses, mostly in the social sciences and with relatively few electives. Taking a more narrowly vocational approach than most liberal arts colleges, the School of the Foreign Service was "almost a State Department bureaucrat's version of a military academy," said one graduate, "rote without the brass or discipline." With some nine hundred students in the mid-1960s, the school was well known in the country and abroad, largely because of the Jesuits' shrewd promotion. For all that, however, it was never in the first rank of the nation's academic programs in world affairs.

With tuition and expenses comparable to those of the Ivy League, Georgetown drew largely the sons, and still only a handful of young women, of upper-middle-class and well-to-do Catholic America. But there were also conspicuously wealthy international students -- "The real money was from overseas," said a graduate -- many of them sent from the ruling families of Latin America and the Middle East. "A three-suit school," as one professor called it, the university was affluent and formal compared with less monied parochial campuses like Fordham, Boston College, or Holy Cross. Young gentlemen of the School of the Foreign Service and the other colleges traditionally wore coats and ties to classes. Many shopped in the exclusive men's shop adjacent to the campus and lined the narrow streets around the institution with their sports cars.

In the mid-1960s the university was still clearly marked by a conservative academic orthodoxy as well as by the visible distinctions of wealth. "Intellectual skepticism did not play well with the Jesuits, who ranged like greenskeepers over the Catholic country club that was Georgetown in 1964," wrote Robert Sabbag, one of Clinton's classmates, adding that "money and status at Georgetown -- as they have a habit of doing everywhere -- traveled hand in hand." "Georgetown was an overwhelmingly conservative institution," said Jo Hamilton, another student at the time, "compared with almost anywhere else, except perhaps the deep South." Clinton and his class enrolled at a historic moment in the larger course of the country. The summer of 1964 had seen the passage of a major civil rights act, the secretly manipulated Tonkin Gulf resolution opening the way to US intervention in Southeast Asia, and the hopeful beginning of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty (before Vietnam devoured its budget and before its first challenges to local economic and political power aroused such lethal reaction). Those seminal events would shape much of the national backdrop to Bill Clinton's higher education over the following decade, just as rebellion, war, and reaction shaped the America he would inherit as a politician over the next thirty years.

On the gracious Georgetown campus that autumn, where a future president was intent on the politics of the moment, Virginia Clinton had come to help get him settled, and his provincial Arkansas education had raised eyebrows from the start. "What in the name of the Holy Father is a Southern Baptist who can't speak a foreign language doing in the mother of all Jesuit schools?" a priest had asked them smilingly but pointedly when they checked in. "Don't worry," her son had told her. "They'll know what I'm doing here when I've been here awhile." Less than a day later he was campaigning for freshman class president -- "had made the decision to run," said his college roommate Tom Campbell, "before he left Hot Springs."

John Kalell, a freshman, remembered the tall, cheery Southerner coming by the dormitory already leading "a coterie" of students who "had some belief in him," thrusting out his hand to introduce himself, and asking, "How'd you like to sign a petition to have a television placed in the lounge on this floor?" Like so many to come, Kalell thought him "remarkably engaging yet seemingly totally sincere." Campbell and others watched in awe what they called the unabashed freshman's "love of retail politics, talking to everyone, listening to everyone, urging, nudging people a little closer to his position." He seemed to be studying them all and years later would recognize by name the most casual acquaintance, reminiscing with stories about each that no one else remembered. He was forever "practicing his craft," one of them thought. "That phase of his life," said Campbell, "was like that of the gym rat who wants to play basketball so badly that he will spend hours shooting layups and hook shots and dribbling."

Clinton chose another experienced high school student politician, Bob Billingsley, to give his nominating speech for freshman class president and then made Billingsley rehearse with him on the roof of their dormitory. Painstakingly signing each sheet, he passed out hundreds of copies of his proposed platform. "The feasibility of every plank has been carefully considered," it assured voters, promising a newsletter and improved "work on the homecoming float and the Class of '68 dance." He won handily. But in a pattern that would follow him from dormitory to statehouse to White House, he soon felt compelled to explain how his impressive promises might not be realized after all. "The freshman year is not the time for crusading but for building a strong unit for the future," he told a student magazine after his victory, adding a bit archly, if not defensively, "You must know the rules before you can change them." Meanwhile, familiar with at least some of the oldest rules in politics, he named Billingsley and other backers to the most important student committees.

Students soon got to know Bill Clinton as "a junk-food man" who poured salted peanuts into his cola and devoured Moon Pies and peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. "Outwardly he bore no signs of homesickness or loneliness," thought a roommate who knew nothing of the grim reality on Scully Street. "He was exactly where he wanted to be." He began as a freshman to date a pretty, willowy blond from New Jersey named Denise Hyland, and they seemed "a steady pair," as a friend put it, over the next three years. Everyone remembered and liked his sheer gregariousness with both men and women-the ceaseless politicking and invariable storytelling about Arkansas. Again and again they found small crowds in his dorm room and Bill "just regaling them with stories."

The impression he gave of himself, quite deliberately, was that of the unaffected country boy, almost the bumpkin. He carried what Robert Sabbag remembered as his "twangy Arkansas accent" and his obvious ambition with an ease that instantly set him apart from his many peers who were trying to affect more sophistication. Most tended toward a weary disdain for the seamy commerce of Washington. It was "a student body almost totally indifferent to politics," said one of them. "In those days, it was not stylish to run for class office ... even less stylish to openly court every friendly face with a handshake, in search of a vote," recalled classmate Dru Bachman. "But that's exactly what Bill Clinton did with a sunny naivete." His apparent lack of guile was so original amid the pretensions of the campus that it soon became winning, making the most of his natural strengths. "He was some BMOC," said Jo Hamilton. "But . . . he always stopped and chatted. It wasn't as though he was looking down his nose at you. Even though you knew he was political, you at the same time never felt that it wasn't genuine."

Clinton volunteered for the air force ROTC and learned to march and do an about-face, but he turned in his uniform after one term, when the program was cut back and could not assure him a commission. Georgetown's remaining ROTC, an army unit, was already full, and like most other college men in 1964-65, he would take his chances with a selective service that still had meager quotas and routinely granted student deferments. "Life was wonderful that first year at Georgetown," according to Tom Campbell. He and his friends went to basketball games, polo matches, and what one described as Washington's "many women's junior colleges." Campbell, a New Yorker from a Jesuit high school, assumed before coming to the campus that his roommate "with a name like William Jefferson Clinton ... [was] black." Like so many others afterward, he saw Bill Clinton the white Southerner as "the most unprejudiced person I have ever met." Clinton gave the impression that, unlike the southern stereotype, he came from a thoroughly integrated background. He "had grown up with poor black people," others remembered him telling them. "Any manifestation of bigotry distressed him," Campbell would say. Yet there were no public acts of commitment. Egged on by Cuban exiles, they once picketed the Soviet embassy to protest the Russian presence in Cuba. But Clinton and his circle did not join similar demonstrations about US politics. Nor was Georgetown entirely passive in 1964-65. "The real activists," one person recalled, "were the upperclassmen who had been down South as freedom riders and teachers."

Typically, Bachman and others saw the affable young man from Hot Springs as determined "to soak up every ounce of information and experience he could find" and doing so "with a hunger and gusto bewildering to those with far less self-assurance." His most lasting academic impression seems to have been a required freshman course, Development of Civilization, a survey of European history taught by Carroll Quigley, one of Georgetown's more colorful professors, who was known to conclude his lectures on classical political theory by flamboyantly tossing Plato's Republic or some other masterpiece out the second-story classroom window.

Quigley knowingly explained the connections between money, technology, class, and political power that conventional history often obscured -- the role of the stirrup in the rise of the European aristocracy or how a technical impasse in gold mining prompted Roman imperial expansion. Renowned on campus, his final lecture was always on what he called "the key to the success of Western civilization," the "future preference" of both Europe and the United States -- "the willingness," as one student remembered it, "to make sacrifices today to secure a better future ... to prefer the future over the present." Citizens had a "moral responsibility" to build for posterity, the professor admonished them.

Quigley's "future preference" would echo in Bill Clinton's later speeches -- "that fundamental truth [which] has guided my political career," he called it. Clinton even mentioned the late professor in accepting the 1992 presidential nomination. But Quigley was also the proponent of a rather less idealistic view of American politics. A consultant to the space program, the Pentagon, and the Smithsonian, he had written a 1,300-page book grandly titled Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, in which he extolled the way both the Democrats and the Republicans, while maintaining a democratic illusion for popular consumption, were fundamentally subservient to powerful special interests. Political parties are "simply organizations to be used," and big business has been "the dominant element in both parties since 1900," he wrote. "The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies ... is a foolish idea. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can throw the rascals out at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in detail, procedure, priority, or method."

Quigley was especially impressed by the old foreign affairs establishment, part of a larger Anglo-American financial and corporate elite and what he called a "power structure between London and New York which penetrated deeply into university life, the press, and the practice of foreign policy." He saw the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations as a concerted, if not conspiratorial, international network. Quigley approved heartily of the council's "powerful influence" and "very significant role ill the history of the United States"; he "admired its goals and agreed with its methods," concluded a student. He exaggerated the import of the council itself, as apart from the wider sociology of knowledge implicit in its otherwise mincing discussions and publications. But the somewhat awestruck academic did capture much of the intellectual-psychological conformity and co-option of the old establishment, its society of status and orthodoxy so conventional, so linked to corporate and financial power, after all, as to dispense with conspiracy.

Clinton found Quigley "fascinating, electrifying, and brilliant," said a fellow student, Harold Snider. "Dr. Quigley was our mentor and friend. He left an indelible impression on our lives." Quigley had thought one mark of laudable elite dominance in the Washington of the 1960s was "the large number of Oxford-trained men" in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and he was alert to make his own students eligible for power. Clinton and others who did well he urged to apply for Rhodes scholarships and similar grants.

By the 1990s, as it happened, the eccentric Georgetown lecturer had acquired a kind of posthumous vindication in the number of likeminded and properly groomed figures crowding the campaigns and appointment lists of both George Bush and Bill Clinton. "If he is to be believed," one former student would say of the late Carroll Quigley during the 1992 election, "it won't matter whom you vote for on November 3."

***

Clinton finished his first year on the dean's list with an impressive 3.57 grade point average, on his way to Phi Beta Kappa. In a letter to a Hot Springs friend, Patty Criner, he described college as "really hard," though he seemed to fellow students to move through most of the courses easily enough. Even with campus government duties, he found time to volunteer part-time in a student-staffed clinic for alcoholics and to spend days earnestly helping Harold Snider, who was blind, find his way around the school and the surrounding neighborhood.

Still, it was politics, both natural and cultivated, that seemed a constant presence. Tom Campbell went home with him that first summer and was impressed by Uncle Raymond's home on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, where they water-skied, but even more, as he recalled, by their "long excursions around Arkansas," the numerous friends, and "the dawning awareness that Bill Clinton had been everywhere in this state." Another roommate, Tom Caplan, remembered visiting Hot Springs at Easter the next year, driving from the Little Rock airport in a stylish Buick convertible, again courtesy of Uncle Raymond, and then cruising onto Bathhouse Row, top down on a gentle spring evening, crowds of kids on the sidewalk seeing them and crying out, "Hey, Billy Clinton's home! Hey, Billy Clinton's home!" Caplan told a reporter later, "Wherever we went that week it was the same." College friends who saw him in Arkansas, as in Washington, were convinced he was destined for big things politically.

Clinton returned to Georgetown in the fall of 1965 to become sophomore class president as well, making scores of small speeches around the school about "solving parking problems," as one student remembered his platform, "getting off-campus students involved in the class, and getting everyone involved in decision making." That fall he lobbied the Jesuits to lower campus food prices. Eager to meet Robert Kennedy, having met Kennedy's martyred brother, Clinton as class president invited the senator and former attorney general to make a speech at Georgetown and proudly escorted Kennedy around the university. But it was all comparatively tame and respectful by the standards of the time. "Not a word about confrontations with the university administration," Campbell noted, "and no mention of Vietnam," which was rapidly becoming a contentious issue on college campuses and in Washington.

The surges of student unrest and reform in the 1960s had already begun with the free-speech movement at Berkeley, the great civil rights March on Washington in 1963, the founding and spread of the activist Students for a Democratic Society at schools in the Midwest and throughout the country. Now the carnage in Southeast Asia provoked mass protests. Only minutes from the Georgetown campus, twenty-five thousand students had marched against the Vietnam War in April 1965, Clinton's freshman spring, and by the close of that year there would be nearly 200,000 US troops in Southeast Asia. In October 1965, a hundred thousand people had demonstrated against the war simultaneously in ninety cities. A month later, a young pacifist and father of three immolated himself in front of the Pentagon, and within weeks another forty thousand marched again in Washington, DC. "You didn't have to strain your eyes to see the signs of youth upheaval everywhere," wrote one participant. Yet however powerful or obvious, those tides "barely touched Georgetown," as Campbell remembered. By the end of Clinton's sophomore year, there were nearly 400,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. But at that point Bill Clinton would be intent on joining Alpha Phi Omega, the Georgetown fraternity known for its campus political prominence and for running student elections, and then on returning to Arkansas to work in his first statewide campaign, for what even local pols were labeling "the machine candidate" for governor.

He was J. Frank Holt, a former attorney general and state supreme court justice whom an opponent aptly called "a pleasant vegetable." In the 1966 gubernatorial race, Holt eventually lost a Democratic primary runoff to segregationist Jim Johnson despite the backing of the Democrats' old guard and especially of Witt Stephens, the senior brother of Stephens, Inc., the bonding, banking, and holding-company conglomerate in Little Rock that effectively dominated so much of Arkansas's politics as well as its economy. For young Bill Clinton, who conscientiously canvassed for Holt that summer, even from the volunteer fringe of the campaign it was a telling introduction to state politics and power. Like Frank Holt and so many others, he would eventually make his bargain with the Stephens empire.

But the more immediate significance of the campaign was in influence and patronage. Though receiving some scholarship money at Georgetown and a generous allowance from Virginia, Clinton wanted a Washington job to eke out added expenses for his junior and senior years. Now, through a Holt nephew and campaign manager, he arranged an offer from Senator Fulbright's office. There were two part-time positions available, a Fulbright assistant told him. By his own account Clinton answered brightly, "I'll take them both," the office was impressed, and he returned to Washington to start right away. "They gave me that job when I was ... nobody ... no political influence -- nothing," he said later, omitting the Holt campaign ties -- like Uncle Raymond Clinton and others, the beginning of so many discreet Arkansas connections.

From autumn 1966 to the spring of 1968, he was one of the legion of young interns and part-time workers on Capitol Hill, watching and hearing from the echoing corridors and rabbit-warren suites of the Old Senate Office Building the tumultuous years of Vietnam escalation, race riots from Detroit to Watts, draft-card burnings amid antiwar protests everywhere, Democratic Party schism, Lyndon Johnson's presidential abdication, and ultimately the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was one of those periods, says sociologist and participant Todd Gitlin, "when history comes off the leash, when reality appears illusory and illusions take on lives of their own." Though mostly in Fulbright's regular Senate office -- rather than with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which the Arkansan had chaired since the 1950s and where much of the political action was -- Clinton had a rare vantage point on the unfolding drama.

Rhodes scholar, law instructor, president of the University of Arkansas at thirty-four, and prominent in Congress by forty, already a four-term Democratic senator, J. William Fulbright was one of the genuine prodigies of Arkansas and national politics, Known for his contemplative intellect and literary bent in a US Senate where both were oddities, he had chaired the Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Vietnam that had begun, in 1965, Washington's own substantive critique of the war. When Bill Clinton went to work for him a year later, Fulbright was directing a further series of inquiries and revelations about US policy in Southeast Asia, in effect leading the opposition against a president of his own party and already despised in the White House and national security bureaucracy. "Senator Halfbright," Johnson called him sneeringly.

Coming up Pennsylvania Avenue every day after classes, Clinton performed the myriad menial chores of a Hill staffer, from filing to clipping to routine home-state services and correspondence -- though now with the daily added responsibility of tearing Vietnam casualty lists off a constantly clacking wire-service printer and marking the names of Arkansans, to whose families Fulbright would then send personal letters of condolence. It was a grim, growing task. By the end of 1967 there were nearly half a million US troops in Vietnam and over fifteen thousand killed, some sixty percent of them during Bill Clinton's first full year on the Hill. Aides remembered him dealing quietly and stoically with the casualty lists while otherwise happily rummaging in every other function of the office. He was eager to learn how politicians dealt with disgruntled constituents, locally and nationally, and especially how Fulbright was preparing organizationally and financially for the 1968 reelection campaign in Arkansas.

As Bill Clinton, Uncle Raymond, and others in Arkansas and Washington well knew, there was quite another Bill Fulbright beyond the Rhodes scholar, university president, and war critic. Courtly intellect clothing a protean politician, Fulbright threaded his way uneasily atop an unholy coalition -- what he saw as his benighted Arkansas constituency and race-baiting rivals, his wealthy right-wing backers among home-state landowners and financial interests, and his growing liberal, antiwar, and student admirers nationally. Fulbright had signed the infamous Southern Manifesto of congressmen upholding segregation and had voted against every civil rights bill over a quarter of a century; he often vacillated on consumer protection and civil liberties measures and duly perpetuated special-interest concessions like the oil-depletion allowance and other corporate subsidies. His conservative, even reactionary floor votes on root economic and social issues served to keep his native Arkansas caste-ridden and poor, and they were prone to multiply suddenly during election years like 1968.

Among the members of the Democratic eastern foreign policy establishment that Professor Quigley so admired, Fulbright was considered a "dilettante" fond of "calling for bold, brave new ideas," Dean Acheson was said to have quipped, "yet always lacking in bold, brave new ideas." As their private letters and secret documents showed, of course, this description was far truer of Acheson and his shallow establishment colleagues than of Fulbright. But in Washington's venomous and paradoxical jockeying, the twisting record of both statesmanship and squalor ultimately cost Fulbright a historic opportunity -- and took an incalculable toll on the nation. While craven on race and other social issues, the Arkansas senator had been extraordinarily evenhanded on the Arab-Israeli rivalry and prescient on Vietnam. When John F. Kennedy thought about naming Fulbright secretary of state in 1961, Harris Wofford (whom President Bill Clinton would face a quarter century later when Wofford was a US senator from Pennsylvania) and other Democrats had mobilized a Jewish, black, and liberal coalition to kill the appointment, opening the job instead to the establishment's anointed Dean Rusk, who would be one of the architects of the Vietnam catastrophe. The same patronage politics, producing much the same sterility and blundering, would haunt President Clinton decades later.

There was substantial irony and wisdom to be gleaned from all this by the late 1960s as Bill Clinton stood by the Senate office ticker with its cascading casualty lists -- warnings about political compromise, about intraparty cannibalism, about the lethal puerility of the establishment, and more. But there was no evidence that he came away with the moment's deeper lessons, least of all in his subsequent Arkansas record and presidential appointments. Over almost three decades, Bill Clinton would never reflect publicly on the larger meaning of the extraordinary senator for whom he so gratefully worked. In 1966-68,]. William Fulbright seemed chiefly a marvel of political balancing: scholar as good ole boy when necessary, country campaigner as Capitol Hill statesman. The essential point was the artful playing to every audience. "It wasn't Kennedy, it was Fulbright, the real Fulbright who managed to be so many different things to different folks, that was Bill's model always," said an Arkansan who knew them both well. "He revered Fulbright." Tom Campbell later observed that "in many ways their lives and careers paralleled." Coming from Arkansas, Bill Clinton realized his ambition to be president might not be realistic, "but he certainly thought," one person concluded, "that he could be like Senator Fulbright."

For the first time since starting high school, Clinton decided, during his junior year at Georgetown, to forgo campus office, working even beyond his paid hours on the Hill, learning from Quigley to do with only a few hours of sleep a night and to replenish himself, as he did in a later political career, with twenty-minute catnaps. Friends remembered him in "the more prestigious Copley dormitory" where he now lived, setting his small Baby Ben alarm, lying down to fall instantly asleep, and waking refreshed when others were flagging. He seemed for a moment to be away from his own compulsive politics, absorbed in study and work.

But then in March 1967 he ran for president of the East Campus's student council. Writing in the student Georgetown Courier earlier that year, he sounded what seemed a new approach to growing unrest in the country and on other campuses, not unlike some of his presidential campaign rhetoric amid national anguish twenty-five years later. "If elected representative government is to have any meaning at all, it must make a deep commitment to meet [issues] head-on," he wrote. "We cannot adopt a policy of isolation or inaction, or our politics will be without substance. We, as a student body, must urge our representatives to enter ... where they are most needed, to plant the seeds of improvement, to reap the harvest of beneficial change. The times demand it."

His campuswide campaign was "a sophisticated operation," a roommate recalled, including phone banks to reach off-campus students and hand-colored "Clinton Country" roundels that could be hung on dorm-room doorknobs but cleverly doubled as sportcoat pocket inserts for men and small badges for women. As always, Clinton himself was the most effective campaigner, not least with the opposite sex. "He certainly knew how to speak to girls -- and in the way that men talk to women -- but it wasn't really flirting," one female student recalled. "He made you feel wonderful when he talked to you." In the end, the candidate's platform proved less than some thought advertised. Clinton stumped tamely for more visibility and funds for the student council, better counseling, and, repeating an earlier theme, better food services -- "in the Georgetown political mainstream," Sabbag remembered.

Less organized and much less financed, his opponent and sophomore class vice president under him, Terry Modglin, promptly criticized the campus government for "fiscal and administrative excess," proposed a larger role for students in university policy making, and turned Bill Clinton's easy and familiar campus image against him, calling him the usual "politico," "the establishment candidate," and even a version of "Slick Willie," the epithet that would follow him in later political life. Now as afterward, he seemed outwardly to brush it off, while nursing resentment and anger within. Writing home that year, he had boasted how much other students trusted him. "People -- even some of my political enemies -- confide in me," he wrote. Only later did the irony seem clear. "It didn't hit me when I first saw it," said a friend familiar with the letter, "and then I asked myself, 'Wait a minute, what's a twenty-year-old kid doing talking about his political enemies?' "

"When I was a student politician I was about as controversial as I have been in my later life," Clinton once said, describing his Georgetown campaigning. In fact, his 1967 run suffered from its very banality, his cautious avoidance of controversy, and a refusal to challenge old authoritarian practices that were already changing nationwide. Not even his personal charm and popularity could defeat the promise of reform. Modglin won by 147 votes out of more than 1,300. In a recurrent pattern, defeat threw Clinton into visible depression. "Bill was down for a while," Campbell said. Also typically, he anxiously studied "the reasons he had lost," as one backer put it, although he never exactly confided the moral he drew. What was clear, as always, was his sheer seriousness and intensity beneath the smiling softness and serene catnaps. "Bill Clinton, a guy who wrote it all down . . . who made all the right moves" was Sabbag's summary. "While the rest of us might have been looking four years ahead, Bill Clinton was looking twenty years into the future."

That spring the air force was flying two thousand sorties a week over Vietnam, and Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed an antiwar rally of more than 300,000 in New York. The 1960s' famous "summer of love" was to follow in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury and elsewhere. In October 1967, Clinton's senior autumn in Washington, a thousand activists, mostly students, held a chanting "siege" of the Pentagon, while a hundred thousand more kept quiet vigil at the Lincoln Memorial. "None of us took part because we were aiming to be mainstream players and didn't identify with the marchers," said Campbell later, explaining their failure to join the protests. "Bill and Kit [Ashby, a roommate] had their positions on the Hill to protect, and they didn't want to embarrass the men for whom they worked."

For Clinton, at least, there was inexplicable irony in avoiding for the sake of his job a movement Senator Fulbright had done so much to inspire. To be seen among hundreds of thousands in an antiwar demonstration might worry Bill Clinton for his own reasons, his peers thought, but it would hardly worry the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, renowned and basking in opposition to Vietnam. Others were more categorical about the motives of the young would-be politician. "Clinton did not take to the antiwar movement until after he left college," wrote Sabbag, "and he did not take to it any more convincingly than he took to dope, apparently, which he discovered at about the same time."

They were "in many ways . . . a generation apart" from their own age group, thought his classmate John Kalell. While some priests and nuns, and even some venerable Catholic schools, were in the forefront of the antiwar and social and cultural reform movements, the affluent university in its exclusive corner of Washington remained largely complacent. "We were the last remnant of a way of life," said another contemporary. Most of the campus was "absolutely unconscious" of the moment, added Walter Bastian, another classmate. "Going into business was judged a good thing, serving in government was deemed useful" was how still another classmate and Clinton friend explained their mentality. "All of the institutions whose reputations were stained during that era were all seen at Georgetown University as honorable places in which to spend one's life."

***

Through it all there were constant echoes of the old life in Hot Springs. Trying to stem the jealous rages of her husband, Virginia had once given him a sheet signed by hospital coworkers recording her comings and goings for a month. But Roger Clinton had ignored it, and he continued to menace her and little Roger. Knowing their continuing ordeal from frequent calls and correspondence, Bill labored from Georgetown to fill the breach, frequently writing his brother consoling, exhorting letters. "Only remember to treat everyone fairly and honestly. Be as good as you can to everyone," he advised in one. When the child lost a football contest, the older brother was sympathetic but admonishing, citing his own defeat and triumph. "I'm sorry you didn't win the pass, punt and kick .... Bubba finished last the first two times I went to tryouts on my horn. But I finished first 10 out of the last 11 times," he told him. "So you see, determination will finally payoff -- if you want to win badly enough."

In 1965, big Roger had been diagnosed with cancer of the mouth that had metastasized. With the Dude's old vanity, he stubbornly refused the radical facial surgery doctors prescribed, and there followed two years of trips back and forth from Hot Springs to the Duke medical center, where he received experimental laser therapy and other treatment, though to little avail.

Not long after Roger fell ill, Bill wrote him a rare letter of sympathy and encouragement, exceptional documentation of the torturous, otherwise largely mute relationship between stepfather and stepson. It was good that he was now going to church, Bill told him. "I believe, Daddy, that none of us can have any peace unless they face life with God, knowing that good always outweighs bad and even death doesn't end a man's life." In part compassionate, in part bitter, the letter was a reminder, too, of the younger man's relative strength and power, and even of the reconciliation with Virginia that Bill had opposed. "You ought to look everywhere for help, Daddy. You ought to write me more," he admonished big Roger almost as he would the little one. "But the last real conversation we had alone was parked in a car behind an old house on Circle Drive. That was 6 years ago, and you and mother were getting a divorce. I had hoped that things would get better after you got back together, but you just couldn't seem to quit drinking, and since then I have often wondered if you really wanted to."

Next came an especially telling passage, speaking in a few earnest sentences the mixture of confession and denial, guilt and anger that was their shared torment:

Of course I know I have never been much help to you -- never had the courage to come and talk about it. The reason I am writing now is because I couldn't stand it if you and Mother were to break up after all these years. I just want to help you help yourself if you can.

I think I ought to close this letter now and wait for your answer but there are a couple of things I ought to say first -- 1) I don't think you have ever realized how much we all love and need you. 2) I don't think you have ever realized either how we have all been hurt ... but still really have not turned against you.

Please write me soon Daddy -- I want to hear from you. . . . Don't be ashamed to admit your problem. . .. We all have so much to live for; let's start doing it -- together.

Your son, Bill


In the spring of 1967 Roger went back to Duke for prolonged treatment. Though preoccupied with the job on the Hill and the coming race for student council president, Bill had gone down to see his weakening stepfather, speeding the 260 miles back and forth to North Carolina in the 1963 Buick convertible Virginia had given him to take to Georgetown. He "would drive down to see him occasionally on weekends," according to Tom Campbell, "and return to school exhausted late Sunday night." Still proud and fastidious, Roger was humiliated that he could no longer always make it to the bathroom. "Bill would bodily pick him up and take him ... so that he could maintain his dignity," Virginia remembered. He had gone to visit the dying man "just because I loved him," Bill Clinton told reporters long afterward. "There was nothing else to fight over, nothing else to run from." On a last visit Roger had given him his ring. "At least they made their peace," Virginia would say.

The interval produced still more letters back to his mother, "Miss Nightingale," as he called her adoringly. "I hope you will be proud of me in the next few months," he wrote of the campus election. "Win or lose, I'll try to reflect the honor and courage with which I've been raised." Periodically he reported on the visits with big Roger, seizing on fleeting signs of apparent improvement, telling her in detail about an emotional Easter Sunday they had spent together driving among the dogwoods of Chapel Hill -- though even then they had characteristically left their feelings unspoken. "There was no 'true confession,' " Virginia would say later.

At that, the dutiful letters to Hot Springs always returned to the special, faceted relationship between son and mother. "Hope you will have some time to yourself other than the races now -- probably you will never win that much," he could not resist saying in one, though adding immediately, "What a girl! -- I know how hard this has been for you -- my goodness, your life has been a succession of crises. . .. Surely I am prouder of you than you ever could be of me."

By the autumn of 1967 Roger Clinton ~s back in the Springs for the last time, secluded in a back bedroom on Scully Street, now drooling and emaciated at age fifty-seven and still too vain to see even his oldest friends. Before the Thanksgiving break, Virginia summoned Bill home to be with them. As the mother described it herself, eleven-year-old Roger had been praying "for years" that his father would die to end their own suffering. Now he prayed to end it for them all, the sick man's anguished lingering seeming to the survivors "one last act of terrorism," as Virginia Clinton put it. Bill stayed up with the devastated figure through the last nights. Then, weeks later than they expected, as the mother recorded, little Roger's "deepest, darkest prayer was answered."

Scarcely two months afterward, grandmother Edith Cassidy died at sixty-six. Bill had returned to Georgetown but he wrote Virginia instantly. "Never have I been so sorry to be away from you as I was when Mawmaw died. -- Surely you will get some years of peace now." As usual, Virginia was rather more candid and blunt about what they had both suffered. In heaven neither Edith nor Roger, she noted in her memoirs, "would ever feel the need to shriek through the night again."

***

That winter, armed with Fulbright's crucial backing and recommendation, and competing in a region that comprised Texas as well as Arkansas, Clinton won his Rhodes scholarship, among thirty-two in the nation and one of the first from Georgetown despite Quigley's establishment recruitment efforts. At an airport on his way to the final interview, Clinton had picked up an issue of Time that happened to have an article dealing with questions the panel later asked him. But the award was obviously a tribute to his impressive record, his winning intelligence and personality, as well as luck and formidable patronage. In addition to its own considerable prestige, it was also a first brush with the power elite of Little Rock who were to be so important in his career and that of his future wife. Among his Rhodes interviewers were senior partners of the famous Rose Law Firm in the Arkansas capital.

Winning the scholarship brought more pride and publicity in Hot Springs, including an interview that April with the hometown Palmer News Bureau. "Students are gathered together in an atmosphere of learning, so they have a great advantage over rank-and-file people in our country," Clinton told the impressed local reporter. "If we learn the facts, we can gain a healthy outlook on domestic and foreign affairs. I think more involvement is necessary." How he truly saw himself vis-a.-vis the "rank and file," what his real "outlook" already was would become unintentionally plain over the next two years and would prove more complicated than the ingratiating, slightly unctuous and condescending pose he now struck for the folks back home.

At the same time, his final months of college in 1968 were ones of national turmoil. In January came the shocking Tet offensive in Vietnam, and later in the spring the popularly forced withdrawal of Lyndon Johnson from the presidential race and the murder of Martin Luther King. Like thousands of other students, Clinton would tell his friends he was in favor of the antiwar Democratic challenger that spring, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. But like the rest of the Georgetown campus, he remained at a distance from the country's unrest until riots erupted in the Washington ghetto on April 5, the afternoon after King's assassination.

Clinton promptly volunteered for a student relief program in the burning black neighborhoods, had a red cross put on the doors of his white Buick, and drove to a barren corner on the edge of the riot-torn area at Fourteenth and U Streets to distribute food. Visiting him from Hot Springs and riding along, Carolyn Staley remembered him as "numb and shocked at what we were seeing" and somehow annoyed that she wanted to take photographs of the destruction that might "trivialize the moment." Later, back at the dorm, she thought Clinton "very melancholy," muttering passages he had memorized from King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial five years before.

At intervals they and other students went to the roof of old Loyola Hall to peer out at the distant billowing smoke as sirens screamed only thirty blocks away. Along with much of white Washington, they were fearful of a breakout, though the riot's rage was, as usual, penned up and turned inward on black homes and businesses. Machine-gun nests had been set up on the White House lawn, troops camped in the Georgetown gymnasium, and someone in pathetic precaution had scrawled "Soul Brother" in soap on the display windows of the University Shop, an expensive "Ivy League" men's store that was, as one student put it, "decidedly not owned by blacks."

Aside from Bill's relief foray, Tom Campbell recalled, they "stayed close to the campus and each other, not certain what was coming next." Later, the disturbances over but block after block of the capital still smoldering, they ventured onto the pacified streets and were shocked anew. Much of northeast Washington was as ruined and skeletal as a war zone, "a part of the city," one Clinton roommate said, "to which we had never before paid much attention."

***

Clinton was to finish Georgetown cum laude, if not at the top of his class or even among its memorable intellectual stars. But the honors were a fitting climax to an energetic undergraduate career. Apart from his ubiquitous campaign politics, he had not been especially social, breaking off the steady relationship with Denise Hyland early in their senior year, though continuing to see her along with other women. He spent most of his leisure time in a circle of male friends, especially the roommates with whom he shared an off-campus house on Potomac Avenue his senior year -- Tom Campbell, who deplored the antiwar protesters and would soon enlist as a Marine Corps pilot; Kit Ashby, the son of a well-to-do Texas doctor, who interned for right-wing Democratic Senator Henry Jackson of Washington; Tom Caplan, a Baltimore boy who had interned in the White House and was a gifted writer; and Tom Moore, who was described as "an army brat from Kentucky with an encyclopedic knowledge of the battles of Napoleon."

As in Hot Springs, Bill Clinton would be remembered in college as exceptionally bright, quick, and articulate -- very much the apprentice politician. "He was a taster of ideas," one Georgetown friend reflected later, "a kind of grazer, and a skillful user, but not a lover [of ideas] for their own sake." Campbell recalled their frequent dinner discussions on Potomac Avenue about the war, talk that was more immediately political or pragmatic than historical or philosophical. "His objection was not that the United States was immoral but that we were making a big mistake. He wondered how a great nation could admit that and change course. He thought America was wasting lives that it could not spare."

Four days before their June graduation Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles on the night of his California primary victory, when the nomination and the presidency seemed within his grasp. Senior-week festivities were abruptly canceled. Commencement was rained out in a thundering downpour. "The entire four-year experience was destined to find its metaphor ... when the sunlight gave way to darkness suddenly," wrote Robert Sabbag. "The world beyond university walls," he added, "had posted a very dark invitation."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Fri Jun 17, 2016 3:17 am

Part 1 of 2

5. Oxford: "Every String He Could Think Of"

"It was just a fluke" that he was not drafted, Bill Clinton would earnestly tell the Los Angeles Times in 1992. "I certainly had no leverage to get special treatment from the draft board." But two dozen years before, the reality had been quite different.

Though few of his friends knew it at the time, shadows had begun to form for Bill Clinton months before his class left Georgetown. That March of 1968 the Hot Springs draft board, following national policy, had already lifted his 2-S student deferment and reclassified him I-A, ready for induction. Before his education was completed, before his planned and practiced political career could even begin, he had faced the dreaded Vietnam draft and the prospect of being one more of those names in the Arkansas roll call of the dead that spilled so relentlessly out of the ticker in Fulbright's office. The first thing he had done was to call Uncle Raymond.

***

By the spring and summer of 1968 the Vietnam War had come home to poorer states like Arkansas with special vengeance.

For much of the war, under the post-World War II system of selective service, with its exemptions for higher education, the fighting and dying in Southeast Asia were predominantly a matter of race and class. Secret government documents told the ugly story. According to a typical memo of the time, the selective service was glad to exempt those middle-class or wealthy students who were "busy acquiring approved skills," while it gave exams to ferret out "underachievers." As late as 1966-67, as a historian later revealed, the system "was deliberately using the draft as an instrument of class privilege." Scarcely one college graduate in ten would even go to Vietnam, and only a small fraction of those saw combat. By contrast, young Americans with a high school education or less were more than twice as likely to be called for service, and more than twice as many were sent into battle. The poor, especially African Americans, were gathered into the maw. Black casualties in Vietnam would be twice as high as white.

The results were stark for Arkansas, a state near the bottom of the nation in household income. Of the total US casualties in Vietnam -- nearly 60,000 killed and more than 250,000 wounded -- week by week, month by month, Arkansas often suffered higher losses proportionately than most other states in the nation. In the small-town and rural high schools of the Mississippi Delta, entire classes of young black men were decimated. Even in more prosperous Hot Springs, Principal Johnnie Mae Mackey's beloved American Legion was continually busy with memorial services and calls on bereaved families. In the Gold Medallion neighborhood of the Clintons, Bill's boyhood friend and classmate Mike Thomas came home from Indochina in a flag-draped coffin.

By the beginning of 1968, with casualties mounting, the wholesale conscription of the poor, uneducated, and nonwhite was no longer enough. The Johnson White House had been forced to lift the old exemptions for graduate study that had kept thousands of middle- and upper-middle-class men free of service. Avoiding Vietnam would now take far more than simply staying in school.

When the question of his 1968 draft status eventually came up in the New Hampshire primary more than two decades later, Clinton himself would never describe the several personal contacts and pleas made on his behalf -- though Raymond Clinton and his lawyer regularly told the anxious student and his family what they were doing.

Friends remembered how Bill Clinton, home from Georgetown, especially in his upper-class years, used to taunt his reactionary uncle by deliberately dropping liberal statements in the older man's presence and joke in private about Raymond's notorious racism and shady contacts. "Despite all that Raymond had done for him, I guess Billy had grown a little embarrassed by him and his views," said a member of the family. "I sure didn't agree with old Mr. Clinton. He was a real mossback," one school friend recalled. "But Billy's setup was always kind of cruel." Now that the mocking young nephew was about to be drafted into a bloody and unpopular war, however, the ridicule noticeably stopped. In a sense it was Bill Clinton's first political crisis, and it was his benighted but influential uncle on whom he relied.

He was reclassified I-A on March 20, 1968, and Raymond Clinton had swung into action. "We started working as soon as [Raymond] got word that Billy was going to be drafted," said Henry Britt, the car dealer's longtime friend and personal attorney. It was a concerted effort "to get Bill what he wanted," Britt would say later, adding, "Of course Billy knew about it."

The circumstances seemed dismal. In February Lyndon Johnson ended by executive order all graduate-study deferments except for medical students. Young men had already crowded National Guard, reserve, and ROTC units to avoid burgeoning draft calls, in which at least one-third of army inductees were now bound for Southeast Asia. But Raymond Clinton appeared undaunted. Late that March he had called an old friend, Commander Trice Ellis, Jr., who was the officer in charge of the local naval reserve unit. The uncle asked the commander "to create a billet, or enlistment slot, especially for Bill Clinton," as one account put it. "Raymond said he had a nephew who was college-educated and the army was about to draft him, and the boy wanted to join the navy," Ellis recalled. Though naval reserve assignments were then filled throughout Arkansas, with lengthy waiting lists, Ellis assured Raymond that he would try to talk the eight naval district authorities in New Orleans into specially arranging another billet. "I was always looking for good people," Ellis recalled. "I said I'd see what I could do."

While the commander lobbied the navy, Raymond went next to another old friend, William S. "Bill" Armstrong, chairman of ~he Hot Springs draft board and, along with both Raymond Clinton and Commander Trice Ellis, a founding member of the local chapter of the Navy League, a national organization of naval boosters. The uncle now pressed Armstrong hard, citing their shared loyalty to the navy over the other services, as well as Bill Clinton's credentials. "Why don't you give the boy a chance to get into the navy," Britt remembered Clinton importuning the chairman of the draft board. Britt himself would urge Armstrong to "put Bill Clinton's draft notice in a drawer someplace and leave it for a while."

At one point, Raymond and Henry Britt hurriedly drove some distance to buttonhole Senator Fulbright at a dam dedication on the banks of the Arkansas River and get him to ensure that his office, too, would intercede with the Hot Springs draft board. Soon after that ceremony, as board member Robert Corrado remembered it, a Fulbright aide telephoned the Hot Springs office of the selective service to urge that Corrado and his fellow board members "give every consideration" to keeping young Bill Clinton out of the draft so that he could attend Oxford. "Raymond was playing both sides of the fence like a good politician," Britt would explain. "If nothing else worked, he could always get Billy into the navy. He was hedging his bets."

The Hot Springs board members were duly impressed with Bill Clinton's prestigious grant at Oxford. "As old as he was, he would have been at the top of the list to be drafted," said board executive secretary Opal Ellis, "[but] we were proud to have a Hot Springs boy with a Rhodes scholarship." By standards applying to hundreds of others, William Jefferson Clinton was due to be drafted no later than the summer of 1968. But William Armstrong acceded to the manifold political pressures and routinely kept Clinton's draft file back from consideration by the full board. "We've got to give him time to [go] to Oxford," Corrado recalled the chairman announcing at their meetings in a small room in the old federal building, not far from Bathhouse Row.

Meanwhile, Commander Ellis had in fact managed to arrange the special extra naval reserve billet with the New Orleans headquarters and soon called his friend Raymond Clinton to ask, "What happened to that boy?" The car dealer replied cryptically, "Don't worry about it. He won't be coming down. It's all been taken care of."

Eventually Bill Clinton would be scheduled to take his draft physical, though not until February 1969 at a US base in England, nearly a year after it would have been set had he been treated like most inductees. The interval between his reclassification and his examination was "more than twice as long as anyone else" could expect, according to one account, "and more than five times longer than most area men of comparable eligibility" were granted. Of all those classified 1-A by his draft board in Arkansas during the turbulent, bloody year of 1968, Bill Clinton was the only one whose process was so extended.

The behind-the-scenes political intervention of Uncle Raymond and others would enable him to leave the country and complete a first year at Oxford without either a formal deferment or any other promised fulfillment of military obligation. And in the longer sequence of the draft, that interval would be just enough to be decisive in keeping him out of the war. "The board was very lenient with him," Opal Ellis admitted later. "We gave him more than he was entitled to."

***

On the SS United States that autumn of 1968, Bill Clinton was a shipboard favorite. Also headed to the United Kingdom were other Americans on study grants, including some Clinton would appoint to his administration twenty-five years later. Soon after leaving the Hudson River docks, he was on deck or in the lounges entertaining clusters of students with his saxophone and the inevitable tales of Arkansas. To the seasick, soon lying in their cramped cabins on the heaving Atlantic, he carried broth like a solicitous relative. Among the queasy was Robert Reich, a future Clinton adviser and labor secretary who remembered opening his compartment door to "a tall, gangly Southerner" holding chicken soup and crackers and saying "with a syrupy drawl," as Reich heard it, "I understand you're not feeling well. I hope this will help."

The only African American in the group and another of those later named to a Clinton regime, Rhodes scholar Tom Williamson was wary at first of the effusive young Arkansan. But he was quickly won over by Clinton's almost ritual denunciation of what they all seemed to associate with his home state -- infamous Orval Faubus and the Little Rock school crisis a decade before. Williamson was struck, too, by Clinton's "full command of the lyrics to all the great Motown hits of our time." Several shipmates were impressed with his apparently effortless success with women, a handsome country boy's magnetic lack of pretense, and his use of his music like a kind of pied piper. Bill "insisted that playing the saxophone," Williamson would say, "was a workable substitute for bona fide charm and urbanity in trying to engage a young woman's attention."

The awaiting Oxford was a world-famous symbol of learning. Fifty miles northwest of London, it was the oldest university in England, dating from the twelfth century. In 1968 its ten thousand students were enrolled among thirty-one stately colleges, Clinton's University College one of the three original. Instruction was in the traditional Merton College tutorial system. Unlike American higher education, there were no compulsory courses or lectures, no class quizzes or semester exams, only an assigned tutor who guided the student throughout the undergraduate years, prescribing what should be read and written. The tutorials led eventually to university examinations for either a simple pass or honors bachelor's degree, with a master's available in many fields without further testing.

Yet behind Oxford's dignified image, as American Rhodes scholars and others swiftly discovered, was a rather different, quite relaxed reality. "Oxford places the emphasis on fluency and glibness," said one Rhodes scholar. "Serious discussions are not encouraged." With the one-hour tutorial sessions but twice a week, the ungraded essays only to be read out to the instructor, and no examinations at term's end, everything depended on the quality and devotion of the individual tutor. In the late 1960s, as before and after, the discreet little secret of Oxford and its Rhodes scholars was that "intense learning experiences" were rare and "hopeless disasters" -- or at least a stylish English languor -- all too common.

Generations of American students returned from the medieval turrets and jade-green fields with stories of feckless, dozing dons, of inserting outrageous, irrelevant passages in their weekly essays only to drone on unnoticed by the immovably indifferent tutor. An Oxford sojourn had "great snob appeal," was a "ticket to punch" for would be "American luminaries," one of them acknowledged. And as in all large institutions, there were bound to be exceptions to the predominant false pretense. But in sheer intellectual terms, most Americans were likely to be on their own, largely left to the limits or biases of their undergraduate educations and to their native ability or shallowness, frequently departing two years later intellectually untouched by majestic Oxford. "You could do as little or as much as you wanted. It was a kind of a lark," said Dell Martin, a Clinton contemporary in the late 1960s.

Added to the tutorial caprice was the cultivated air of detachment and affected ennui rooted deep in the patrician English prep school system, from which Oxford still drew large numbers of its students. "Hard work is not only unnecessary, it's essentially frowned upon," said David Segal, an American at Balliol College who later wrote of an Oxford "ethic ... semi-officially codified as 'effortless superiority.' " The experience at this renowned institution might therefore hone the skills of the facile and the articulate, but with few demands on underlying substance or sustained intellect.

"Lots of American students, most of whom had been hyperindustrious undergraduates, had a hard time adjusting to Oxford's too-clever-to- care chic," Segal recorded. Yet others concluded that US scholarship winners accepted the ubiquitous sham and affectation happily, and in any event few were ready to dispel the prestige and reputation they now enjoyed as part of the mythology. Like Bill Clinton himself after two full years, many Rhodes scholars did not bother completing even bachelor's degrees at Oxford. If they were eventually graded in the ultimate examinations, several coasted with gentlemanly "thirds" -- the equivalent of "two years," Segal translated, "of straight Ds." "My main impression was just how easy it was," said another Rhodes scholar at Oxford just after Clinton. "There's a sort of a conspiracy of silence not to reveal this."

"Oxford is overrated. And most Americans studying there couldn't care less," one US student concluded. "For them, the main challenge is finding ways to stay amused." Most succeeded. A Clinton contemporary, later a colleague of Hillary Rodham's and eventually a Republican governor of Massachusetts, wealthy William Weld typically remembered his Oxford years as "lager and chocolates, poker games and parties without end, ten sets of tennis every afternoon, played on grass courts so that no one ever got tired."

Neither colleagues nor reporters could later identify an especially influential Oxford "mentor" or a particularly telling intellectual experience for the future president of the United States -- or any detail about the reading or writing he did that first year, apart from the mystery novels and other popular literature that everyone remembered his enjoying. "He was better in argument than on paper," his first-year tutor, Zbigniew Pelczynski, told a London paper a bit vaguely in 1992. "His essay technique was not perhaps the best that I have seen, but he was obviously an avid reader." Friends from 1968-69 recalled more clearly his enthusiasm for rugby and how he held forth at his favorite pub, the Turf Tavern, or impressed an English supper circle in University College with Arkansas storytelling or lengthy discussions of Vietnam and other subjects. Clinton was "always given to pontification," said one account. At the same time, as at Georgetown, he could seem uniquely unassuming with more self-important peers, "talking with huge pride about watermelons," as Englishman Martin Walker recalled. Like his undergraduate contemporaries, Americans at Oxford found the naturalness much of his attraction. "Bill was the most comforting figure among the crowd of confident blue bloods," said contemporary Robin Raphael.

Sociable or relaxed academically, he had nonetheless brought to that first year in Britain his own serious preoccupation -- the ubiquitous lists and three-by-five cards he had faithfully tended, as one might an impassioned diary, since high school. If Oxford didn't promise Arkansas votes or money, it was a seeding of future contacts and support for a wider ambition. "He meticulously recorded the name of every new person he met," said one writer looking back on their time in England. "Bill would join us at the pubs at night," Brenning McNamara recalled, "but not until he had jotted down the day's names." Some took his ceaseless politicking as provincial wont, others as undisguised opportunism. "It was the eyes that gave it away," Philip Hodson told the London Sunday Times in 1992. "They moved on before he had finished talking to you."

When the contacts had been made and the vital names stored away, there was now, more than ever before, an added interest -- women. In Oxford at twenty-two and twenty-three, Clinton would display what Garry Wills called "a dangerous talent, part of his gregarious and ingratiating way with all his friends, a puppylike eagerness and drive to please" that young women seemed to find irresistible. "Bill was one of two people I have known who were just amazingly successful with women," said a friend from England. "You would hear him and say to yourself, 'No one is going to believe that line,' but they did." A housemate for a time, the British novelist Sara Maitland, remembered that she had a neurotic fear of hooded hair dryers and that Bill arranged for her to have her hair dried by hand at the beauty parlor. She thought it an example of "the very real way he is sensitive to the people around him."

It was also at Oxford that he began to be drawn to something more than what Virginia called "the beauty-pageant mold," the flossy, stiff-haired surface epitomized by his mother, his parents' nightclubbing friends, and eventually his own dates. On one occasion he even wrote home about his infatuation with a young woman, warning Virginia that the girl was not attractive in the "traditional" way and offending her mightily by adding, "You wouldn't understand, Mother." Still, while pursuing various women in England, he was also sending a stream of love letters back home to Sharon Evans, soon to become a Miss Arkansas. Clinton was involved as well with an English woman, Tamara Eccles-Williams, when Evans visited Oxford in March 1969. His circle marveled at how he juggled his love affairs without apparent collision. "He took this homegrown lovely to an antiwar demonstration one day at Trafalgar Square, then put her on a tour bus and went back to Mara for a while," a friend recalled. A fellow Arkansas scholar remembered being introduced to Evans. "She was a real beauty. He said this was the woman he loved and the future mother of his children. I never saw her again."

He could be publicly delightful as well as seductive in private. Another friend remembered going with him to a lecture by the celebrated Australian feminist Germaine Greer, who admonished the audience that the female orgasm was a factor in gender tyranny and, in any case, vastly overrated. "Bill was sitting there In the hall looking something of the hick," the friend recounted, "in his Hush Puppies, his ginger beard, and his ginger suit." After the lecture, he had thrown up his hand eagerly to be recognized. "About the overrated orgasm," he drawled, "won't you, Ms. Greer, give a southern boy another chance?" He brought down the house and seemed to disarm the imposing feminist herself.

Yet there was another side to the charm and sexuality, a first evidence of utter relentlessness about his conquests. For some, his promiscuity left a nagging question of loyalty and integrity despite the laxity of the moment. "There were big noisy parties, with wine, marijuana and casual sex. It was a time of revolving-door relationships, and Clinton pursued a lot of women ... including the girlfriends of his friends," wrote Alessandra Stanley. "It seemed for a time there that he was going after and getting every woman who came within reach," another witness remembered. "I don't know that we thought much about what that told about Bill Clinton, or about his women either, for that matter."

By the end of his first year at Oxford, however, everything else would suddenly be shrouded by unexpected events back in the federal building in Hot Springs. Though Richard Nixon had been elected the past November promising to end the war in Vietnam and though the first US troop withdrawals began in May 1969, fighting raged on, with ten thousand more Americans killed. Draft calls were unremitting. New pressure from Washington fell on local authorities. Bill Clinton had passed his physical in February and chairman William Armstrong and his draft board back in Hot Springs now abruptly decided in the spring of 1969 that they could no longer hold back his file, Rhodes scholarship and Raymond Clinton notwithstanding. His induction was set again, this time for April 1969. Only after more intense lobbying by Raymond and others was that date put off once more, to July 28, 1969 -- "so that he could finish the school term," as one source put it.

They had all been confident that the board would remain fixed from the interventions of the previous spring. Since Raymond had brushed aside the specially created naval reserve billet, Bill was suddenly without even that alternative. Friends at Oxford advised him to manage somehow an ROTC deferment at an American university. But ROTC programs were also notoriously crowded and at best would require him to abandon Oxford. By mid-May 1969, scarcely two months from the newly scheduled induction, Clinton was visibly depressed -- "as low as I have ever been," he said. He left Oxford doubting he would ever return, though planning another feverish effort to avoid Vietnam.

One of Clinton's first public displays of temper occurred not long after arriving in Hot Springs when he decided in near despair to go personally to the office of the draft board. There he confronted its executive secretary, Opal Ellis, a twenty-year veteran of the selective service. Ellis remembered Clinton's telling her he was too well educated to go. "He was going to fix my wagon [and] pull every string he could think of." In 1992 Clinton denied he had ever made such claims or threats, suggesting instead that Ellis, a Republican, had "at best a faulty memory." In any event, Clinton left the federal building and began an almost frantic sequence of actions to stave off induction.

He now quickly took an air force officer's candidate examination, only to fail the more demanding physical exam because of a vision defect. He also hurried to take the officer's candidate test for the navy but flunked that physical as well because of a hearing problem -- though, like his defective vision, it had not disqualified him on the general draftee physical four months earlier. In mounting despair, as he remembered vividly, he anxiously telephoned and wrote friends about his plight. Then, only eleven days before the scheduled July 28 induction, he suddenly drove up to Fayetteville to the home of Colonel Eugene Holmes, commander of the army ROTC unit at the University of Arkansas. In a two-hour interview on the evening of July 17, as the colonel remembered, Bill Clinton earnestly explained "his desire to join the program."

Among those to whom he had appealed was a fellow Arkansan, Cliff Jackson, a Fulbright fellow at Oxford when Clinton met him in 1968 and a Republican who had worked for the Winthrop Rockefeller campaigns. As Jackson later told the story, Clinton asked him to use his influence with the GOP administration in either Washington or Little Rock to "quash the July draft notice." Ambitious but not yet the bitter rival and enemy he would become years later, Jackson responded by contacting the man he was going to work for that summer, the executive director of the Arkansas Republican Party, Van Rush, who in turn was close to Willard "Lefty" Hawkins, Governor Rockefeller's appointee to head the selective service in Arkansas.

Jackson arranged a meeting with Hawkins for both Clinton and an anxious Virginia, who herself talked with Jackson during the weeks before Bill arrived back in Hot Springs earlier that summer. At the meeting with Hawkins, according to what the colonel later told Jackson, Bill Clinton readily agreed to "serve his country in another capacity later on" if the July 28 draft could be lifted. Hawkins was not sure what was possible. The fall enrollment at Arkansas's army reserve officers program was full, but something might be arranged for the next term. He sent the young man on to his fellow officer Gene Holmes at the university's ROTC unit, and Clinton said he would make the five-hundred- mile round-trip to Fayetteville right away. As Jackson mentioned matter-of-factly in a letter to another student on July 11, his friend Bill was "feverishly trying to find a way to avoid entering the Army as a drafted private."

A much-decorated survivor of the Bataan death march and of more than three years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese, Eugene Holmes was nearing the end of a thirty-two-year military career. Crusty but avuncular, he had lost a brother in World War II and personally ushered both his own sons into Vietnam service; he was "a real believer," according to a colleague. Like others in Arkansas, Holmes was impressed by Bill Clinton's credentials and pleased by the bright student's interest in ROTC. He was proud to be "making it possible," he wrote later, "for a Rhodes scholar to serve in the military as an officer." Holmes methodically explained to Clinton what they both knew -- that he would have to enroll at the University of Arkansas simply to be eligible for ROTC there. Clinton said he planned to "attend the Law School," Holmes noted, but naturally needed "some time" at Oxford to put his affairs in order before returning to Fayetteville. "I thought he was going to finish a month or two in England and then come back to the University of Arkansas," Holmes said afterward.

Clinton promised, as he later recalled, to let Holmes "hear from me at least once a month." Holmes said he would immediately begin the processing of Clinton's formal application and would inform the Hot Springs board of his new ROTC deferment. But the delay in England before enrolling at Arkansas, he added, must not be too long. "I couldn't have done it for a year," Holmes said he told Clinton at the time. "That wouldn't have been ethical."

Successful as the July 17 visit to Fayetteville had apparently been, things were not left at that. The "next day," as Holmes would testify in a formal affidavit, there began a concerted campaign of phone calls to him on Bill Clinton's behalf. Hot Springs draft board members themselves were telephoning to say that "it was of interest to Senator Fulbright's office that Bill Clinton, a Rhodes scholar, should be admitted to the ROTC program," Holmes remembered, and "that Senator Fulbright was putting pressure on them and that they needed my help." Whether this was what Opal Ellis described as "fix your wagon" would never be clear. But Colonel Holmes himself felt acutely the political elbowing down the line. "I received several such calls," he swore later. "I then made the necessary arrangements." To the Hot Springs board in late July the ROTC commander sent formal notice of a I-D deferment for William Jefferson Clinton -- "Member of reserve component or student taking military training" -- which the board then duly noted and officially entered on August 7. Yet again, this time at the last moment, his ordered induction had been staved off.

On August 7, 1969, Clinton signed the formal letter of intent to join the University of Arkansas ROTC, but he did not legally file it until some days later. In a summer of so much applying and exam taking, he did nothing official to apply to or test for the university's law school. During his 1992 presidential campaign he would claim that the school "informally" accepted him simply on his academic record -- though other students with comparable undergraduate records weren't granted any such dispensation. The actual record left no illusions. "He figured this maneuver would get him several more years of deferment, possibly until the end of the war," campaign biographers Charles Allen and Jonathan Portis wrote bluntly of the ROTC exemption.

Clinton began almost instantly to have second thoughts and pangs of guilt. In August he repeatedly called an Oxford friend and another future member of his administration, Strobe Talbott, who gave a version of their conversations in a 1992 Time essay supporting Clinton. "He was troubled that while he would be earning an officer's commission and a law degree," Talbott recounted, "some other, less privileged kid would have to go in his place to trade bullets with the Viet Cong."

On September 9, 1969, little more than a month after signing up for ROTC, he wrote a letter to fellow Rhodes scholar Rick Stearns that Talbott characterized as full of "articulate ambivalence ... confusion, self-doubt, even self-recrimination." He referred sarcastically to his ambition and to the University of Arkansas, mocking his agreement to go to the law school in Fayetteville as "the thing for aspiring politicos to do." Indeed, many of his future close associates in Little Rock business and politics were doing likewise at the time. His letter to Stearns described a painful summer in Hot Springs, "where everyone else's children seem to be in the military, most of them in Vietnam."

Clinton wondered aloud if he was "running away from something maybe for the first time in my life." Only a month after his agreement with Holmes, he told Stearns, he was thinking that refuge in the ROTC had been a mistake after all. "I am about resolved to go to England come hell or high water and take my chances . . . nothing could be more destructive of whatever fiber I have left than this mental torment," he told his friend. "And if I cannot rid myself of it, I will just have to go into the service and begin to root out the cause."

Three days after the letter to Stearns, he stayed up through the night at the Scully Street house writing to the chairman of the Hot Springs draft board. As Clinton himself summarized it two months later, he wrote that his signing of the ROTC letter of intent was a "compromise I made with myself ... more objectionable than the draft would have been." The truth was, he told the board, that he had "no interest in the ROTC in itself" and had only been trying "to protect myself from physical harm." Since he was hereby withdrawing from the ROTC and its deferment, he wished that they would "please draft me as soon as possible." The middle-of-the-night letter ended by earnestly thanking the chairman "for trying to help in a case where he really couldn't."

Clinton never sent his confessional, sacrificial outpouring to the draft board chairman. "I did carry it on me every day until I got on the plane to return to England" is how he told the story afterward. "I didn't mail the letter because I didn't see ... how my going in the army and maybe going to Vietnam would achieve anything except a feeling that I had punished myself and gotten what I deserved."

On September 20, scarcely a week after his unsent letter to his board, President Nixon announced that there would be no new draft calls for the remainder of 1969 and that graduate students would not be inducted until they completed their current school year. If Congress did not act immediately to reform the draft system, Nixon warned, he would do so by executive order. Headlined throughout the nation, the White House announcement heralded a wholly new conscription system planned to begin December 1, 1969 -- the draft lottery.

***

Within days of the agonized September letters and conversations, Clinton was on his way back to Oxford. He stopped in Washington for a time to volunteer at the headquarters of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, which was planning nationwide rallies against the war for mid-October, to be followed by a procession of nearly a million marchers down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington on November 15. The antiwar movement had now grown well beyond isolated students and reformers to include much of moderate, older, more affluent America. Directed at a belligerent, besieged Nixon White House, the moratoriums of 1969 would be increasingly what journalists came to call "mainstream" -- "a cascade of local demonstrations, vigils, church services, petition drives," as Todd Gitlin described them, "replete with respectable speech makers and sympathetic media fanfare." Clinton had earlier met in passing one of the organizers, longtime activist David Mixner -- he would call Mixner "a close friend," though they barely knew each other -- and now paused briefly in Washington to work with him, making contacts as well for foreign versions of the moratoriums he would join in Britain.

The Washington stopover made him late for the Oxford term, and though he was now banking on the new Nixon draft lottery, he seemed unsure about the months ahead. "Clinton showed up at Oxford that fall," Strobe Talbott remembered, "so uncertain about his future that he didn't even arrange in advance for a place to live." For a time he roomed with Stearns and others, "living the life of an off-campus nomad," a friend said.

But that same autumn, taking advantage of Oxford's ease, he would also make a trip to Oslo, Norway, where he met Richard McSorley, a Jesuit professor at Georgetown and peace activist who was in Scandinavia to visit various antiwar groups. Clinton asked to accompany the priest on his rounds, and they visited the Oslo Peace Institute, as well as talking with American conscientious objectors, Norwegian peace groups, and university students. "This is a great way to see a country," Father McSorley's memoir recorded Clinton as saying when he left Norway. On November 16 -- the day after McSorley attended the moratorium demonstration of some five hundred Britons and Americans in front of the US embassy in Grosvenor Square in London -- he encountered Clinton yet again, this time in another crowd of several hundred at an interdenominational church service for peace in England. "Bill Clinton ... came up and welcomed me," Father McSorley wrote. "He was one of the organizers."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Fri Jun 17, 2016 3:17 am

Part 2 of 2

Ten years afterward, questioned about his "antiwar" activities, Clinton would tell the Arkansas Gazette that he had "only observed" protest marches in London and elsewhere. Whatever impressions he gave Father McSorley in 1969 and the Arkansas press subsequently, the reality of his role was always ambiguous. Like others, he had helped stage "teach-ins" at Oxford, once inviting former US diplomat George Kennan, who was critical of the war policy, to speak to the visiting American students. He had helped the moratorium committee organize both the October 15 and November 15 events in England and been one of the speakers at a special rally for American students in London. Yet his was cautiously calibrated opposition. The day before his London speech, British antiwar groups met on the same spot to demand US withdrawal from Indochina. But Bill Clinton had urged others to boycott the event, "deeming it too radical," said one account.

"Theirs was a temperate revolt against the establishment," Alessandra Stanley wrote of the Oxford years. "He was not some extraordinary rabid organizer," said fellow Rhodes scholar Christopher Key, later a supporter. "It was not a Jane Fonda-going-to-Hanoi deal. No one thought of it as being disloyal to our country." Several, in fact, saw Clinton and his circle as self-serving, opposed to the war on their own terms and never carrying their principles far enough to jeopardize their futures in the system. "They all hung out together, and they all played it very safe at the moratoriums, having it both ways," said Dell Martin, an antiwar leader at Oxford in 1968-70 who knew Clinton, Talbott, and their colleagues. "They were conservative, and frankly I had no patience with them. I felt they were careerists -- making a place for themselves in a society [that] had caused this war to happen."

During the fall demonstrations Clinton finally found quarters for the year, moving in with Talbott and another American friend from the term before, Frank Aller, a brilliant young Rhodes scholar in Asian studies from the University of Washington. They shared an old row house at 46 Leckford Road, and the setting became a kind of caricature of their moment at Oxford -- beards grown, candles burned to the music of the sixties, Clinton's mattress on the floor, shillings fed into a clicking meter for lights and heat against the drab English winter.

It was an interesting household by any measure. The son of a wealthy Ohio investment banker and prominent Republican, Nelson Strobridge Talbott III had himself escaped the draft "thanks to a letter to his draft board from a friendly orthopedist in Cleveland," said one account; he was a young man who "wasted no time on failure, introspection or rebellion." Talbott had been trained as a Russian linguist at Yale and now, at Oxford, was already involved in the coveted job of translating Nikita Khrushchev's CIA-smuggled memoirs for Time-Life, a publishing coup that involved shadowy forces on both sides of the cold war and that would soon lift young Strobe himself to prodigious cachet as a Time reporter.

But it was Frank Aller, without wealth or furtive connections to power, who had something deeper, who was "the one you wanted to have dinner with," his friend David Edwards would say, and the one who "paid the price for all of us." He was a talented classical pianist as well as a serious scholar, mastering Mandarin and writing a thesis on the Chinese Communists' Long March. He was immensely likable -- gentle, kind, and genuinely modest. A "buttoned-down Kennedy Democrat," as one writer described him, he had been raised in conservative Spokane. "We both grew up on John Wayne movies," Clinton would say, adding that Aller still managed "a very finely developed ethical sensibility." Frank and Bill were close-many thought the closest of friends -- talking for hours on end about Vietnam. Even Clinton's seducing one of Aller's girlfriends seemed to have no effect on their own friendship.

But Aller also stood apart from the rest of them. On the day of Nixon's inauguration, January 20,1969, he had sent a three-page letter to his Spokane draft board, saying plainly, "I cannot in good conscience accept induction into the Armed Forces of the United States. . . . 1 believe there are times when concerned men can no longer remain obedient." At one point in the letter, he might have been describing Bill Clinton's own, very different approach to their dilemma of career and principle -- though it was never clear how much he or any of the others knew of the restless maneuvering and wire-pulling back in Arkansas. Aller deplored "the fact that many of us who have come to disagree with American military involvement in Vietnam have refrained from actions which would imperil our deferred status and have continued to comply with selective service regulations despite moral or political objections to the war." It turned out that Aller had both, with a sophistication amply vindicated by events.

In the end, though, it was courage more than insight that distinguished Aller from the others on Leckford Road. He had no political influence back home, would not apply for conscientious-objector status, because he did not oppose all wars, simply this one. "Finally, he concluded he could not maneuver for an easier way out," said one account. The evening he sent his letter, Clinton and Robert Reich, exempt from service for physical reasons, threw a party for Aller. "It was a raucous gathering," according to one description, "that was partly a mock wake" for someone whose "defiance made him a legend at Oxford." Their most gifted member had become the official resister.

Aller would also be a kind of touchstone for the expedient morality and commitment of his housemates and their circle. "None of them were willing to risk their futures by resisting," writer Alessandra Stanley concluded. "Others were able to live their own need to resist through Frank. Bill had to weigh what it really meant to resist. He understood the consequences more than the others," said a woman who knew them. "Frank was the only guy among the Rhodes scholars who actually did something about the war -- who risked himself," colleague David Satter said to a reporter years afterward. "Guess what? He did it and nobody cared," David Edwards would "bitterly" tell the same journalist.

For a while Clinton worried that his opposition to the war-however cautious, whatever the contrasts with Frank Aller, whatever the outcome of his maneuvers with the draft -- might still cost him his political career. As an alternative, he told Garry Wills in 1992, he had "seriously considered" becoming a journalist. "I would at least comment on the great events of my time," he said. But that would be unnecessary.

That October -- some remembered it was the middle of the month, others the end -- Clinton told his family in Hot Springs to inform the draft board that he wished to be returned to 1-A status, making him eligible for the national draft lottery scheduled for December 1, 1969. The board formally reclassified him 1-A on October 30; meanwhile, he had no contact with Colonel Holmes in Fayetteville since leaving the United States. As far as Holmes and the ROTC knew, Bill Clinton the Rhodes scholar was still intending to enroll at Arkansas's law school and join the reserve unit. In the imminent draft reform, his options were by no means closed. Though entering the lottery, he might draw a low number and face induction yet conceivably still make good on his promise to Colonel Holmes and, despite his October switch to I-A, resecure the ROTC deferment, which remained valid under the new system. If he drew a higher number, setting him clear of induction, he could then make a final decision to discard the ROTC -- and inform Holmes as best he could.

That November was a tense countdown. The contorted politics of career and conscience were obviously draining and, for a time, all-absorbing. Talbott -- self-conscious about his own dubious deferment, what he called "my gimpy knee . . . enough to keep me out of the Mekong Delta but not off the squash courts and playing fields of Oxford" -- remembered how agitated and preoccupied both Clinton and Aller had been on Thanksgiving of 1969. The two friends had stood in the kitchen basting a shriveling turkey for four hours while locked obliviously in an intense conversation about patriotism, service, the war.

Days later, the birth date of William Jefferson Clinton of Hot Springs, Arkansas, formerly if recently I-A, was drawn number 311 in the selective service lottery -- more than a hundred places away from the cutoff for current or even anticipated draft calls. The next morning he jubilantly sent off an application to Yale Law School for the coming academic year and on December 3, after much drafting and redrafting, mailed a telling letter to Colonel Eugene Holmes in Fayetteville. On December 4, Frank Aller was indicted for draft evasion by a Spokane federal grand jury. His housemates remembered that Aller took the news bravely. But there were no parties on Leckford Road.

***

Friends watched Bill Clinton and men like him send off numerous letters to their draft boards and other authorities. Often addressed to faceless, faraway people who held mortal power, the compositions were among their most serious efforts. "As a rule, those kinds of letters were very carefully crafted and well thought out, as much as or more so than anything else they did at Oxford," said a witness. "If you look closely, what they wrote was amazingly sincere as well as utterly cynical," said another who heard the painstaking epistles read aloud, discussed, and often collectively edited. For those destined for careers in politics or business -- areas conventionally assumed to penalize candor or nonconformity -- their outpourings on the draft, despite the calculation and ingratiation, were in some ways a fleeting moment of honesty. "At the end of the day," David Edwards would say, "this was our first real struggle over right and wrong." Between the lines, and sometimes explicitly, Clinton's letter to Eugene Holmes was just that -- a revealing mark of the man he had grown into, as well as the politician he was becoming.

To the fatherly colonel he began by apologizing for being "so long in writing": "I know I promised to let you hear from me at least once a month, and from now on you will, but I have had to have some time to think about this first letter." He had contemplated the reply "almost daily since my return to England" and wanted to thank Holmes, "not just for saving me from the draft, but for being so kind and decent to me last summer" when he was depressed. "One thing which made the bond we struck in good faith somewhat palatable to me," he told the Bataan veteran, "was my high regard for you personally."

As he had proudly made plain to Holmes in Fayetteville, he had worked for Senator Fulbright in Washington. But there was something about the Senate job Clinton had not admitted in their long interview that summer at the officer's home. "I did it for the experience and the salary, but also for the opportunity, however small, of working every day against a war I opposed and despised with a depth of feeling I had reserved solely for racism in America before Vietnam," he told Holmes, going on to claim, "I did not take the matter lightly but studied it carefully, and there was a time when not many people had more information about Vietnam at hand than I did." Given the genuine expertise on Vietnam in America and Europe as well as Asia, this was a remarkably adolescent boast, made by a man of twenty-three who later left behind no trace of his supposed authority on the subject. If calculated in 1969 to impress someone he thought an uneducated army officer, it also seems a hint of an evolving Clinton bravado, in which a quick mind's glibness might impress a less confident audience yet mask a shallowness or indolence, a provincial conceit and ignorance about what he actually knew and did not know.

He went on to confess that he had "written and spoken and marched against the war." Had Holmes known that when they met, their "admiration might not have been mutual." He had not begun to "consider separately" the draft issue until the spring of 1968, Clinton wrote, alluding to a Georgetown term paper on "selective conscientious objection." He mentioned nothing about the March 1968 induction notice from Hot Springs or the busy local politicking by Raymond Clinton.

"From my work I came to believe that the draft system itself is illegitimate .... No government really rooted in limited, parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which even possibly may be wrong, a war which, in any case, does not involve immediately the peace and freedom of the nation." Accordingly, he thought the World War II draft was justified "because the life of the people collectively was at stake." But "Vietnam is no such case," and neither was the Korean War of 1950-53, "where, in my opinion, certain military action was justified but the draft was not."

Clinton was "in great sympathy," he told the colonel, with those refusing "to fight, kill, and maybe die for their country (i.e. the particular policy of a particular government) right or wrong." Two of his Oxford friends, he said, were conscientious objectors, and he had written for one a letter of recommendation to a Mississippi draft board, "a letter which I am more proud of than anything else I wrote at Oxford last year." He also told Holmes that "one of my roommates is a draft resister ... possibly under indictment ... and never able to go home again." Without naming him, he wrote of Frank Aller, "He is one of the bravest, best men I know. That he is considered a criminal is an obscenity."

There followed a remarkably candid description of Clinton's own dilemma about whether or not to be a resister. "I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system." He went on to describe how he had been preparing for "a political life characterized by both practical political ability and concern for rapid social progress. It is a life 1 still feel compelled to try to lead." Young Bill Clinton then added an extraordinary and in some ways ironically prophetic passage: "I do not think our system of government is by definition corrupt, however dangerous and inadequate it has been in recent years. (The society may be corrupt, but that is not the same thing, and if that is true we are all finished anyway.)

"When the draft came, 1was having a hard time facing the prospect of fighting a war 1 had been fighting against," he further explained to Holmes, though again without mentioning all the machinations that had gone into that "hard time." His trip to Holmes's house in Fayetteville was crucial. "ROTC was the one way left in which 1could possibly, but not positively, avoid both Vietnam and resistance," he wrote. Once more he neglected to add the essential reality -- that by changing his classification from 1-A to 1-D and delaying his induction long enough that summer and autumn for the draft lottery, the ROTC had indeed been "positively" a way out of a hated, life-threatening war, as well as out of what he feared might be a career-threatening act of principle and defiance of convention.

Continuing his education at Oxford or elsewhere "played no part" in his joining the ROTC. "I am back here," he wrote vaguely from Oxford that December, "and would have been at Arkansas Law School because there is nothing else 1can do." He would have liked to "take a year out" to teach in a small college or "work in a community action project" to decide "whether to attend law school or graduate school and how to begin putting what 1 have learned to use." Yet all that begged the question of why he had not written Holmes for months, why he had never applied to Arkansas or even prepared to go there as he had promised, why he had returned to England and effectively bided his time and even changed his draft classification directly with the Hot Springs board at the last moment, awaiting the lottery.

After he signed the ROTC letter of intent that August, he "began to wonder" about the compromise, Clinton wrote the colonel. He had "no interest" in the program and only seemed to be saving himself "from physical harm," he admitted. "Also, I began to think I had deceived you," the letter told Holmes, "not by lies because there were none but by failing to tell you all the things I'm writing now. I doubt that I had the mental coherence to articulate them then." These were some but hardly all the misgivings he had expressed at length to Rick Stearns and Strobe Talbott that August and September, when he saw his own "moral fiber" in terms of returning to England to "take my chances," albeit without then telling Holmes and ending the ROTC option prior to the lottery.

"At that time, after we had made our agreement and you had sent my I-D deferment to my draft board," Clinton now recounted, "the anguish and loss of my self-regard and self-confidence really set in. I hardly slept for weeks and kept going by eating compulsively and reading until exhaustion brought sleep."

It was a recurrent pattern of crisis and personal turmoil he had experienced before and would experience again, though no one among the peace moratorium workers or his Oxford colleagues -- except perhaps Stearns and Talbott, who felt his anxieties from a distance by phone or letter -- seems to have noted it in Bill Clinton that late summer and early fall of 1969.

He now told Holmes about staying up all night to write, and then carrying around, the unsent confession to the draft board. "I didn't mail the letter because I didn't see, in the end, how my going in the army and maybe going to Vietnam would achieve anything except a feeling that I had punished myself and gotten what I deserved," he wrote. "So I came back to England to try to make something of this second year of my Rhodes scholarship." There was no reference to Nixon's September 20 announcement exempting graduate students for the academic year or to the draft lottery.

He was telling all this to Holmes, he concluded the long December 3 letter, "because you have been good to me and have a right to know what I think and feel." He finished with a plea for the respectability he knew he once enjoyed with the Arkansas officer: "I am writing too in the hope that my telling this one story will help you to understand more clearly how so many fine people have come to find themselves still loving their country but loathing the military, to which you and other good men have devoted years, lifetimes, of the best service you could give. To many of us, it is no longer clear what is service and what is disservice, or if it is clear, the conclusion is likely to be illegal."

Like so many other similar gestures of the time, the words were a poignant reach across generational, intellectual, cultural, and political divides -- and like so many others, ultimately in vain. Though he feared exposure at the moment and then, over the coming decades, had reason to believe he had escaped the worst political effects of his maneuvering, Clinton and his very presidency would pay a price for the unhealed wound visible in the letter to Holmes.

He ended with a surprisingly cloying, almost casual passage, leaving it merely implicit that he was resigning from the ROTC and never coming to Arkansas's law school: "Forgive the length of this letter. There was much to say. There is still a lot to be said, but it can wait. Please say hello to Col. Jones for me. Merry Christmas. Sincerely, Bill Clinton."

Holmes angrily canceled Clinton's ROTC enrollment. He sent no reply to the young Arkansan in England at the time, though his remarks to the press decades later still reflected his reaction. "Bill Clinton was able to manipulate things so that he didn't have to go in," the retired colonel told a reporter. "Ethically, I think he should have stayed in ROTC. He'd given his word and was backing out."

In a September 1992 affidavit the ill and elderly Eugene Holmes, now inevitably a pawn in a presidential campaign in which he obviously opposed Bill Clinton, made a "final statement" on the episode, describing their two-hour talk in Fayetteville and the subsequent "pressure" on both the ROTC unit and the Hot Springs board, adding that Clinton "purposely deceived me, using the possibility of joining the ROTC as a ploy ... purposely defrauding the military ... both in concealing his antimilitary activities overseas and his counterfeit intentions for later military service." By then the colonel was not the only one caught up in the partisan controversy and twisting history. "That's very strange," Virginia would confess when asked about her son's planning to go to law school at the University of Arkansas and join the ROTC. "I was under the impression when he came home from Oxford that he was going to go to Yale."

***

The specter of Vietnam lifted, Clinton spent the rest of the term and year at Oxford far more relaxed and carefree. Over the December- January break he briefly visited Moscow on a student tour, a trip his floundering Republican presidential opponent would someday try to exploit. Reading poetry with Rick Stearns one gray day at Oxford, Clinton set off on a lark to find Dylan Thomas's birthplace and spent days hitchhiking through Wales in a cold rain. That spring of 1970 he and Stearns took a bus tour of Spain, reading accounts and touring battlefields of the Spanish civil war, an experience that left their views "changed substantially," according to Stearns. "Both of us understood that it was much more complex than a simple right-versus-wrong," Stearns would say of Franco's fascist overthrow of the elected republic. For Clinton, his companion was to be one of the more important and influential of his Oxford friends, as Rick Stearns's patronage two years later would usher him into valuable local political exposure and authority in the Democratic presidential campaign of George McGovern.

Like the reminiscences of so many others, Clinton's public claims for his Oxford years give only the most nebulous impression of his intellectual pursuits or accomplishments. "I read about three hundred books," he said at one point, invoking the quantity rather than the authors or ideas. Above all, others seemed to understand in England as plainly as they had in Washington that Clinton was without apology a politician in training, "about as transparent as a politician can be" and, in the colliding, polarized opinions of the time, "always ... what would be called a moderate," his Oxford friend Peter Hayes would say. Watching Bill Clinton talk endlessly at the dining tables of University College's Long Hall, Douglas Eakeley thought him charming and fascinating to the British, "easily the most popular [American] student there." But as always, there were those who saw his congeniality in a different light. It was simply more "networking and glad-handing," a reporter quoted a fellow Arkansas student and later a rival, Cliff Jackson, as saying. "A few of Clinton's contemporaries in England," Jackson and others concluded, had been "crass and self-serving and enough to make you sick."

"It is just almost impossible to re-create the personal agony we felt then," Clinton would later say of the months at Oxford haunted by the draft. He left Oxford the spring of 1970, without a degree, bound for Yale. Still a fugitive, Frank Aller stayed on in Europe, where' 'loneliness seemed to engulf him," according to one account. "I don't want to become a broken old man nursing a faded ideal which no one else remembers," Aller wrote in a letter in October 1970. Who exactly was that Rhodes scholar who "refused induction?" he asked mockingly in a letter the following month that referred, in contrast, to what they all expected of his more protean housemate. "I'm not sure," came the answer in Aller's imaginary and bitter dialogue. "You mean the guy who was at Oxford when Governor Clinton was?"

Aller eventually returned to the States, ironically flunking his military physical the day that draft-evasion charges against him were dropped. He and Clinton saw each other briefly during a California reunion of the Leckford Road housemates. But the psychological torture of the ordeal had been too much. Back in Spokane in September 1971, less than two years after his ardent talks with Bill Clinton about service and destiny, Frank Aller calmly borrowed the keys to a friend's apartment and there put a bullet through his brain.

***

"Bill Clinton's ties to the intelligence community go back all the way to Oxford and come forward from there," says a former government official who claims to have seen files long since destroyed. The subject of sharply varying accounts, the future president's final months in England were indeed shrouded in some mystery and in inconsistencies never explained -- though the very polarity of the suspicions and allegations seem only to obscure what really happened.

Apart from controversy over how he dealt with the draft, the Oxford years were to be a fleeting, paradoxical issue for Clinton in the 1992 campaign. Republican aides rifled passport files in vain for some evidence of Clinton disloyalty while abroad or even of suspect travel by Virginia. Trailing in October, George Bush himself tried almost pathetically to impute something subversively, unpatriotically sinister to Clinton's 1969-70 trip to Moscow or his role in antiwar rallies, demanding on a national talk show that the Democratic nominee tell voters "how many demonstrations he led against his own country from a foreign soil. "

It was with similar venom that the Central Intelligence Agency's infamous Operation Chaos of the 1960s had been directed at uncovering some discrediting foreign hand in antiwar activities at home and abroad, to the point of recruiting American student informants and placing provocateurs among the demonstrators. "Get me some commie money and organizers behind this student shit," Lyndon Johnson had ordered during a session of his fateful Tuesday Lunch with national security advisers. The CIA swiftly obliged, using front organizations and foundations that already operated illegally within the United States and sending out a circular cable by its own channel to station chiefs all over Europe -- especially in countries where there were large numbers of American students, such as the United Kingdom, or where there were increasingly conspicuous colonies of draft resisters, such as Sweden -- to target and penetrate student antiwar movements abroad more aggressively than ever, employing American students themselves as prime sources and de facto agents.

According to at least two former agency station chiefs and two more deputies who received the instructions and directed such covert operations, the inducements for the young informers ranged from cash payments to help with local draft boards and even promised deferments to more general and sweeping proffers of future help and influence with careers. "I could get them some money and accommodations if they needed it and see that selective service stayed off their backs," said one former CIA officer. "And most case officers were telling these young men that their service would be noted and appreciated for future reference. You know, if the agency's in a position to help at some point in their careers, there'd be an institutional memory. The Rhodes and Fulbrights and others were going to be important folks someday, and they knew the advantages of helping out."

The CIA stations were routinely advised not to run afoul of host-country intelligence services in the course of their surveillance of the antiwar movement. But in Britain, where there was a standing agreement between the CIA and their London counterparts not to conduct covert operations on one another's home territory, there was a special problem with Whitehall's MI-5, which adamantly objected to CIA recruitment of US citizens on UK soil, let alone to proscribed spying on activities around British universities. According to several accounts of CIA officers on the scene in 1967-70, Operation Chaos evaded the secret intelligence agreement through an elaborate ruse in which the station at the US embassy in London arranged to contact certain American students at Oxford, Cambridge, and elsewhere and to be "turned down," with word of the attempted recruitment then leaking to the British, who routinely protested the violation but thought the matter ended with the students' reported rejections. "In fact," remembered a ranking CIA case officer, "we went back and got the boys for real. It was kind of blown cover as cover, you might say, and the Brits groused about the dummy approaches but never caught on." In any event, the episode produced even stricter, more furtive security measures around the recruitment of student informers in the United Kingdom than attended most such espionage. "There were very few records kept, frequent purging of the files, and in general a lot of cutouts and other Mickey Mouse," recalled one officer. "Because of the sensitivity of the UK, these kids were treated in some ways like some high-level agents."

It would all befog still more the later allegations of CIA collusion by and around Bill Clinton at Oxford. One former agency official would claim that the future president was a full-fledged "asset," that he was regularly "debriefed," and thus that he informed on his American friends in the peace movement in Britain. Similarly, he was said to have informed on draft resisters in Sweden during his brief trip there with Father McSorley and to have had his room paid for at one of Moscow's most exclusive Intourist hotels, the venerable National just off Red Square, during his holiday trip there at the end of 1969 -- the same trip George Bush would try to portray as a subversive act. The booking at the National for the usually impecunious student from Hot Springs would raise eyebrows when it became known even back in Arkansas. "Arguably the best accommodation in town," a Little Rock columnist wrote later of the expensive Soviet hotel. Clinton would spend at least part of his time in Moscow with two visiting Americans he had apparently happened upon, Charles Daniels, a contractor from Virginia, and Henry Fors, a farmer who was seeking Soviet help finding a son missing in North Vietnam. But otherwise, ensconced in a hotel usually reserved for more prominent or affluent visitors, he seems to have made an oddly pointless trip, with none of the purpose or application friends saw him bring to other ventures. Clinton "just hung around, always hungry and broke," Arkansas journalist Meredith Oakley quoted another student in Moscow as saying.

One more CIA retiree would recall going through archives of Operation Chaos at the Langley headquarters -- part of an agency purge amid the looming congressional investigations of the mid-1970s -- and seeing Bill Clinton listed, along with others, as a former informant who had gone on to run for or be elected to a political office of some import, in Clinton's case attorney general of Arkansas. "He was there in the records," the former agent said, "with a special designation." Still another CIA source contended that part of Clinton's arrangement as an informer had been further insurance against the draft. "He knew he was safe, you see, even if he got a lottery number not high enough and even if the ROTC thing fell through for some reason," the source said, "because the Company could get him a deferment if it had to, and it was done all the time."

Several CIA sources would agree nearly a quarter century after the events that there had indeed been several informants among the Americans gathered at British universities at the end of the 1960s, young men who went on to prominence, if not the Oval Office. "Let's just say that some high today in the USG [US government] began their official careers as snitches against the antiwar movement," said one former official who doubted Clinton's own involvement. "Close to Bill Clinton were informants with a more formal relationship than occasional sources," said another ex-case officer. "I can't and won't ever tell you names, but you'd sure recognize them if I did."

***

By his return to the United States in 1970, much was clear about who he was and would be, about the already polished and protected artifice and artifacts of a career, ultimately a life.

Amid all the spirited or grim discussions of Vietnam, he would be identified afterward with no ideas or concepts (unlike Frank Aller and others), no lessons of foreign policy or decision making or larger history. He left behind only the most generic, glossed images -- nice, popular, eager to please, bright without being unorthodox, intelligent without being provocative or memorable, very much a part of his surroundings. No attack by his reactionary opponents later would be more undeserved than the charge that young Bill Clinton was "radical."

Clinton went through genuine torture over the draft. Many if not most of his peers among the Rhodes contingent of 1968 had received some special dispensation, and American students everywhere were going to some lengths, from political coercion to self-mutilation, to avoid the war. Some future Republican rivals in Washington, figures such as Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, nimbly skirted the service during the same era, as one journalist put it later, "without any apparent sign of moral anguish," much less understanding of the war.

Clinton and most of the rest of his circle were fundamentally questioning the war and their possible sacrifice, not what produced it or what might come afterward in the America they inherited. "Radicalization means building a rational conviction that the social structure must be altered at its roots, that phenomena such as the Vietnamese war were symptoms," writes Joseph Conlin, a historian and critic of the 1960s. For thousands of people, including many who served in Southeast Asia, the war left just such a legacy, one far beyond simple nostrums of nonintervention: an understanding of how narrow and puckered political leaders and policy makers in both great parties had grown, how venal and resistant were huge private interests, how institutionally and culturally flawed government and policy were becoming. But Vietnam radicalized neither Bill Clinton nor the small crowd of equally career-minded young men around him at Oxford and later in his administration. Nor in basic ways did it prepare them to understand what they would face at the end of the century.

The spring of 1970 brought the invasion of Cambodia and another surge of antiwar protests that gave the Nixon White House pause. Over the next year, however, as draft calls waned, American combat deaths plunged from two hundred a week to thirty-five, and with them the urgency and force of much of the antiwar movement. "The slackening of the draft weakened the less committed's incentive for opposing the war," wrote Todd Gitlin. Whatever the cause and effect, the ebbing margin of opposition allowed the Nixon White House to continue the war for another four bloody years, doubling the number of Americans killed and, through massive bombing and the proxy of "Vietnamization," adding nearly a million more Asian casualties.

If the moral and career torments of the moment cut deep wounds, Clinton's scars were all but invisible over those ensuing years of prolonged carnage and after. Having spoken so much in Oxford's Long Hall, on Leckford Road, and even at London rallies, having solemnly discussed the issues and boasted of unique knowledge of the subject in his letter to Colonel Holmes, Bill Clinton the emerging politician of the 1970s and 1980s never again paused to reflect in public on those great questions, never probed in his many Arkansas campaigns or national forums the profound, fateful issues of war, peace, and political obligation that so haunted his youth.

Once his draft crisis was over, it was almost as if none of it had ever quite happened.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Partners in POWER: The Clintons and Their America

Postby admin » Fri Jun 17, 2016 3:18 am

6. Park Ridge: "She Had to Put Up with Him"

In their own ways, they were casualties of their America and refugees from the depression, much as Virginia Cassidy and Bill Blythe had been.

Dorothy Howell was of Welsh-Scottish descent with French and Native American ancestry as well. She was born in 1919 into the blue-collar tenements of South Chicago, the daughter of a fireman and of a half-Canadian mother who was all but illiterate. Part of the vast migration of the era, the family later moved to southern California, where Dorothy grew up in the sunlit but bittersweet promise of the Los Angeles basin. At high school in Alhambra, she was a member of the scholarship society, an admired athlete, and an energetic organizer of student activities. She left the West Coast almost as soon as she graduated, never looking back "too fondly," as one account put it, on a seemingly painful, unreconciled childhood and adolescence. Intelligent and pretty, with a compelling smile and an abiding sense of independence, eighteen-year-old Dorothy was back in Chicago in 1937, applying for a job as a secretary with the Columbia Lace Company, when she met a witty yet severe and begrudging young curtain salesman named Hugh Rodham.

He was seven years older and had been raised amid English working-class sternness and privation. His own father was brought from the bleak miners' slums of Northumberland to Pennsylvania at the age of three and, while still a child, was put out to work at the Scranton Lace Company, later to marry another English immigrant who had been a winder in a silk-mill sweatshop since her teens. Theirs was an unsparing household, bound by the evangelical Methodism of their origins and the hard-bitten lunch-pail Republicanism of the time. One of three boys and his father's namesake, Hugh managed to attend Penn State on a football scholarship, majoring in physical education. But out of college during the depression, he found himself back in the lace factory himself, a second generation now "lifting boxes for lousy money," as one account put it. He soon fled, laboring for a time in the grim Pennsylvania coal mines, restlessly looking for jobs in New York, then Chicago, where he ended up in the fabric business after all, though in a more respectable, white-collar job as a salesman. He was still engaged to a woman in Scranton, and they had even taken out a marriage license. Then he noticed smiling Dorothy Howell at the office.

Their courtship went on for five years, with "much romantic back and forth," as friends described it. In his late twenties, he already foreshadowed the stinting, harsh husband and father he would become. Dorothy Howell was sadly ahead of her time, enjoying a brief relative independence during the depression and war years and ever after yearning for an equity and opportunity painfully denied in her married life. Proud, quietly ambitious, she had fallen in love with a "Mr. Impossible," as one chronicler of the family wrote. When Pearl Harbor came she was still a working girl, seeing Rodham but with hopes for higher education. She now put off college indefinitely, and they were finally married in 1942.

During the war, Hugh Rodham, with his college degree in physical education, supervised young recruits in the navy's Gene Tunney program, a regimen of conditioning and self-defense named for the former heavyweight boxing champion. In naval stations around the country, instructors like Rodham were expected to be stringently rigorous, austere, and aloof -- tight jawed calisthenics leaders equally free of emotion and flab, withholding praise, unconsoling, mocking of the slightest failure. Believed to harden the erstwhile civilians to a new toughness and resolve, it was all an unsentimental hazing for the warfare waiting outside the gate.

After 1945, the Rodhams were very much a part of the postwar generation of resumed hopes, intent on stability after years of uncertainty. "They wanted secure jobs, secure homes, and secure marriages in a secure country," Elaine Tyler May wrote of anxious millions like them. Just as traveling salesman Bill Blythe dreamed of owning an auto-parts franchise, Hugh Rodham would start his own drapery business. He began to sell custom work to major purchasers like hotels, corporations, and airlines, buying, printing, and sewing the fabric himself, even hanging the curtains. He usually had only one employee -- whom he generally treated as a slack navy recruit, with an irascibility those around him struggled vainly to gloss. "Although he badgered his help inordinately," said one account of the business, "there was an undercurrent of good humor in his manner -- and nobody took Hugh at face value."

When he came home from the service he and Dorothy lived for a time in a one-bedroom apartment in an area of Chicago only miles from the house Bill Blythe had purchased. In January 1947 she gave birth to a placid 8V2-poundgirl, "a good-natured, nice little baby," she would say, who was "very mature upon birth." In a small act of unconventionality, she called her Hillary, a family name she saw as "exotic and unusual."

Three years later the family left the city for the new space and status -- what many saw as the refuge -- of the suburbs, a sedate place comfortably northwest of Chicago on the wooded moraine that gave it its fashionable name, Park Ridge. Taking in a wave of postwar migrants, it was no dusty subdivision of tract houses hammered up on a treeless grid but an established community of shade and character. The locale had been one of the older settlements adjoining Chicago's city limits, the site of a nineteenth-century brickyard that eventually exhausted its clay deposits. With the arrival of the Chicago & Northwestern tracks, the old industrial village gave way to a commuting suburb, suitably changing its name from Brickton to Park Ridge. By the 1950s a neat little town center had thriving small businesses and solid, respectable public buildings. To many this was the prize, the way life in America was supposed to be. "We could have been a Frank Capra set without changing a thing," one resident would say. "Park Ridge was where Dick and Jane lived with their perfect parents and their little dog, Spot," another resident remarked.

When Hillary Rodham grew up there in the 1950s and 1960s, the streets and yards were teeming with the children of the postwar baby boom and suburban exodus, literally hundreds of them in the blocks around her house. Over the decade after her family moved, the population of Chicago proper grew by some 20 percent, but the near suburbs exploded, Park Ridge itself almost tripling to nearly forty thousand residents.

They were hardly a dozen miles from Chicago's Loop, yet Park Ridge was a world apart from the city and even from more diverse suburbs like Skokie, blocks away to the east. Park Ridge was on the rural outskirts of the metropolis. A few miles to the southwest, the area that would become O'Hare Airport, the world's busiest, there was still an apple orchard with cornfields beyond. Nearby were also Chicago's distinct communities of Italians, Poles, Mexican Americans, and Appalachian refugees, even Native American ghettos, and the largest single Jewish population in the metropolitan area. From all that, however, Park Ridge and similar suburbs were cordoned off by discreet but towering barriers of class and ethnicity. Here as elsewhere in the nation, sharply defined, exclusive enclaves of affluent, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were segregated from unwanted minorities by racist real estate covenants and sub-rosa mortgage discrimination, as well as by income and economic privilege.

For the most part, it was a society of the educated upper middle class, among whom Hugh Rodham, even with a lucrative drapery business and his own new Cadillacs year after year, could seem declasse. Away from his sewing machine and curtain hanging, he did not socialize with suburbia's "doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs," according to his daughter. "I never knew any professionals growing up," she would make a point of telling a reporter a quarter century later. In the social life the family did have, Dorothy Rodham herself would feel sharply the lack in her own background and forfeited education, "so unsure of her knowledge that she would drop out of conversations," wrote Judith Warner, "or simply play supportive audience to her husband's stronger voice." In their prescribed role, the mothers of Park Ridge stayed home to care for their houses and children. "Independent women, admired during the I930s and the war," wrote one historian, "were now looked upon as neurotic freaks."

"It was a lily-white area," remembered Sherry Heiden, a childhood friend of Hillary Rodham. "I think finally by our senior year there was one black kid in the whole school." They all went diligently to Sunday school and services in lovely brick churches with the requisite steeples and stained glass-and sometimes grew into adults without realizing they were all so numbingly alike. "I was in college before it hit me that everybody and everything was in the same mold," said one. Only in the consolidated high school, enrolling students from neighboring Skokie and elsewhere, did many of them have their first social contacts with Catholics, Jews, or simply children from blue-collar families.

Invariably the politics of Park Ridge followed its social and economic contours, finding expression and lead in the newspaper and broadcast empire of Chicago's legendary reactionary, Colonel Robert R. McCormack. The area was "white-collar country," as a group of political analysts once described it, "where the Chicago Tribune is a staple and where children are brought up to despise and fear the city [Democratic] machine." In a larger suburban district known for conservative sentiment, Park Ridge itself could be uniquely dogmatic and rigid, a contrast even to wealthier but more politically mixed and socially secure suburbs north along the Chicago lakeshore. A fiercely and unctuously dry community while liquor was sold just a township away, Park Ridge elected local, state, and national representatives known almost uniformly as Tribune Republicans for their right-wing extremism.

In a familiar pattern of class reaction, many in the town seemed all the more jealous of their exclusivity for having recently emerged themselves from poor or working-class origins. In the 1950s the picturesque community was an early center of the ultrarightist, conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, assailing President Dwight Eisenhower as a "Communist dupe," if not a Soviet agent, and equating Democrats in general with outright treason. So powerful was the reactionary fear taking root in Park Ridge and nearby suburbs that right-wing Republicans won the district's congressional seat in the early 1950sand never let go. Harold Collier, a former match-company personnel manager and a colorless creature of Colonel McCormack's, served nine terms and was succeeded in 1966 by a rotund state assembly politician and affable ideologue, Henry Hyde, who over ten more terms -- until his embroilment in a banking scandal in the mid-1990s -- would be known as "defender of the suburbs" and the GOP right's "most effective partisan weapon" on Capitol Hill.

In exclusive enclaves around Chicago -- as in the Arkansas subdivisions -- there were formidable social forces arrayed against honesty and revelation, both within and outside the family. Added to the prevailing cultural images of parents and children and to the post-depression, postwar drive for stability and security were vast corporate powers fastening on the happy new suburban family in its roles as advertising icon and lucrative market. Not least, there were the deeper politics of the moment. In many respects mirroring cold war reaction and conformity on the outside, the conservative male-dominated family regime and ideology of the 1950s and early 1960s abhorred and checked rebellion in the home almost as national policy contained revolt abroad -- and often with similar means of reward and punishment. Just as Arkansas folk wisdom taught resignation to the fixity of local power, suburban orthodoxy in Park Ridge posed all the implicit contracts of the new postwar affluence and stability -- the approved credentials and paths to success, the cost of dissent or mere nonconformity, the seeming disappearance of the old basic divisions of class and wealth, the manifest superiority of the American system at home and abroad. "Domestic containment," as historian Elaine Tyler May called the ethos of postwar life in the suburbs, "was bolstered by a powerful political culture that rewarded its adherents and marginalized its detractors."

In the same suburbs, it was true, there were warning signs dating from the early 1950s -- a growing and affecting literature chronicling discontent and the emptiness of materiality, a six-fold increase in psychiatrists and untold additional patients, and what sociologist Todd Gitlin called "generational cleavage in the making" among the young. There had been all that and more. But behind most closed doors in Park Ridge and its replicas, women and children in particular learned somehow to cope, to go on -- perhaps even to feel better about their predicament, to reconcile themselves, though seldom to change the deeper pattern or to question the connections between their own despair or disillusionment and the larger social, economic, and political framework.

America's most powerful First Lady was to come from that crucible and those confines as markedly -- and in some ways as painfully -- as a future president emerged from his landscapes of Hope and Hot Springs.

***

The Rodhams lived in a graceful two-story stone-brick Georgian house built before the war at the corner of Elm and Wisner. Hillary was soon joined by two younger brothers, Hugh, Jr., and Tony. As the only daughter she had her own bedroom, a cheery yellow with polished oak floors and a sundeck looking out on the pleasant neighborhood. There she grew into an obviously bright, determined, accomplished girl whose experiences were so stamped with the people and cultural setting as to seem now almost apocryphal.

"There's no room in this house for cowards," her mother remembered scolding her about confronting the neighborhood bully. "You're going to have to stand up to her. The next time she hits you, I want you to hit her back." According to the family story, the Rodhams' little girl did just that and won with her own fists a precious male acceptance and a coveted chance to play with the boys in the neighborhood. "Boys responded well to Hillary," Dorothy would say proudly. "She just took charge, and they let her." She also played avid ping-pong, took music and ballet lessons, organized neighborhood "Olympics" and circuses, competed gamely with her athletic brothers, and amused everyone with a biting gift for mimicry that she would carry into her political adulthood. At Eugene Field Grammar School and Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High, she was "a chronic teacher's pet," by one account. After school, she faithfully went on to the Brownies and Girl Scouts, earning a sash "so loaded with badges and dazzling little pins," thought Martha Sherrill, "that it's amazing she didn't walk with a stoop." On Sundays she was devoutly at the First United Methodist Church. Despite what one recollection called "the burden of that ceaseless public do-gooding," little Hillary Rodham seemed "to love it all." It was what growing up in Park Ridge was supposed to be.

How she reacted to the rest of her childhood was never part of the public myth. In the house at 236 Wisner, Dorothy Rodham was the town's conventional "stay-at-home mother" and child's "chauffeur," as Judith Warner described her. "I spent all my time in the car then," she herself would say. "The mother is the encourager and the helper, and the father brings news from the outside world" is how her daughter later benignly described what she called the family's "classic parenting situation." In that sense, however, the "news" from the world was often harsh, and the solicitous mother could not help her children with what writer Carolyn Susman saw as "a looming presence in all their lives" -- the implacably judgmental and exacting Hugh Rodham. "Kind of like the glue that held the family together. But not the way you would think," Hugh, Jr., would say of him after his death. "My father was confrontational, completely and utterly so."

Most of the public memories of the man and his impact were cast after his daughter became famous -- and with so much political and personal discretion as to be distorted. Nevertheless, the essence is unmistakable. "The suburban Hugh Rodham was tightfisted, hard to please, and always in command," concluded Norman King. "Though it is not fashionable to be macho today, Hugh fit the pattern perfectly then." There would be ostensibly fond recollections of the father's spending time with his children, devoting himself in a sense -- though always with the drillmaster's mania for performance, endurance, proof of worth. One spring, Martha Sherrill noted, the entire family went to a local park and stood watching the man "pitch and pitch and pitch until his daughter Hillary learned to belt a curveball." She became an accomplished shortstop and hitter and applied her categorical intelligence to baseball lore, treating less knowledgeable young fans in the neighborhood with the impatience, if not contempt, her father had shown his children. "She knew everything about the Cubs and everybody else, and really showed it off," said a childhood friend.

In the same way, friends remembered, Hugh Rodham had drilled his daughter on stock prices, requiring her to pore over quotes on the Tribune's stock market page for "good investments" and then praising her sparingly or upbraiding her with his usual rigor, depending on her "success." "You actually got tongue-lashed or sanctioned for losing money in that little game they had, and she learned the ropes fast," one recalled. "Making money like that was always very important to Mr. Rodham, very important," said another, "and it was something he tried to instill in her like everything else. No matter what you did, you weren't worth very much if you couldn't make money."

"Mr. Reality Check," Hillary would call him in the more neutral language of another generation. "I used to go to my father and say: 'Dad, I really need a new pair of shoes. My shoes have holes in them,' and he'd say, 'Have you done your chores? Have you done this? Have you done that?' " There were constant reminders of how fortunate -- and precarious -- their situation was, of what bitter hardships their father had suffered during the depression. He took them to an old coal mine in Pennsylvania to show them the grimy, spectral setting in which he once worked, however briefly. "The youngsters got the point," thought Norman King. "We were probably the only kids in the whole suburb who didn't get an allowance," Tony Rodham recalled vividly. "We'd rake the leaves, cut the grass, pull weeds, shovel snow. All your friends would be going to a movie. After your errands you'd walk in and say, 'Gee, Dad, I could use two or three dollars.' He'd flop another potato on your dinner plate and say, 'That's your reward.' " His approach to avoiding "spoiled" children, according to his wife, was straightforward: " 'They eat and sleep for free! We're not going to pay them for it as well!' "

For misbehavior they were "spanked on occasion or deprived of privileges," as one account put it. Neighbors and friends saw Hugh, Jr., as the family rebel -- "a kind of rascal, a roustabout," a local minister would say -- but his sister as the obedient, amenable "perfect child." "I was a quick learner," Hillary told Marian Burros. "I didn't run afoul of my parents very often. They were strict about my respecting authority, and not just parental authority. My father's favorite saying was: 'You get in trouble at school, you get in trouble at home.' "

But in Hugh Rodham's family boot camp, the even harsher response was reserved for conformity and success. When his proud little girl came home with straight As, he said to her dismissively, "It must be a very easy school you go to." Later, when she excelled in college prep courses, as Hugh, Jr., remembered, "He would say, 'It must be a pretty small college.' " At his sons' football games, Rodham disdained the bleachers and other parents, carrying a folding lawn chair in order to sit out on the sidelines, nearer the action, alone. After Hugh, Jr., who would go on to play at Penn State, quarterbacked a 42-0 championship victory and completed ten of eleven passes, he came back to Wisner Street to find his father lying on the sofa, ready with the familiar reproach. "I got nothing to say to you," he told the boy, "except you should have completed the other one."

Decades afterward, family and friends tried to interpret the elder Hugh Rodham's motives more gently. "With all of those things, he was not being mean or tactless. . . . He was trying in his own way to show us that we could be better," a son offered. "It's hard out there," Hillary quoted her father, explaining to an interviewer that his "encouragement was tempered by realism." The deeper cost of that tempering, however, no tactful language could conceal. Among both relatives and friends, many thought Hugh Rodham's treatment of his daughter and sons amounted to the kind of psychological abuse and adversity that might have crushed some children -- and came close to doing so in Park Ridge. It was not the episodic, detonating, often bloody abuse her future husband suffered in Hope and Hot Springs but a slightly more subtle oppression. The Rodhams were not like the Clintons, with a "crisis every four minutes," Hillary would later tell her future mother-in-law. In a sense, she was right. The quieter, more discreet abuse of Park Ridge had known no intervals. "Her spirit, though, was unbreakable," biographer Judith Warner concluded. Others disagreed. "I don't think there's any question that the real little Hillary was broken," said a longtime observer. "The point is how she got mended, and the person put in her place."

Family and friends adopted Rodham's own pretense -- that it was all good for them, however hurtful. Victims themselves, her mother and brothers came to rationalize what had happened to Hillary, arguing that the relationship with the father fortified her and bred her famously fierce determination and endurance. The family story of how she resolved at the age of nine to keep her maiden name when she married was the sort that proved how well she coped and survived and was stronger than most. Yet there was no real hiding the quiet cruelty and pain. The sense of stinted or denied love, a resort to refuge outside the family, the alternating warmth and vitriol, compassion and sarcasm, the tightly controlled yet seething perpetual anger not far beneath the impenetrable shell -- all would be visible in the independent but camouflaged woman she became. "She loves talking about ideas. She loves asking questions," Jan Piercy would say of the Hillary Rodham she knew well in the years just after childhood and adolescence. "Ask her about herself and 1 think you'll find she shuts down. Oh, she may answer your question, but 1 don't think you'll see much energy behind it." The same verdict would come from the other woman who had watched it all, and felt her own wounds. "Maybe that's why she's such an accepting person," Dorothy Rodham said in a moment of candor about her outwardly strong but long-suffering daughter. "She had to put up with him."

The parents "made no distinction between her and her two brothers," one observer wrote later, but the old shadings were in fact always there. With Hugh Rodham's approval, Hillary might take jobs as a baby-sitter, wading-pool lifeguard, or recreation counselor, but never in the drapery business, where her brothers worked often. At the same time, friends remembered the mother's steady, conscious effort to spur her daughter to succeed in academic and career terms, albeit terms still defined by men. "I've always spoken to Hillary as you would to an adult," Dorothy once recalled, with echoes of Virginia Clinton. The girl growing up in Park Ridge was to be what her mother had never been free to be in Alhambra, Chicago, or the suburbs -- above all, a presence, even a power, in the competitive, image-conscious, male-run outside world. That, in some ways, was more important than the trappings of marriage and family, which the mother had without fulfillment. "I was determined that no daughter of mine was going to have to go through the agony of being afraid to say what she had on her mind," Dorothy would say later. "Just because she was a girl didn't mean she should be limited."

One of her fellow students recalled that in the early 1960s their high school was "a big factory but also a really snobby place in its own way. The kids were just like their well-off parents, and everybody seemed headed for college with good jobs for boys, marriage for girls, and big homes and cars just like their folks." Utterly composed, a serious, busy young woman, Hillary Rodham seemed easily a part of that world, those expectations, yet in some ways deliberately separate. Through three years at Maine East, then a final year among some four thousand students attending the huge new Maine South, she continued to excel academically. At the same time, she played field hockey and volleyball, debated, acted in school plays, sang in the variety show. Asked years afterward if she and her friends had ever cut classes or openly challenged school authority, a close friend could only gasp, "Are you kidding?"

She dressed conventionally, wearing her society's familiar box-pleated skirts, blouses with Peter Pan collars, kneesocks and loafers, though she remained relatively oblivious to clothes and pointedly spurned cosmetics and hairstyling. "She rejected offers to have her ears pierced ... didn't smoke in the bathroom, didn't make out with the boys in 'the Pit' at Maine South's library, didn't even wear black turtlenecks," recorded Martha Sherrill. "She was totally unconcerned about how she appeared to people," thought Jennie Snodgrass, a classmate, "and she was loved for that." Dorothy Rodham was less certain. "When she was fifteen or sixteen, and other kids were starting to use makeup and fix their hair, she wasn't interested," the mother recalled. "That used to annoy me a little bit; I used to think, 'Why can't she put on a little makeup?' " There were moments when Hillary might look like the rest, dressed for the 1964 junior prom, for example, in gown and long white gloves, with lipstick and short, specially cut, slightly teased hair. But it was almost as if she were wearing a bizarre, slightly disagreeable costume, and after Maine South she would not return to its like for fifteen years, until the 1980s, when she appeared as the deliberately "made-over" wife of a comeback candidate for governor of Arkansas.

Defiantly unadorned and blithely uninterested in boys, she had little social life beyond her extracurricular activities and almost no dates, taking an old childhood friend to "girl's choice" dances and preferring a college boy from Princeton to her callow peers, though seeing little of him either. Like the makeup and clothes, sexuality was one of the rites of suburban passage for which she had neither time nor enthusiasm. "She wouldn't let some young man dominate meetings if he had nothing to say," said one of her teachers. "She wasn't going to be demure and spend a lot of time looking cute to attract people." To others, however, there was already an air of something more, an edge about her relations with young men. With no patience for her intellectual inferiors, she seemed to seek out intelligent boys, then coolly compete with them, establishing her dominance. It was not a matter of finding equality, some came to think, but a matter of maintaining a respectable superiority. "She was strong and secure and graceful, almost aloof," said Bob Stenson, a classmate who made even better grades. "I always felt a little funny around her. She was a tough competitor and formidable. I was always hoping she'd stumble a little bit."

The high school paper at one point predicted that Hillary Diane Rodham would become a nun, to be known caustically as Sister Frigidaire.

***

The politics of the Rodhams were as fixed as their demands on their children. "Hugh always voted Republican," said a friend, "and not just voted, but could be downright righteous and rabid about it." At home they seldom discussed political topics when their daughter and sons were younger. But there were summer gatherings of the larger Rodham clan around lakes in northeastern Pennsylvania, where staunch Republican relatives deplored the Democrats, convinced that John Kennedy had stolen the 1960 presidential election from Richard Nixon by the connivance, among others, of Mayor Daley's notorious Cook County Democratic machine in Chicago.

Meanwhile, there arrived in Park Ridge a gentle, energetic young minister who would change Hillary's life. The Rodhams' red-brick First United Methodist Church was a stronghold of the town's fearful rightwing reaction well into the 1960s. In the wake of the Kennedy murder in Dallas and initial publicity about foreign conspiracies by Fidel Castro or the Soviets, the parish director of Christian education felt compelled to send a calming, cautionary letter to the entire membership of three thousand, "hoping that they wouldn't begin finding Communists under every rock," as one account put it. "There were a lot of John Birchers in that church," one of its pastors said later. The year of the Kennedy-Nixon race, when Hillary Rodham was thirteen, Donald Jones, a new youth minister, was appointed to the church. A thirty-year-old recent graduate of the Drew University Seminary, he brought to the suburb a professorial passion to give his sheltered young Methodists a broader sensibility.

As a seminarian, Jones had been deeply influenced by Paul Tillich, and it was Tillich's robust, socially active, and redemptive Protestantism that now shaped Jones's ministry in Park Ridge. Against the backdrop of the early 1960s -- the civil rights movement, the fashion of the Kennedy administration, the first stirrings of a youth rebellion -- his Thursday night class for a handful of teenagers became what they called with some awe the University of Life. His group was "not just about personal salvation and pious escapism," Jones would explain, "but about an authentic and deep quest for God and life's meaning in the midst of worldly existence."

He rented a projector to show Francois Truffaut's classic Four Hundred Blows, Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight, and similar films. On his own guitar, he strummed the songs of Bob Dylan and had his pupils analyze the lyrics. There were lively discussions of Picasso prints, readings from Stephen Crane and e. e. cummings, a debate between an atheist and a Christian -- all to make real "the feelings of others," as one remembered him telling them, and to enliven the "practical conscience and content" of their faith. "I was used to relating theology to pop culture, theology to art, theology to the world," Jones said later. "By the time I got to Park Ridge, I had read all kinds of things. I got them reading too."

They went on the usual group retreats, swimming and skiing. But Jones's more remarkable outings took them into a different world. He now led them on a startling series of visits to Chicago's inner city, taking them to recreation centers and other churches to meet black and Hispanic youth, even gang leaders. At one point, he carried along a large reproduction of Guernica, set it before a ghetto gang and his suburban teenagers, and asked them to relate to their own lives Picasso's portrayal of anguish and suffering in the Spanish civil war. The session, he well remembered, evoked far more candor and feeling among the poorer, supposedly less educated young people of the city than from their more privileged visitors. Eventually they also met the legendary social activist and organizer Saul A1insky. Proselytizing among affluent church groups like Jones's young people as well as among Chicago's poor, the flamboyant, irreverent, profane, and hard-drinking A1inskywas at the height of his now acerbic, now raucous challenges to the domestic power structure. Typically, he had once staged a "fart-in" among protesters at a corporate headquarters and, to wring concessions from the Chicago city council, had threatened a demonstration that would flush all the toilets simultaneously at the new O'Hare Airport. He was another unique encounter for the Park Ridge teenagers. However brief, the meeting would have an interesting sequel. In a college thesis a few years later, Hillary Rodham would reveal much of herself in writing about A1inskyand his strategies, and the crusty organizer himself would offer her a coveted job as a virtual protege.

Most of the inner-city encounters would be genuine revelations for the Park Ridge group, not least for the earnest, impressionable Hillary Rodham. "I was in junior high and high school and got a sense of what people were up against, and how lucky I had been," she once told an interviewer, still remembering the visits to Chicago with obvious emotion. "I don't think those kids had seen poverty before," Jones recalled, "don't think they had interacted with kids that weren't like themselves." On April 15, ]962, he took the class to Chicago's Orchestra Hall to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., preach a sermon entitled "Remaining Awake through a Revolution." After the address he spirited them down to meet the already famous civil rights leader. Thirty years later, Jones himself and most of the others had forgotten the details of that night, but Hillary Rodham remembered it vividly, recalling that Jones had introduced them one by one and that she had personally shaken hands with King. "To accuse her of taking this message literally would not be going too far," one thought of her response to King's admonitions.

Eventually a Thursday evening discussion of teenage pregnancy filtered back to parents and stirred the inevitable controversy and outrage at United Methodist. Still, Jones mollified his superiors and managed to continue the youth group. By 1962-63 his pupils were busily organizing food drives for the poor and even a baby-sitting pool for the children of migrant farm workers camped amid wretched hovels and open sewage in fields west of the city. Small acts of virtual charity, the efforts touched no real power or politics yet in spirit and sensibility were extraordinary for Park Ridge. The imbued and shared idealism of Jones's young Methodists was plain -- if bitterly poignant in terms of so much that followed. "We believed in the incredible social changes that can happen," said Sherry Heiden, "if you change your perspective."

Hillary Rodham began dropping by Jones's church office after school or on summer afternoons, eager to talk more about the new ideas and insights from the class. Responding warmly, he gave her a first taste of modern Protestant theology, in excerpts from Tillich, Soren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others, and they carried on long, increasingly serious discussions. "She was curious, open to what life had to bring," the young minister would say. "She was just insatiable."

When she was in high school he gave her his copy of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. "I didn't tell you at the time, but when you had me read Catcher in the Rye, I didn't like it, and, moreover, I thought it was a little too advanced for me," she wrote Jones her sophomore year in college. "But now that I've read it a second time, I realize, I think, why you gave it to me. I don't think it was too advanced, as a matter of fact."

The minister introduced her to the larger social-political implications of Tillich's reformism, the quest to subdue with Christian idealism what many theologians saw as the postwar's social alienation and secular loss of values. They talked as well, he remembered, about Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" in the face of rational cynicism, about Bonhoeffer's "religionless Christianity" of public morality and ethics, and especially about Niebuhr's more tragic, unsentimental view of history and human nature and of the necessary force of civil governance. "She realizes absolutely the truth of the human condition .... She is very much the sort of Christian who understands that the use of power to achieve social good is legitimate," Jones would say. Yet much of that was in retrospect, when the inquisitive girl of the youth group had become a famously powerful First Lady and when the politics of Hillary Rodham had been shaped by her experience in Arkansas as much as by theology.

At the time, in Jones's small church office, their quiet afternoon talks were less a matter of political tutelage than the tentative discoveries and questions, the first fitful awakenings of critical intellect and sensibility in a spiritually minded young woman. She was at heart, he knew, a cautious, carefully contained, and self-protective girl whose judgments about herself and the world, like her perception of Catcher in the Rye, were still forming. "Unlike some people who at a particular age land on a cause and become concerned," Jones said later about what would be a gradual, almost lifelong process, "with Hillary 1 think of a continuous textured development."

Jones was to leave students like Hillary with the habit of carrying small Methodist devotionals with them for comfort. The warm and ultimately loving personal relationship with him, unique in Hillary Rodham's life, was obviously crucial at the time. Jones was not only intellectually exciting and nurturing but fondly approving and accepting. A "world beyond . . . growling Hugh Rodham," Martha Sherrill called it. "Boys liked her," Reverend Jones once said, defending his favorite student to a reporter questioning her lack of social life in high school. "And not because she was flirtatious. She was not -- she wasn't a raving beauty, but she was pretty enough. What attracted guys around her was her personality, her willingness to talk to them, at parity with them." It was a memory, some thought, that mirrored more accurately the maturity and affection of the thirty-year-old minister than the common attitude of suburban teenage males in the 1960s.

To Don Jones, as to no one else, she would continue to bring her questions and reflections. "I wonder if it's possible to be a mental conservative and a heart liberal?" she wrote at one point, charting the inner division that began in her adolescence. Before she finished high school the minister was gone, assigned to another church after little more than four years in Park Ridge. (He would eventually go back to Drew for a PhD and a teaching career free of rancorous congregations like First United Methodist.) She was elected vice president of her junior class at Maine East but in the spring of 1964 ran for senior class president at Maine South and lost, producing a rambling, "philosophical" letter to Jones about reconciling herself to defeat. "Hillary," the pastor remembered clearly, "hated to lose." The letter was only the beginning of her correspondence, usually single-spaced and crowded onto both sides of the page, sent faithfully to him over the next three decades from Park Ridge, college, law school, Washington, Arkansas, and finally the White House.

Not long after he left Chicago in 1964, she wrote about the disapproval she felt from the new minister who had taken his job. "He thinks I'm a radical," she told her confidant and mentor with some exasperation. It was, after all, an irony they both understood.

***

In the autumn of 1964 Park Ridge backed with unusual enthusiasm the conservative Republican candidate for president, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. "AuH20 '64" bumper stickers seemed to fill the driveways, and Hillary Rodham, to the delight of her parents, joined the campaign as an official Goldwater Girl, wearing her straw boater and sash to rallies, briskly canvassing the already solidly Republican neighborhoods, and" [speaking] out for the right wing," according to Judith Warner, "with all the passion of a teenager." Elected to the student council as a senior the same fall, she organized around the national election an elaborate mock political convention in the new Maine South gym, showing her appreciation of the rituals of politics and even planning political demonstrations in the aisles. In November Lyndon Johnson crushed Goldwater by some sixteen million votes, though Park Ridge was unreconciled, its bumper stickers unremoved, fading irreconcilably in the midwestern sun over the years to come. That December Hillary Rodham wrote one of the ritual senior self-portraits in the Maine South paper. She chose to recount her high school experience in terms of a prosecuting attorney pursuing a case that has gone on "literally for years." To the routine question about her ambitions she answered pertly and, to some, a bit unexpectedly, "To marry a senator and settle down in Georgetown."

She graduated fifteenth out of a thousand in the class of 1965. Most of her affluent friends were bound for college, although many young men from lower-income suburbs were soon destined for Vietnam. Some saw their class as a last charmed moment before the upheaval of the rest of the 1960s. Hillary Rodham was voted the girl most likely to succeed. The boy named for the same honor killed himself with a drug overdose before the end of the decade.

She had been a National Merit Scholarship finalist and National Honor Society and student council leader, known almost uniformly for her toughness, competitiveness, and strong convictions. Fellow students said she spoke out for things that she believed in, took unpopular stances, reconciled conflicting positions, and never exhibited a rebellious nature.

Like her future husband's, Hillary Rodham's high school poise and achievements shrouded a deeper loneliness and hurt -- and decisive influence -- few saw at the time. If Bill Clinton's models had been Roger Clinton and Virginia, hers were no less the long-suffering Dorothy Rodham and her stringent husband. But unlike Bill, she also had a genuine intellectual mentor and an exposure to ideas and to the diversity of American life otherwise as uncommon to Park Ridge as to Hot Springs. The essential contrast in their experiences was in many ways the difference between Uncle Raymond Clinton and the Reverend Don Jones.

Yet she seemed to take away nothing so much as the mark of her childhood place and time. "What people don't seem to realize is that Hillary's so conventional, so traditional, so midwestern, so middle class," her friend Sara Ehrman once said with unintended irony. "Her taste in art is middle class. Her taste in music is middle class. Her clothes .... She's very simple, brilliant, a nice person, and a product of her upbringing."

At the urging of two young Maine South teachers, she considered some of the most prestigious women's colleges in the East, including Radcliffe and Smith. "She was set on going to an all-girls' school," her mother said later. She had chosen Wellesley, as she told the story, the moment she saw pictures of its bucolic Gothic campus outside Boston -- "the lake in the middle, the quaint Victorian classrooms, the tiny surrounding town."

Her parents drove her to Massachusetts in the fall of 1965 in Hugh Rodham's Cadillac. Saying good-bye, the mother, at least, realized how insular, how much within the sustaining, punishing family her daughter's life had been. "Aside from a few trips away with girlfriends, Hillary hadn't really been away from home," Dorothy remembered. "After we dropped her off, I just crawled in the back seat and cried for eight hundred miles."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24276
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Next

Return to Wackenhut / Inslaw Promis Software / Arkansas-Contra

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest