Without Honor in Their Own Countries An Arkansas Newspaper Against Clinton, a Maine One Against Bush

November 02, 1992

The following editorial is reprinted from the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, of Little Rock.

Traditionally this newspaper has not endorsed in presidential elections, but 1992 would have been a natural year to start a new tradition. A native son of Arkansas heads the Democratic ticket. He is congenial, ambitious and a fighter who never gives up where his career is concerned. Bill Clinton is blessed (or maybe cursed) with an uncanny political intelligence. It is no fluke that he has come this far, no accident that other Democratic contenders didn't make the race or fell by the way, and that he should now be on the threshold of the presidency. His triumph Tuesday would not only boost this long underestimated state's pride, but doubtless provide some welcome patronage; even his campaign has enlivened the state's economy.

As for who Bill Clinton might be, what he stands for, what principles and policies he represents . . . none of that is as clear as his political pizzazz. Is he going to bring us together or set class against class? Tackle the deficit, embark on more spending programs, neither or both? Is he for real reform in education, or will he only repeat the plati- tudes of the teacher lobby? Is he against a litmus test for nominees to the Supreme Court, or would he appoint only justices pledged to uphold Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion? Or both?

Would he continue this country's involvement in the world or shrink back from free trade and the defense of free institutions even while speaking fondly of both? To borrow an unforgettable construction of the governor's, would he go with the majority if the vote were close, or agree with the arguments of the minority, or, more probably, do both simultaneously? Bill Clinton is a master politician, but what principles, if any, inform his politics? He embodies the glossy spirit of the times, but is it a spirit to be encouraged? Are there any steadfast principles -- besides winning the next election -- that he would never compromise to win popularity? Who knows?

What does Bill Clinton's track record in Arkansas foretell in a President Clinton? A purely rhetorical approach to issues that may please all, coupled with a tendency to side with those interests powerful enough to do him some political good. He may be running for president on a soak-the-rich appeal, but his tax policy in Arkansas has been to hand out exemptions to large corporations and soak the middle class. The state's tax structure is more regressive than ever after a decade of Clintonomics.

Education is his strong suit, and Bill and Hillary Clinton deserve thanks for finally giving Arkansas some tests and standards, which unfortunately show that we're not educating our young people well. About three-quarters of the crop will need remedial courses in the basics when they enter state universities. The governor has never mustered the courage to seriously tackle Job One in educational reform: school consolidation. It would have cost him some votes. In his administration, any reform that might encounter opposition (civil rights, environmental regulation) tends to be shunted aside to a study commission, where it either dies or emerges toothless.

A great campaigner, Bill Clinton has proved a mediocre administrator. He's leaving the state's Department of Human Services in disarray, its medical payments slashed and programs uncertain. He had to be sued before doing anything meaningful about the scandalous disregard of abused and neglected children in this state's ''care.'' His attitude toward releasing prisoners has been equally irresponsible, and constitutional reform has languished on his watch. His environmental policy adds up to little more than delay and neglect.

In short, Mr. Clinton has been a great theorist of how government should operate, not a great practitioner. Arkansas has progressed, but not nearly so much as it would have if Bill Clinton had been the Bill Clinton of the campaign ads. Surely no one would confuse the Clinton Years in Arkansas with the great burst of energy and spirit that characterized a genuine reform administration like Winthrop Rockefeller's. For that matter, the Bumpers and Pryor administrations showed more gumption when it came to basic reforms in government.

Finally and sadly, there is the unavoidable subject of character in a presidential candidate. Surely even his supporters, or at least those not entirely blinded by the Clinton glitz, can see that -- whatever one thinks of young Clinton's adventures with the draft and anti-war demonstrations -- he regularly dissembled about both over the course of some 20 years. Nor would they deny that he broke his enthusiastic promise not to run for president this year but to stay on and discharge the duties of governor, as he solemnly swore to do.

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