The Nation's Temporary Capital

November 28, 1992

Not in 35 years has the nation's attention been focused as it i on Little Rock, Ark. The two events separated by those three and a half decades are a measure of how far this country has come.

In the fall of 1957, U.S. paratroopers surrounded Central High School in the Arkansas capital, the first but not the last time federal troops were dispatched to enforce court-ordered desegregation. One of President-elect Bill Clinton's predecessors as governor, Orval E. Faubus, had called out the National Guard to keep nine black children from enrolling in the school. Another of Mr. Clinton's predecessors, President Dwight Eisenhower, sent in the 101st Airborne to ensure that desegregation took place. The national image of Little Rock in 1957 was a little girl in pigtails entering school through a gauntlet of bayonets.

Today Little Rock is, for a couple of months, what one bank commercial calls the most important city in the most important country in the world. A pair of southerners prepare to take over leadership of the nation. As President Bush ties loose ends together, the high and the mighty converge on Little Rock, not Washington, D.C.

A black civil rights leader heads the president-elect's transition team, backed by an establishment lawyer from California. Prospective cabinet members, real and self-anointed policy advisers, journalists, diplomats and general hangers-on flock to the nation's capital-in-waiting. The bustling city of 175,000 on the south bank of the Arkansas River enjoys the return of the national limelight.

It is also symbolic that Little Rock isn't Plains, Ga., any more than Bill Clinton is Jimmy Carter. Visitors to Little Rock have a lot more than the pick-up softball game near brother Billy's garage for entertainment. Maybe they are getting in the way of the permanent residents just a bit at the local watering holes. But it's a price Maine's Kennebunkport would happily be paying again.

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