READING about Hillary Clinton's skill at investing reminds...

March 31, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

READING about Hillary Clinton's skill at investing reminds me of an old story: Sometime after Bill was sworn in as president, the two of them sneaked away from the Secret Service to pay a nostalgic visit to some of the back roads of Arkansas they had known in the early years of their courtship and marriage.

At a rundown gas station on the outskirts of a small town, the attendant greeted Hillary by name, and they reminisced fondly.

After they left, the president asked the first lady, "Who was that?" She replied, "I dated him years ago. I almost married him." The president said, "Well, think about that. If you had, you'd still be stuck in Arkansas today." And she said, "Oh, no I wouldn't. You would be."

* * * *

A lot of Arkansans and ex-Arkansans are feeling down in the dumps. They see Clinton jokes and criticism as attacks on their state.

I know just how they feel. As an ex-Georgian I suffered the slings and arrows of Billy Carter and Bert Lance jokes in the late 1970s.

Of course, there is a big difference. Arkansas deserves it. You can't equate Arkansas and Georgia. Compared to Arkansas, Georgia is the pinnacle of wealth, culture, urbanity and sophistication.

Sixty years ago H. L. Mencken assessed all the states. Of Arkansas he said, "Arkansas is perhaps the most shiftless and backward state in the whole galaxy. Only Mississippi offers it serious rivalry for last place in all American tables of statistics." Today Arkansas and Mississippi are still at the bottom of all the statistical measurements of progress.

Mrs. Clinton's story of trading in cattle futures sounds as if it were made up by the Republican National Committee and "Saturday Night Live." Not even "Evening Shade" is this unbelievable. Her trader was a former professional poker player? Named Red Bone? Who was twice penalized by securities organizations for inappropriate practices? Including, while Hillary was investing through him, assigning profits and losses to clients regardless of their own buy-sell decisions? And now he doesn't even remember her?

That is the fishiest commodities story I've heard since Earl Watson, my mentor on the Atlanta Constitution copy desk 40 years ago, claimed that due to carelessness in executing sell orders, he once had 10 tons of soybeans dumped in his driveway.

* * * *

Apropos the joke that began this column, it is interesting to speculate where Mrs. Clinton would be today if after Yale she had gone back home to Illinois rather than to Arkansas. I think she might be Hillary Rodham Rostenkowski.

No! Just kidding! What I really think is that she would probably be an office holder or about to become one. Illinois Democrats are very advanced in re women in politics. One of the state's two U.S. senators is a woman, and in this month's Democratic primary, women were nominated for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and comptroller.

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