Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America
“Most of the rewards of the Presidency, in these days, have come to be very trashy. The President continues, of course, to be an eminent man, but only in the sense that Jack Dempsey, Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and Henry Ford have been eminent men.”
—H. L. Mencken,
“Imperial Purple” (August 17, 1931)
Every bit as much as Texas and Manhattan, Arkansas is a world unto itself. For decades schoolchildren here have been taught the myth that Arkansas alone among the states has the natural resources—water, timber, some oil, plentiful natural gas, and vast stretches of fertile alluvial soil—to build a wall around itself and nevertheless thrive. Prosperity eludes many, yet local patriotism runs very strong.
In the fourth year of the presidency of native son Bill Clinton, a great many Arkansans would be very happy to build that wall. Greeted by euphoric throngs in downtown. Little Rock on November 2, 1992, Clinton’s election seemed to many the state’s best chance to put behind it a heritage of scorn and derision dating back to territorial days. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn satirized the state’s backwoods squalor mercilessly. Mencken joked that he knew New Yorkers who had visited ” Cochin China, Kafiristan, Paraguay, Somaliland, and West Virginia, but no one who has ever penetrated the miasmatic jungles of Arkansas.”1 But mostly, local patriots hoped Clinton’s victory would mitigate the memory of the 1957 Central High integration crisis—when Governor Orval Faubus’s futile and shameful resistance fixed Arkansas’s image as a bigot’s paradise for a generation.
The state, alas, is now seen as a paradise for political and personal crookedness of all sorts; and this is so in large part because the Clinton presidency has coincided with a near total breakdown of the already shaky standards of evidence used by American news organizations. Driven by talk radio, by “trash for cash” tabloids, by ideologically motivated writers for journals like The American Spectator and the London Sunday Telegraph, by Internet conspiracy theorists, and not least by publishers competing for lucrative book-length “revelations” about the intimate lives of the famous, a puritanical credulousness appears to have replaced skepticism among many contemporary journalists. Many Arkansans have been stunned by the calculated viciousness displayed by the press toward those whom they view as powerless to respond.
The breakdown, of course, didn’t begin with the Clintons. Joe McGinnis’s infamous book on Senator Ted Kennedy is only one of many that also come to mind. But Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been treated with a kind of gleeful malice formerly reserved for Donald Trump and Marla Maples, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.
Gossip, rumors, and unattributed slanders that would until recently have been confined to the fringe press—if published at all—appear today in the news columns of The New York Times. Consider the front page treatment that paper recently gave charges by an embittered former FBI agent, Gary Aldrich,…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.