FROM FARAWAY Arkansas comes news that folks down there are as divided in their thinking about Bill Clinton as any of the rest of us.
That's according to the Occasional Official Poll of Arkansas Aunts and Cousins (OOPAAC) that we take when we visit my wife's folks. (There are uncles, too, but only by marriage.) Some aunts and cousins love Mr. Clinton, some hate him, some are cynical, some resigned and some coy. As I say, just like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, they actually know the guy.
Cousin Joe was at the Boys' State that sent young Bill Clinton to Boys' Nation in Washington, where he was famously photographed beaming adoringly at President Kennedy and shaking his hand.
"The funny thing is." says Joe, "we all thought Mack McLarty was the guy who might grow up to be governor, even president. He was really solid, very thoughtful, impressive, a leader. Bill was kind of a lightweight, mostly talk. That's what we thought."
Instead, of course, Mr. McLarty became Mr. Clinton's satellite, serving him as chief of staff in the early years of the Clinton presidency.
As the Boys' State grad rose to state attorney general, governor and president, Cousin Joe always voted for him -- with increasing reluctance in recent years as it became clear to him that Arkansas' one-time boy wonder stands for nothing but his own electoral success. Now Joe is fed up. He can't bring himself to vote Republican, so this year he's a Libertarian.
Cousin Becky, Joe's wife, has never voted for Bill Clinton and emphatically never will. She danced with him once. Whether that fact has any bearing on her vote I don't really want to know.
Cousin Ron met Bill, or noticed him, at State Band, where Ron played double-bell euphonium to the future president's saxophone.
What astonished Ron was that young Bill would talk to anyone -- people he didn't know, younger kids, even grown-ups. It struck Ron at the time as mighty un- adolescent behavior. He's still in the Clinton camp.
The sourpusses' vendetta
So is Aunt Mary, who says this Whitewater business is pure vendetta, whipped up by sourpusses who can't deal with the hTC fact that a marginal little state like Arkansas begot a president.
As for the 12 Arkansans good and true who sent some of Mr. Clinton's associates, including his successor as governor, to the slammer, Aunt Mary notes that the defendants said they were innocent, so it's just a matter of whom you believe, isn't it?
Her husband, Uncle Joe (but only by marriage), is out of the cattle business now, but he's plenty familiar with the cattle-futures market, where Hillary Clinton parlayed a $1,000 investment into $100,000 in six months, then demurely cashed out.
"I'll tell you one thing," says Uncle Joe. "In cattle futures, there ain't anybody that smart or that lucky."
Scandals, alleged or otherwise, don't bother Cousin David, who figures that's just what politicians do. David is a farmer, and it has made him something of a Darwinist. He's glad that farm subsidies are on the way out, even though it will cost him a few government checks. He figures he'll do better in the long run relying on his own skill and initiative. That's why he'll vote against President Clinton, whom he associates with policies that undermine the work ethic.
But the two computer nerds -- I mean graphics specialists -- another Cousin David and his brother Richard, support the president because they think he understands their business. "He's a high-tech president," says Richard.
Smartest of anybody in the family are Aunt Mary Jean, Aunt Lillie Mae and Cousin Kitty. They will talk to the OOPAAC researchers about anything else. But not politics.
Hal Piper edits The Sun's Opinion Commentary page.
Pub Date: 8/10/96