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"We have got to stop fighting each other," he said. "For the past 11 years the Republicans have played this [race] game. They're not going to be able to come up with a Willie Horton this time--I know how to handle that. They're not going to be able to turn us against one another--they can't do that to me. Michael Dukakis' candidacy was the best argument in the world for a strong defense--Mike showed what happens when there is unilateral disarmament. You get rolled over. I wrote an answer to the Willie Horton ads that would have had the people screaming for Mike Dukakis. He wouldn't use it. He should have. I won't let them do that to me."
but while clinton's
instincts may be true, even in Arkansas he is vulnerable to charges of racial paternalism and political expediency.
Gordon Morgan, a Clinton supporter and sociology professor who was the first black faculty member at the University of Arkansas, says that while Clinton's appointments have raised the profile of blacks in the state, and for the most part, have gone to highly qualified and effective candidates, people generally remain "suspicious of appointed leadership."
While Morgan doesn't directly blame Clinton for the relative immaturity of Arkansas' homegrown black leadership, he does think that Clinton's system of appointments has contributed to a false feeling among whites that blacks have achieved political parity. While blacks have landed jobs on boards and as department heads, and affirmative action programs have allowed them access to entry-level jobs, they are still underrepresented in the middle layers of the state government.
Clinton's high-profile involvement in the "mainstream" Democratic Leadership Council also troubles many of his supporters in the civil rights community. The DLC was formed by party leaders--most from the South--in the wake of Michael Dukakis' unsuccessful run for the presidency. These Democrats believed if their party was ever to regain the White House it must redirect appeals to the disaffected white middle class--voters who despite traditional Democratic leanings voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980. It was only after Dukakis' disastrous race that Bill Clinton began to call himself a "conservative."
Arkansas State Representative Irma Hunter Brown of Little Rock is among those concerned about Clinton's centrist positioning, and believes that his drift into the conservative wing of the Democratic party, as evidenced by his involvement with the DLC and his rhetoric in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, is politically driven.
"Bill Clinton has done more than anyone else [for blacks in Arkansas]," Brown said. "But I think the real question is `What have you done for me lately?' In many instances, the black community has perhaps received support from the governor's office. It has received unprecedented accessibility, it has received recognition and appointments it had not before."
But, Brown said, Clinton owes a huge political debt to black voters. "And when [at the DLC convention] he starts talking about `quotas,' about the support of capital punishment, and when you start looking at the (state's) lack of support for minority-based small business, then I think you truly have to question whether this commitment is only political."
Bill Walker, another member of the state legislature from Little Rock, is harsher in his judgment of Clinton, though he, too, supports the governor's White House bid.
"I worry that his appointments have dealt too much in symbolism and tokenism," Walker said. "The guys who get these appointments, they're nice guys with reasonably good jobs and they're disconnected from the black community at large. If you analyze where these people live, you'll see they don't live in the black communitythey live in the affluent areas. If you live there, you have no idea what is going on in the neighborhoods. I live in a neighborhood where there is a crack house down the street--every day I see people on the street who need help, who need a job."
Ironically, so does Bill Clinton. The Arkansas governor's mansion is just a few blocks removed from some of the roughest streets in the South, where drive-by shootings are a weekly occurrence and crack cocaine is sold openly. Before he entered the presidential campaign, Clinton would occasionally jog unescorted through the neighborhood, a questionable act for anyone, white or black. Though Clinton possesses a rare ability to move without self-consciousness through the black community, some believe his first principles reside in self-preservation, and see in his adaptability signs of moral pliability. Carrie Rengers, the group coordinator of Amnesty International in Little Rock, says she supports Clinton but is distressed by his pragmatism, particularly when it comes to law and order issues.
"I wish I could have known the 22-old-year Bill Clinton," Rengers said. "The Clinton who opposed the Vietnam War. I know he wouldn't be in favor of the death penalty."
(After a 26-year moratorium, four inmates have been executed during Clinton's tenure as governor. Three of those inmates have been white men, and all were either serial murderers or cop killers. Rickey Ray Rector, the lone black man executed, shot himself in the brain prior to his arrest, effectively lobotomizing himself. Many have argued that Rector did not understand the significance of his execution; he saved a slice of pecan pie from his last meal to "eat later.")