Since Hillary Clinton can sort-of claim Arkansas as her home state, why isn’t she polling better there, particularly against a candidate like Donald Trump? After all, her foreign policy is closer to that of true native son Tom Cotton than is Trump’s, and she’s definitely amenable to farm bills. Trump probably is, too, but let’s think this through.
It’s not just that Arkansans tend to be fans of the Second Amendment and Hillary isn’t to be trusted on that issue or the likely Supreme Court justices she’d appoint. She’s nonetheless competitive in other states that are similar to Arkansas, even bitter clinger states that rather enjoy their constitutional freedoms. Maybe it’s just because we know her.
We’ve all heard familiarity breeds contempt, and Arkansas is definitely familiar with the Clintons. There’s also the fact that Southerners tend to value manners and tradition, and a Chicago girl who said things like “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies, and had teas” was never really a natural fit for the Natural State. We also have to grapple with the “native daughter” stories written by loyalists who attempt to spin biography as hagiography.
For example, here’s a long list of things the Huffington Post started before Daily Kos grabbed the baton and kept running. She’s been an advocate, an appointee, an award-winning award winner. She’s been highly decorated and recognized for her various opinions and advocacy, and only a majority of those decorations and recognitions came after 1992, when the Clintons left Arkansas for the White House.
We’re From the Government and We’re Here to Help
Granted, that’s just a natural part of being in politics, and Hillary Clinton did do some things while in Arkansas. She doesn’t have any nature centers named after her, but she did co-found Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, an organization that strives “to ensure that all children and their families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives and to realize their full potential.”
Now, that’s not terrible insofar as mission statements go, but it’s not exactly crystal clear what AACF actually does. It claims three pillars: serving as a voice in Arkansas and DC, gathering and analyzing data about public policy that may help people reach their potential, and “organiz[ing] coalitions of diverse groups to drive change.” I’m unsure if the last part has anything to do with the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas campaign.
AACF is still on the move, though, and most of its work seems to revolve around passing legislation, as is the wont for organizations created by creatures of government. Regardless, 2015 was a good year in fundraising to fight for more health care, education, and uniting groups to drive, assuming this report is true.
Some intemperate jerks may be tempted to point out that AACF was founded in 1977 yet Arkansas currently ranks around 41st in education and 48th in overall health. In a state where the unofficial motto, at least in rankings of that sort, is “thank God for Mississippi,” that’s not much change for more than 35 years of work.
AACF is just one organization, though, and Hillary’s advocacy in education didn’t stop there. In 1982, Bill named her chairwoman of the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee. Before we get back to the aforementioned ranking for Arkansas schools, let’s remember the joke about camels. Do you know what you call a camel? A horse designed by committee.
Now part of that committee’s work was increasing the availability of chemistry, foreign language, and art courses available at public schools and I took two of those three, so maybe they had some success. Again, though, we’re still 41st in the nation, or maybe 36th, depending on which report you read. Whatever: the intentions were good, and that’s what counts. Maybe some budding rural entrepreneurs even put their newfound chemistry skills to use, although we can get bipartisan agreement that such businesses are rather destructive and an all-around bad idea unless you’re writing a television series.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Hillary does have one lasting legacy in Arkansas, even if it’s now forgotten. Before she pushed for it, there were no neonatal intensive care units in the state. Thanks to her efforts, the state got the first one, in Little Rock. So credit where credit is due. NICUs weren’t big in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, and getting one in little ol’ Arkansas was a positive accomplishment.
Otherwise, though, her Arkansas legacy isn’t a positive one, unless you’re one of the remaining true Yellow Dog Democrats or Clintonistas. For them, meaning well and bigger government are always wins, results be damned.
Hillary’s legacy, which is also Bill’s, is one of deal-making. It’s of accepting pro-big business, if not free-market, interests. It’s farm bills and the private option; it’s American Toryism. It’s the leftward lurch writ large when conservatism is rendered nil by promises of who can better manage the administrative state and slow it a bit. Hillary’s Arkansas legacy is one of new “conservatism,” of standing athwart history and yelling “not so fast.” The results are the same as if a true progressive were in charge. The only difference is the speed.
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Those who succeeded Bill Clinton in the governor’s mansion highlighted that speed. Some have been ostensibly Democrats or Republicans, but their approach to governance transcends ideological lines. They’re managers, they’re populists of the fire- and ire-containing lite variety. They are solely concerned with getting things done.
Regardless of label, though, open progressivism is a dead letter in that mansion. This is instructive as we attempt to grasp just what the hell is going on in the presidential election. Progressivism is about progress, not containment.
In simplest terms, 2016, like Arkansas state politics, is also about who will get things done and in what way. On one side, Hillary is promising to get things done for her supporters; on the other, Donald is doing his identity politics for white people routine. From 20,000 feet, though, it’s something else.
From up in the air, it’s the final verdict on the Clinton legacy. Will the nation go the way of Arkansas, beholden to Baby Boomer mores and whims, and let Hillary destroy progressive passion and push us toward a desire for better management as she and Bill did in Arkansas, or will she follow in Obama’s footsteps and actually transform the nation? If the old Billary portmanteau is any indicator, yes, we’re with her because we’ve got nostalgia about him (plus Trump has nowhere to go but down).
So, we’ll go along and she’ll finally get the one ring she has chased for so long. The thing is, once she has the ring, Hillary won’t lead forward, she won’t usher in a new day. She won’t be the change that true believers, who previously felt the Bern or want to make America great again, have been waiting for. She’ll just be a manager that makes the populace, and the Democrats, realize that transformation takes transformational leadership.
When that doesn’t materialize, Democrats may realize they should have saved some of the concern-trolling about the Republican Party’s implosion for themselves. Soon they will need to do some soul-searching of their own.