I n January 1975, I went back to my teaching, the only full year I did it uninterrupted by politics. In the spring term, I taught Antitrust and held a seminar in White-Collar Crime; in summer school, Admiralty and Federal Jurisdiction; in the fall, White-Collar Crime again and Constitutional Law. In Constitutional Law, I spent two full weeks on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that gave women a constitutional privacy right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, the approximate amount of time it takes a fetus to become viablethat is, able to live outside the mothers womb. After viability, the Court ruled, the state could protect a childs interest in being born against the mothers decision not to have it, unless her life or health would be threatened by continued pregnancy or childbirth. Some of my students who saw Constitutional Law as just another course in which they had to memorize the rule of law in each case couldnt understand why I spent so much time on Roe. It was easy to remember the three-trimester rule and the reasoning behind it.
I made them delve deeper, because I thought then, and still believe, that Roe v. Wade is the most difficult of all judicial decisions. Whatever they decided, the Court had to play God. Everyone knows life begins biologically at conception. No one knows when biology turns into humanity or, for the religious, when the soul enters the body. Most abortions that dont involve the life or health of the mother are chosen by scared young women and girls who dont know what else to do. Most people who are pro-choice understand that abortions terminate potential life and believe that they should be legal, safe, and rare and that we should support young mothers who decide to complete their pregnancies, as most of them do. Most ardent pro-lifers are all for prosecuting doctors but grow less certain when their argument that an abortion is a crime is carried to its logical conclusion: prosecuting the mother for murder. Even the fanatics who bomb abortion clinics dont target the women who keep them in business. Also, as weve learned first with Prohibition and later with our drug laws, which have more support than a total ban on abortion does, its hard to apply the criminal law to acts that a substantial portion of the citizenry doesnt believe should be labeled crimes.
I thought then and still believe that the Court reached the right conclusion, though, as so often happens in American politics, its action sparked a powerful reaction, the growth of an active, effective national anti-abortion movement, which over time drastically reduced the practical availability of abortions in many places and drove large numbers of voters into the new right wing of the Republican Party. Regardless of what opinion polls show about voters positions on abortion, our national ambivalence about it means that its impact on elections depends on which side feels more threatened. For most of the last thirty years, for example, during which a womans right to choose has been secure, pro-choice voters have felt free to vote for or against candidates on other issues, while for anti-abortion voters, the other issues often didnt matter. Nineteen ninety-two was an exception. The highly publicized court of appeals decision in the Webster case, narrowing the right to choose, combined with the prospect of Supreme Court vacancies in the near future, threatened and galvanized the pro-choice voters, so I and other pro-choice candidates werent hurt by our position that year. After I was elected, with the right to choose secure again, pro-choice suburbanites again felt free to vote for anti-abortion Republicans for other reasons, while pro-life Democrats and independents, who approved of my record on economic and other social issues, nevertheless often felt compelled to support pro-life candidates who were almost always conservative Republicans.
In 1975, I didnt know or care much about the politics of abortion. I was interested in the Supreme Courts herculean effort to reconcile conflicting convictions about law, morality, and life. In my opinion they did about the best they could do, lacking access to the mind of God. Whether my students agreed with me or not, I wanted them to think hard about it.
In the fall, I got a new teaching assignment: I was asked to come down to the universitys Little Rock campus once a week to teach a night seminar in Law and Society to students who worked during the day in law enforcement. I was eager to do it and enjoyed my interaction with people who seemed genuinely interested in how their work in police departments and sheriffs offices fit into the fabric of both the Constitution and citizens daily lives.
Besides teaching, I kept my hand in politics and did some interesting legal work. I was appointed to head a state Democratic Party committee on affirmative action. It was designed to assure increased participation by women and minorities in party affairs without falling into the trap of the McGovern rules, which gave us delegates to the national convention who were representative of every demographic group but often hadnt ever really worked for the party and couldnt get any votes. The assignment gave me a chance to travel the state meeting Democrats, both black and white, who cared about the issue.
The other thing that kept me politically active was the necessity to pay off my campaign debt. I finally did it in much the way we financed the campaign, with lots of small-dollar events and with the help of some generous larger givers. I got my first $250 from Jack Yates, a fine lawyer in Ozark who, along with his partner, Lonnie Turner, had worked hard for me in the election. Jack gave me the check within two weeks after the election. At the time, I wasnt sure where my next dollar was coming from and I never forgot it. Sadly, a couple of months after he helped me, Jack Yates died of a heart attack. After the funeral, Lonnie Turner asked me if I would take over Jacks black-lung cases. The Nixon administration had promulgated new rules making it harder to get benefits and requiring the cases of people already receiving them to be reviewed. In many cases, the benefits were being revoked. I began to drive down to the Ozarks once or twice a week to review the files and interview the old miners, with the understanding that any pay I got would come from fees from the cases I won.
Lonnie knew I cared a lot about the issue and was familiar with how the program worked. Its true that when the black-lung program was first implemented the evaluations were too lax and some people did get benefits who didnt need them, but as so often happens with government programs, the attempt to correct the problem went too far in the other direction.
Even before I took over Jack Yatess cases, I had agreed to try to help another man in his fight for black-lung benefits. Jack Burns Sr., from a small town south of Fort Smith, was the father of the administrator of Ouachita Hospital in Hot Springs, where Mother worked. He was about five feet four inches tall and couldnt have weighed much more than one hundred pounds. Jack was an old-fashioned man of quiet dignity, who was severely damaged by black lung. He was entitled to the benefits, and he and his wife badly needed them to help pay their bills. In the months we worked together, I came to respect both his patience and his determination. When we won his case, I was almost as happy as he was.
I think there were more than one hundred cases like Jack Burnss in the stack of files Lonnie Turner gave me. I enjoyed going down to Ozark from Fayetteville over the winding road known as the Pig Trail to work on them. The cases were heard first by an administrative law judge, Jerry Thomasson, who was a fair-minded Republican. They could then be appealed to the federal judge in Fort Smith, Paul X. Williams, who was a sympathetic Democrat. So was his longtime clerk, Elsijane Trimble Roy, who was a great help to me. I was elated when President Carter appointed her Arkansas first female federal judge.
While I continued my teaching, politics, and law work, Hillary was settling into life in Fayetteville. I could tell she really liked being there, maybe even enough to stay. She taught Criminal Law and Trial Advocacy, and oversaw both the legal-aid clinic and the students who did work for prison inmates. Some of the crusty old lawyers and judges and a few of the students didnt know what to make of her at first, but eventually she won them over. Because there is a constitutional right to a lawyer in a criminal case, our judges assigned local lawyers to represent poor defendants, and since poor criminal defendants almost never paid, the bar wanted Hillarys clinic to handle their cases. In its first year, it served more than three hundred clients and became an established institution at the law school. In the process, Hillary earned the respect of our legal community, helped a lot of folks who needed it, and established the record that, a few years later, led President Carter to appoint her to the board of directors of the national Legal Services Corporation.
Jimmy Carter was our featured speaker on Law Day, near the end of the spring term. It was clear that he was running for President. Hillary and I spoke with him briefly, and he invited us to continue the conversation down in Little Rock, where he had another engagement. Our talk confirmed my sense that he had a good chance to be elected. After Watergate and all the countrys economic problems, a successful southern governor who wasnt involved in Washingtons politics and could appeal to people the Democrats had lost in 1968 and 1972 seemed like a breath of fresh air. Six months earlier, I had gone to Dale Bumpers and urged him to run, saying, In 1976, someone like you is going to be elected. It might as well be you. He seemed interested but said it was out of the question; he had just been elected to the Senate, and Arkansas voters wouldnt support him if he immediately started running for President. He was probably right, but he would have been a terrific candidate and a very good President.
Besides our work and normal social life with friends, Hillary and I had a few adventures in and around Fayetteville. One night we drove south down Highway 71 to Alma to hear Dolly Parton sing. I was a big Dolly Parton fan, and she was, you might say, in particularly good form that night. But the most enduring impact of the evening was that it was my first exposure to the people who brought her to Alma, Tony and Susan Alamo. At the time, the Alamos sold fancy performance outfits in Nashville to many of the biggest country music stars. Thats not all they did. Tony, who looked like Roy Orbison on speed, had been a promoter of rock-and-roll concerts back in California, when he met Susan, who had grown up near Alma but had moved out west and become a television evangelist. They teamed up, and he promoted her as he had his rock and rollers. Susan had white-blond hair and often wore floor-length white dresses to preach on TV. She was pretty good at it, and he was great at marketing her. They built a small empire, including a large farming operation manned by devoted young followers as transfixed by them as the young acolytes of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon were by their leader. When Susan got cancer, she wanted to come home to Arkansas. They bought a big house in Dyer, her hometown, opened the place in Alma, where Dolly Parton sang, as well as a smaller version of their Nashville country outfit store just across the road, and had a big truckload of food from their California farm delivered each week to feed them and their Arkansas contingent of young laborers. Susan got on TV at home, and enjoyed some success until she finally succumbed to her illness. When she died, Tony announced that God had told him he was going to raise her from the dead someday, and he put her body in a glass box in their home to await the blessed day. He tried to keep their empire going with the promise of Susans return, but a promoter is lost without his product. Things went downhill. When I was governor, he got into a big fight with the government over taxes and staged a brief, nonviolent standoff of sorts around his house. A couple of years later, he got involved with a younger woman. Lo and behold, God spoke to him again and told him Susan wasnt coming back after all, so he took her out of the glass box and buried her.
In the summer, I taught both semesters of summer school to earn some extra money and had a good time hanging around Fayetteville with Hillary and our friends. One day, I drove her to the airport for a trip back east. As we were driving down California Drive, we passed a beautiful little jagged brick house set back on a rise with a stone wall bracing up the front yard. There was a FOR SALE sign in the yard. She remarked on how pretty the place was. After I dropped her off, I checked the house out. It was a one-story structure of about eleven hundred square feet, with a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen with breakfast room attached, a small dining room, and a gorgeous living room that had a beamed ceiling half again as high as the others in the house, a good-looking offset fireplace, and a big bay window. There was also a large screened-in porch that could double as a guest bedroom most of the year. The house had no air conditioning, but the big attic fan did a good job. The price was $20,500. I bought the house with a $3,000 down payment, big enough to get the monthly mortgage payments down to $174.
I moved what little furniture I had into my new house and bought enough other things so that the place wasnt totally bare. When Hillary came back from her trip, I said, Remember that little house you liked so much? I bought it. You have to marry me now, because I cant live there alone. I took her to see the house. It still needed a lot of work, but my rash move did the trick. Although she had never even told me she was prepared to stay in Arkansas, she finally said yes.
On October 11, 1975, we were married in the big living room of the little house at 930 California Drive, which had been replastered under the watchful eye of Marynm Bassett, a fine decorator who knew our budget was limited. For example, she helped us pick out bright yellow wallpaper for the breakfast room, but we put it on ourselves, an experience that reaffirmed my limitations as a manual laborer. Hillary wore an old-fashioned Victorian lace dress that I loved, and the Reverend Vic Nixon married us in the presence of Hillarys parents and brothers, Mother, Roger (who served as best man), and a few close friends: Hillarys closest friend from Park Ridge, Betsy Johnson Ebeling, and her husband, Tom; her Wellesley classmate Johanna Branson; my young cousin Marie Clinton; my campaign treasurer, F. H. Martin, and his wife, Myrna; our best friends on the law faculty, Dick Atkinson and Elizabeth Osenbaugh; and my childhood friend and tireless campaign worker Patty Howe. Hugh Rodham never thought hed be giving his midwestern Methodist daughter to a Southern Baptist in the Arkansas Ozarks, but he did it. By then I had been working on him and the rest of the Rodhams for four years. I hoped I had won them over. They certainly had captured me.
After the ceremony, a couple hundred of our friends gathered at Morriss and Ann Henrys house for a reception, and that evening we danced the night away at Billie Schneiders place in the Downtown Motor Inn. At about 4 a.m., after Hillary and I had gone to bed, I got a call from my younger brother-in-law, Tony, who was at the Washington County jail. While he was driving one of the guests home after the party, he was pulled over by a state trooper, not because he was speeding or weaving on the road, but because his tipsy rider was dangling her feet out of the cars back window. After he stopped Tony, the deputy could see he had been drinking, so he hauled him in. When I got down to the jail to bail him out, Tony was shivering. The jailer told me that our sheriff, Herb Marshall, a Republican whom I liked, kept the jail real cold at night to keep the drunks from throwing up. As we were leaving, Tony asked me if I would get another man released who was in town making a movie with Peter Fonda. I did. He was shaking worse than Tony, so badly that when he got in his car to drive away, he rammed right into Hillarys little yellow Fiat. Even though I bailed him out, the guy never paid me for the costs of the car repair. On the other hand, at least he didnt leave his dinner on the floor of the county jail. So ended my first night as a married man.
For the longest time Id never thought Id get married. Now that I was, it felt right, but I wasnt sure where it would lead us.
Probably more has been written or said about our marriage than about any other in America. Ive always been amazed at the people who felt free to analyze, criticize, and pontificate about it. After being married for nearly thirty years and observing my friends experiences with separations, reconciliations, and divorces, Ive learned that marriage, with all its magic and misery, its contentments and disappointments, remains a mystery, not easy for those in it to understand and largely inaccessible to outsiders. On October 11, 1975, I didnt know any of that. All I knew then was that I loved Hillary, the life, work, and friends we now had in common, and the promise of what we could do together. I was proud of her, too, and thrilled to be in a relationship that might not ever be perfect, but would certainly never be boring.
After our sleepless wedding night, we went back to work. We were in the middle of a school term, and I had black-lung hearings to attend. Two months later, we finally had a honeymoon in Acapulco, an unusual one, with Hillarys whole family and the girlfriend of one of her brothers along. We all spent a week together in a beautiful penthouse suite, walking on the beach, enjoying the restaurants. I know it was different, but we had a great time. I adored Hillarys mother, Dorothy, and enjoyed spending time with her father and brothers, playing pinochle and swapping stories. Like me, they were storytellers, and all of them could spin a good yarn.
I read one book in Acapulco, Ernest Beckers The Denial of Deathheavy reading for a honeymoon, but I was only a year older than my father was when he died, and I had just taken a big step. It seemed like a good time to keep exploring the meaning of life.
According to Becker, as we grow up, at some point we become aware of death, then the fact that people we know and love die, then the fact that someday we, too, will die. Most of us do what we can to avoid it. Meanwhile, in ways we understand only dimly if at all, we embrace identities and the illusion of self-sufficiency. We pursue activities, both positive and negative, that we hope will lift us beyond the chains of ordinary existence and perhaps endure after we are gone. All this we do in a desperate push against the certainty that death is our ultimate destiny. Some of us seek power and wealth, others romantic love, sex, or some other indulgence. Some want to be great, others to do good and be good. Whether we succeed or fail, we are still going to die. The only solace, of course, is to believe that since we were created, there must be a Creator, one to whom we matter and will in some way return.
Where does Beckers analysis leave us? He concludes: Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead. . . . The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion somethingan object or ourselvesand drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force. Ernest Becker died shortly before The Denial of Death was published, but he seemed to have met Immanuel Kants test of life: How to occupy properly that place in creation that is assigned to man, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be a man. Ive spent a lifetime trying to do that. Beckers book helped convince me it was an effort worth making.
In December, I had another political decision to make. Many of my supporters wanted me to run for Congress again. The debt was paid off, and they wanted a rematch. I thought Congressman Hammerschmidt would be harder to beat this time, even if Jimmy Carter won the partys nomination. More important, I had lost my desire to go to Washington; I wanted to stay in Arkansas. And I was getting more interested in state government, thanks in part to the opportunity Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker had given me to write a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of our state in an antitrust case involving the setting of interest rates on credit cards. Jim Guy was running for Congress, for the seat vacated by the retirement of Wilbur Mills, so the attorney generals job would be open and it had a lot of appeal for me.
While I was mulling it over, my friend David Edwards, who was working for Citibank, called and asked us to go to Haiti with him. He said he had enough frequent flier miles built up to pay for our tickets, and he wanted to give us the trip as a wedding present. Barely a week after we returned from Mexico, we were off again.
By late 1975, Papa Doc Duvalier had passed from the scene, succeeded by his son, a portly young man whom everybody called Baby Doc. We saw him one day when he drove across the big square from his official residence in Port-au-Prince to lay a wreath at the monument to Haitian independence, a statue of a powerful freed slave blowing on a conch. His security force, the infamous Tontons Macoutes, were everywhere, and intimidating with their sunglasses and machine guns.
The Duvaliers had managed to dominate, pillage, and mismanage Haiti until it was the poorest county in our hemisphere. Port-au-Prince was still beautiful in places but had the feel of faded glory. I remember especially the frayed carpeting and broken pews in the National Cathedral. Despite the politics and poverty, I found the Haitians fascinating. They seemed lively and intelligent, and they produced beautiful folk art and captivating music. I marveled at the way so many of them seemed not only to survive but to enjoy life.
I was particularly intrigued by the voodoo religion and culture to which I had had some limited exposure in New Orleans, and that existed alongside Catholicism in Haiti.
The name of the traditional Haitian religion comes from the Fon language of Benin in West Africa, where voodoo originated. It means God or spirit, without the connotations of black magic and witchcraft attached to it in so many movies. Voodoos central ritual is a dance during which spirits possess believers. On the most interesting day of the trip, I got the chance to observe voodoo in practice. Davids Citibank contact in Port-au-Prince offered to take him, Hillary, and me to a nearby village to meet an unusual voodoo priest. Max Beauvoir had spent fifteen years outside Haiti, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and working in New York. He had a beautiful blond French wife and two bright young daughters. He had been a practicing chemical engineer until his voodoo-priest grandfather, on his deathbed, chose Max to succeed him. Max was a believer, and he did it, though it must have proved a challenge for his French wife and westernized kids.
We arrived in the late afternoon, an hour or so before the dance ceremony, which Max opened to paying tourists as a way of covering some of the costs of his operation. He explained that in voodoo, God is manifest to humans through spirits that represent forces of light and darkness, good and evil, which are more or less in balance. After Hillary, David, and I finished our brief course in voodoo theology, we were escorted back to an open area and seated with other guests who had come to witness the ceremony, in which spirits are called forth and enter into the bodies of dancing believers. After several minutes of rhythmic dancing to pounding drums, the spirits arrived, seizing a woman and a man. The man proceeded to rub a burning torch all over his body and walk on hot coals without being burned. The woman, in a frenzy, screamed repeatedly, then grabbed a live chicken and bit its head off. Then the spirits left and those who had been possessed fell to the ground.
A few years after I witnessed this extraordinary event, a Harvard University scientist named Wade Davis, in Haiti searching for an explanation for the phenomenon of zombies, or walking dead, also went to see Max Beauvoir. According to his book The Serpent and the Rainbow, with the help of Max and his daughter, Davis managed to unravel the mystery of zombies, those who apparently die and rise to life again. They are administered a dose of poison by secret societies as punishment for some offense. The poison, tetrodotoxin, is extracted from puffer fish. In proper doses, it can paralyze the body and reduce respiration to such low levels that even the attending doctor believes the person is dead. When the poison wears off, the person wakes up. Similar cases had been reported in Japan, where puffer fish is a delicacy if properly prepared, and deadly if not.
I describe my brief foray into the world of voodoo because Ive always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life, nature, and the virtually universal belief that there is a nonphysical spirit force at work in the world that existed before humanity and will be here when we all are long gone. Haitians understanding of how God is manifest in our lives is very different from that of most Christians, Jews, or Muslims, but their documented experiences certainly prove the old adage that the Lord works in mysterious ways.
By the time we got back from Haiti, I had determined to run for attorney general. I took another leave from teaching at the law school and got to work. I had two opponents in the Democratic primary: George Jernigan, the secretary of state; and Clarence Cash, who was head of the consumer protection division in Jim Guy Tuckers office. Both were articulate and not much older than I. Jernigan seemed to be the more formidable of the two, with a lot of friends in Governor Pryors organization, at several county courthouses, and among conservatives across the state. Strangely, no Republicans filed, making it the only time I ever ran without opposition in the general election.
I knew Id have to run the campaign out of Little Rock. Besides being the capital city, it is in the center of the state and has both the biggest vote and the largest fund-raising potential. I set up headquarters in an old house a couple of blocks from the Capitol building. Wally DeRoeck, a young banker from Jonesboro, agreed to be my campaign chairman. Steve Smith, who had done such good work in the Congress race, signed on as campaign manager. The office was run by Linda McGee, who did a terrific job on a shoestring budget: We ran the whole campaign on less than $100,000. Somehow Linda kept the place open long hours, paid the bills, and managed the volunteers. I was offered a place to stay by Paul Berry, whom I had met and liked when he ran Senator McClellans Arkansas office and who was then a vice president at Union Bank. Apart from everything else, he insisted on my sleeping in his apartments only bed, even if I got in from the road at two or three in the morning. Night after night Id drag in to find him asleep on the couch in the living room, with a light on in the kitchen, where hed left out my favorite snack, peanut butter and carrots.
Longtime friends like Mack McLarty and Vince Foster helped me break into the Little Rock business and professional communities. I still had good support from labor leaders, though some of it fell off when I refused to sign a petition supporting labors effort to repeal Arkansas right-to-work law by putting the question on the November ballot. Right-to-work laws enable people to work in plants with unionized workforces without paying union dues. Back then, the law appealed to my libertarian side. I later learned that Senator McClellan was so impressed by my position that he asked Paul Berry to call his main supporters and tell them he was for me. A few years later, I changed my mind about right to work. Its wrong, I think, for someone to reap the superior salaries, health care, and retirement plans normally found in union plants without making a contribution to the union that secures those benefits.
My base in the Third District seemed secure. All the folks who had worked for me in 1974 were willing to go again. I got some extra help from Hillarys brothers, both of whom had moved to Fayetteville and enrolled at the university. They also added a lot of fun to our lives. One night, Hillary and I went over to their place for dinner and spent the whole evening listening to Hugh regale us with tales of his adventures in Colombia with the Peace Corpsstories that sounded as if they came straight out of One Hundred Years of Solitude but that he swore were all true. He also made us pia coladas that tasted like fruit juice but packed quite a punch. After two or three I was so sleepy that I went outside and climbed into the back of my Chevy El Camino pickup truck, which I had inherited from Jeff Dwire. The back was covered in Astroturf, so I slept like a lamb. Hillary drove me home, and the next day I went back to work. I loved that old truck and drove it until it completely wore out.
Out in the state, I found strong support in and around Hope, where I was born, and in the five or six counties outside the Third District where I had relatives. I got off to a good start among blacks in central, south, and east Arkansas, thanks to former students who were practicing law in those areas. And I had support from Democratic activists who had cheered my race against Hammerschmidt from the sidelines or been involved in the work of my affirmative action committee. Despite all that, there were still gaping holes in the organization. Most of the campaign was an attempt to fill them.
As I traveled the state, I had to contend with the rise of a new political force, the Moral Majority, founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a conservative Baptist minister from Virginia who had won a large television following and was using it to build a national organization committed to Christian fundamentalism and right-wing politics. In any part of the state, I might find myself shaking hands with someone who would ask if I was a Christian. When I said yes, I would be asked if I was a born-again Christian. When I said yes, there would be several more questions, apparently supplied by Falwells organization. Once when I was campaigning in Conway, about thirty miles east of Little Rock, I was in the county clerks office, where absentee ballots are cast. One of the women who worked there started in on me with the questions. Apparently, I gave the wrong answer to one of them, and before I left the courthouse she had cost me four votes. I didnt know what to do. I wasnt about to answer a question about religion falsely, but I didnt want to keep losing votes. I called Senator Bumpers, a good liberal Methodist, for advice. Oh, I get that all the time, he said. But I never let them get past the first question. When they ask me if Im a Christian, I say, I sure hope so, and Ive always tried to be. But I really think thats a question only God can judge. That usually shuts them up. After Bumpers finished, I laughed and told him now I knew why he was a senator and I was just a candidate for attorney general. And for the rest of the campaign, I used his answer.
The funniest thing that happened in the race occurred in Mississippi County, in far northeast Arkansas. The county had two cities, Blytheville and Osceola, and a host of towns dominated by planters who farmed huge plots of land. Typically, their farmworkers and the small merchants whose incomes they made possible voted for the planters choice, normally the most conservative person runningin this case, Secretary of State Jernigan. The county also had a strong local organization, headed by the county judge, Shug Banks, who was also for Jernigan. It looked hopeless, but the county was too big to ignore, so I devoted one Saturday to working Blytheville and Osceola. I was by myself and, to put it mildly, it was a discouraging day. In both towns, though I found some support, thanks to my former law students, most people I met either were against me or didnt know who I was and didnt care to learn. Still, I shook every available hand, finishing in Osceola about eleven at night. I finally gave up when I realized I still had a three-hour drive back to Little Rock and didnt want to fall asleep at the wheel.
As I was driving south through a string of little settlements, I remembered that I hadnt eaten all day and was hungry. When I came to a place called Joiner, I saw a light on in a beer joint. In the hope that it also served food, I pulled over and went in. The only people there were the man at the bar and four guys playing dominoes. After ordering a hamburger, I went outside to call Hillary from the pay phone. When I walked back in, I decided to introduce myself to the domino players. The first three, like so many people Id met that day, didnt know who I was and didnt care. The fourth man looked up and smiled. Ill never forget his first words: Kid, were going to kill you up here. You know that, dont you? I replied that Id gotten that impression after a day of campaigning, but I was sorry to hear it confirmed. Well, we are, he continued. Youre a long-haired hippie professor from the university. For all we know, youre a Communist. But Ill tell you something. Anybody who would campaign at a beer joint in Joiner at midnight on Saturday night deserves to carry one box. So you hide and watch. Youll win here. But itll be the only damn place you win in this county.
The mans name was R. L. Cox, and he was as good as his word. On election night, I was crushed in the other voting precincts controlled by the big farmers, but I got 76 votes in Joiner and my two opponents got 49. It was the only place in Mississippi County I carried, except for two black precincts in Blytheville that were turned the weekend before the election by a black funeral-home operator, LaVester McDonald, and the local newspaper editor, Hank Haines.
Luckily, I did better almost everywhere else, winning more than 55 percent of the total vote and carrying sixty-nine of the seventy-five counties, thanks to a big vote in south Arkansas, where I had lots of relatives and good friends, and a whopping 74 percent in the Third Congressional District. All the people who had worked so hard for me in 1974 were finally rewarded with a victory.
The summer after the election was a happy time for Hillary and me. We spent the first two months just having fun in Fayetteville with our friends. Then, in mid-July, we took a trip to Europe, stopping in New York to attend one night of the Democratic convention, after which we flew to Paris to meet up with David Edwards, who was working there. After a couple of days, we set out for Spain. Just after we crossed the Pyrenees, I got a message asking me to call the Carter campaign. When I returned the call from the village of Castro Urdiales, I was asked to chair the campaign in Arkansas, and I accepted immediately. I strongly supported Jimmy Carter, and though I was scheduled to teach in the fall at Fayetteville, I knew I could do the job. Carter was immensely popular in Arkansas because of his progressive record, his farming experience, his genuine commitment to his Southern Baptist faith, and his personal contacts, which included four prominent Arkansans who had been in his class at the Naval Academy. The issue in Arkansas was not whether the state would vote for him but by how much. After all the lost elections, the prospect of winning two in one year was too tempting to pass up.
We finished our vacation in Spain with a stop in Guernica, the town memorialized in Picassos remarkable painting of its bombing in the Spanish civil war. When we got there, a Basque festival was in progress. We liked the music and dancing but had a hard time with one of the native delicacies, cold fish in milk. We explored the nearby caves with their prehistoric drawings and spent a glorious day in the shadow of the snowcapped Pyrenees on a hot beach that had a little restaurant with good, inexpensive food and beer at a nickel a glass. At the border on the way back into Franceby this time it was early August, the vacation month in Europecars were stretched out before us as far as we could see, testament to the good sense of Europeans that life is more than work. For me, that adage would get harder and harder to live by.
When we got back home, I went to Little Rock to set up a campaign operation with Craig Campbell, a former executive of the state Democratic Party, who worked for Stephens, Inc., in Little Rock, then the largest investment bank in America outside Wall Street. It was owned by Witt and Jack Stephens. Witt Stephens was a longtime power in state politics. Jack, who was ten years younger, had gone to the Naval Academy with Jimmy Carter. Craig was a big, good-looking, fun-loving guy who was deceptively sensitive in personal and political ways that made him very effective.
I traveled the state to make sure we had a functioning organization in every county. One Sunday night, I went to a little black church just outside Little Rock. The pastor was Cato Brooks. When we got there, the place was already rocking to the music of a great gospel choir. During the second or third song, the door flew open and a young woman who looked like Diana Ross, in black knee-high boots and a tight knit dress, strode down the aisle, waved to the choir, and sat down at the organ. I had never heard organ music like that before. It was so powerful I wouldnt have been surprised if the instrument had levitated and left the church under its own power. When Cato got up to preach, four or five of the men of the church gathered around him, sitting on folding chairs. He chanted and sang virtually his entire sermon in rhythmic cadences punctuated by the sound of the spoons that the men were beating on their knees. After the sermon, the Reverend Brooks introduced me to speak for Carter. I was fired up, but I was nowhere near as good as Cato. When I sat down, he told me the church would be for Carter and suggested I leave because they were going to be there for another hour or so. A few steps outside the church, a voice behind me said, Hey, white boy, you want some help with your campaign? It was the organist, Paula Cotton. She became one of our best volunteers. Cato Brooks moved to Chicago not long after the campaign. He was too good to keep down on the farm.
While I was working in Arkansas, Hillary joined the Carter campaign, too, taking on a much tougher assignment. She became the field coordinator in Indiana, a state that traditionally votes Republican in presidential elections but that the Carter staff hoped his farm roots would give him a chance to win. She worked hard and had some interesting adventures, which she eagerly recounted to me in daily phone conversations and during my one trip to Indianapolis.
The fall campaign was a roller coaster. Carter came out of the convention in New York with a thirty-point lead over President Ford, but the country was more evenly divided than that. President Ford made an impressive effort to catch up, mostly by questioning whether a southern governor, whose main promise was to give us a government as honest as the American people, had the experience to be President. In the end, Carter defeated Ford by about 2 percent of the popular vote and by 297 electoral votes to 240. The election was too close for our side to prevail in Indiana, but we carried Arkansas with 65 percent, just two points less than President Carters 67 percent margin in his native Georgia and seven points better than the next largest victory margin, in West Virginia.
After the campaign, Hillary and I settled back into our home for a few months as I completed my final teaching assignments, in Admiralty and Constitutional Law. In three years and three months I had taught eight courses in five semesters and a summer session, taught two courses to law-enforcement officers in Little Rock, run for office twice, and managed the Carter campaign. And I had loved every minute of it, regretting only the time it took me away from our life and friends in Fayetteville, and that little house at 930 California Drive that brought Hillary and me so much joy.