T hanks to the four-year term, the dedication and ability of my staff and cabinet, a good working relationship with the legislature, and the strength of my political organization, I also had the space to move into the national political arena.
Because of the visibility I got from my work on education, economics, and welfare reform, and my chairmanships of the National Governors Association and the Education Commission of the States, I received a lot of invitations to speak out of state in 1987. I accepted more than two dozen of them, in fifteen states. While only four were Democratic Party events, they all served to broaden my contacts and to heighten speculation that I might enter the presidential race.
Although I was only forty in the spring of 1987, I was interested in making the race, for three reasons. First, by historical standards the Democrats had an excellent chance to recapture the White House. It seemed clear that Vice President Bush would be the nominee of the Republican Party, and up until then only vice president to win the presidency directly from that office had been Martin Van Buren, in 1836, who succeeded Andrew Jackson in the last election in which there was no effective opposition to the Democratic Party. Second, I felt very strongly that the country had to change direction. Our growth was fueled primarily by big increases in defense spending and large tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthiest Americans and drove up the deficit. The big deficits led to high interest rates, as the government competed with private borrowers for money, and that in turn drove up the value of the dollar, making imports cheaper and American exports more expensive. At a time when Americans were beginning to improve their productivity and competitive position, we were still losing manufacturing jobs and farms. Moreover, because of the budget deficit, we werent investing enough in the education, training, and research required to maintain high wages and low unemployment in the global economy. Thats why 40 percent of the American people had suffered a decline in real income since the mid-1970s.
The third reason I was seriously considering entering the race is that I thought I understood what was happening and could explain it to the American people. Also, because I had a strong record on crime, welfare reform, accountability in education, and fiscal responsibility, I didnt think the Republicans could paint me as an ultra-liberal Democrat who didnt embrace mainstream values and who thought there was a government program for every problem. I was convinced that if we could escape the alien box the Republicans had put us in since 1968, except for President Carters success in 1976, we could win the White House again.
It was a tall order, because its not easy to get people to change their political frame of reference, but I thought I might be able to do it. So did several of my fellow governors. When I went to the Indianapolis 500 race in the spring, I ran into Governor Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. I liked Bob a lot and thought he, too, would be a good presidential candidate. He had won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam and, like me, was a fiscal conservative and social progressive who had been elected in a state far more Republican than Arkansas. To my surprise, Bob encouraged me to run and said hed be my chairman in the midwestern states if I did.
There was one obstacle at home to my running for President: Dale Bumpers was seriously considering it. I had been encouraging him to run since late 1974. He almost did in 1984, and he had an excellent chance to win this time. He had served in the marines in World War II, had been a great governor, and was the best speaker in the Senate. I knew that Dale would be a good President and that he would have a better chance to win than I would. I would have been happy to support him. I wanted our side to win and change the direction of the country.
On March 20, as I was jogging down Main Street in Little Rock, a local reporter chased me down to say that Senator Bumpers had just issued a statement saying he wouldnt run for President. He just didnt want to do it. A few weeks earlier, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York had made the same decision. I told Hillary and Betsey I wanted to take a serious look at the race.
We raised a little money for the exploratory effort, and Betsey sent people to do spadework in Iowa, New Hampshire, and some of the southern states that would vote in a bloc the next year on Super Tuesday shortly after the New Hampshire primary. On May 7, the primary looked even more winnable when Senator Gary Hart, who had almost upset Vice President Mondale in 1984, withdrew from the race after his relationship with Donna Rice was exposed. I thought Gary had made an error by challenging the press to tail him to see if they could find any dirt, but I felt bad for him, too. He was a brilliant, innovative politician who was always thinking about Americas big challenges and what to do about them. After the Hart affair, those of us who had not led perfect lives had no way of knowing what the presss standards of disclosure were. Finally I concluded that anyone who believed he had something to offer should just run, deal with whatever charges arose, and trust the American people. Without a high pain threshold, you cant be a successful President anyway.
I set July 14 as a deadline for making a decision. Several of my old friends from past political battles came down to Little Rock, including Mickey Kantor, Carl Wagner, Steve Cohen, John Holum, and Sandy Berger. They all thought I should run; it seemed too good a chance to pass up. Still, I was holding back. I knew I was ready to be a good candidate, but I wasnt sure I had lived long enough to acquire the wisdom and judgment necessary to be a good President. If elected, I would be forty-two, about the same age Theodore Roosevelt was when he was sworn in after President McKinleys assassination, and a year younger than John Kennedy when he was elected. But they had both come from wealthy, politically prominent families, and had grown up in a way that made them comfortable in the circles of power. My two favorite Presidents, Lincoln and FDR, were fifty-one when they took office, fully mature and in command of themselves and their responsibilities. Ten years later, on my fifty-first birthday, Al Gore gave me an account of the Cherokee Indian Nations view of the aging process. The Cherokees believe a man does not reach full maturity until he is fifty-one.
The second thing that bothered me was the difficulties a campaign would pose for my governorship. Nineteen eighty-seven was the deadline for implementing the school standards. I had already called one special session to raise money for schools and overcrowded prisons. It had been a knockdown fight that had strained my relations with several legislators, and it very nearly ended in failure before we scraped together enough votes at the last minute to do what had to be done. I knew that, in all probability, Id have to call another special session in early 1988. I was determined to fully implement the school standards and build on them; it was the only chance most poor kids in my state had for a better future. Chelseas elementary school was about 60 percent black, and more than half the kids were from low-income families. I remember how one little boy she invited to her birthday party at the mansion almost didnt come because he couldnt afford to buy her a present. I was determined to give that little boy a better chance than his parents had had.
The Arkansas Gazette, which had supported me in every campaign, ran an editorial arguing that I shouldnt run for both of the reasons that concerned me. While acknowledging my strong potential for national leadership, the Gazette said, Bill Clinton is not ready to be President and Governor Clinton is needed in Arkansas.
Ambition is a powerful force, and the ambition to be President has led many a candidate to ignore both his own limitations and the responsibilities of the office he currently holds. I always thought I could rise to any occasion, stand the most withering fire, and do two or three jobs at once. In 1987, I might have made a decision rooted in self-confidence and driven by ambition, but I didnt. What finally decided the question for me was the one part of my life politics couldnt reach: Chelsea. Carl Wagner, who was also the father of an only daughter, told me Id have to reconcile myself to being away from Chelsea for most of the next sixteen months. Mickey Kantor was talking me through it when Chelsea asked me where we were going for summer vacation. When I said I might not be able to take one if I ran for President, Chelsea replied, Then Mom and I will go without you. That did it.
I went into the dining room of the Governors Mansion, where my friends were eating lunch, told them I wasnt running, and apologized for bringing them all down. Then I went to the Excelsior to make my announcement to a few hundred supporters. I did my best to explain how I had come so close, yet backed away:
I need some family time; I need some personal time. Politicians are people too. I think sometimes we forget it, but they really are. The only thing I or any other candidate has to offer in running for President is whats inside. Thats what sets people on fire and gets their confidence and their votes, whether they live in Wisconsin or Montana or New York. That part of my life needs renewal. The other, even more important reason for my decision is the certain impact that this campaign would have had on our daughter. The only way I could have won, getting in this late, after others had been working up to two years, would be to go on the road full-time from now until the end, and to have Hillary do the same. . . . Ive seen a lot of kids grow up under these pressures and a long, long time ago I made a promise to myself that if I was ever lucky enough to have a child, she would never grow up wondering who her father was.
Though she had said she would support me whichever way I went, Hillary was relieved. She thought I should finish the work I had started in Arkansas and keep building a national base of support. And she knew it was not a good time for me to be away from our families. Mother was having problems in her anesthesia work, Roger had been out of prison only a couple of years, and Hillarys parents were moving to Little Rock. In January 1983, during my swearing-in speech to the legislature, Hugh Rodham had slumped in his chair. He had suffered a massive heart attack and was rushed to the University Medical Center for quadruple-bypass surgery. I was with him when he woke up. After I realized he was lucid, I said, Hugh, the speech wasnt good enough to give anyone a heart attack! In 1987, he had a minor stroke. Hugh and Dorothy didnt need to stay up in Park Ridge alone. We wanted them nearby, and they were looking forward to the move, mostly to be near their only grandchild. Still, it would be a big adjustment for them.
Finally, Hillary was happy I didnt run because she disagreed with the conventional wisdom that the Democrats were likely to win in 1988. She didnt think the Reagan Revolution had run its course and believed that, despite the Iran-Contra affair, George Bush would win as a more moderate version of Reagan. Four years later, when prospects for victory looked much darker, with President Bushs approval ratings over 70 percent, Hillary encouraged me to run. As usual, she was right both times.
After the decision was announced, I felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I was free to be a father, husband, and governor, and to work and speak on national issues unencumbered by immediate ambitions.
In July, Hillary, Chelsea, and I went to the summer governors conference in Traverse City, Michigan, to wrap up my year as chairman. I was succeeded by New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who promised to continue our work for welfare reform, and with whom I had a good relationship. After we adjourned, the Democratic governors went to Mackinaw Island, where Governor Jim Blanchard brought us together to meet with all our presidential candidates, including Senator Al Gore, Senator Paul Simon, Senator Joe Biden, Congressman Dick Gephardt, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, former governor Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, and Governor Mike Dukakis. I thought we had a good field, but I favored Dukakis. In Massachusetts he had presided over a successful high-tech economy, had balanced budgets, and had advanced both education and welfare reform. He was governing as a New Democrat, and he knew what it was like to lose an election to negative attacks and make a successful comeback. Even though most Americans thought of Massachusetts as a liberal state, I believed we could sell him because he was a successful governor and would avoid the errors that had sunk us in previous elections. Besides, we were friends. Mike was relieved when I didnt enter the race and gave me an early birthday present, a T-shirt inscribed with the words Happy 41st. Clinton in 96. Youll only be 49!
At the end of the meeting, Jim Blanchard put on a terrific rock-and-roll concert featuring Motown artists from the sixties, including the Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Jr. Walker, a legendary tenor sax player who could make the horn play an octave higher than most of us mere mortals could. Near the end of the show, a young woman came up to me and invited me to play the sax with all the groups on the Motown standard Dancin in the Street. I hadnt played a note in three years. Is there any sheet music? I asked. No, she said. What key is it in? She answered, I dont have a clue. Can I have a couple of minutes to warm up the horn? Again, No. I gave the only possible answer: Okay, Ill do it. I went up to the stage. They gave me a horn, promptly attached a mike to the bell, and the music started. I played as softly as I could until I tuned the horn and figured out the key. Then I joined in and did pretty well. I still keep a picture of Jr. Walker and me doing a riff together.
September was a busy month. With the new school year starting, I appeared on NBCs Meet the Press along with Bill Bennett, who had succeeded Terrel Bell as President Reagans secretary of education. I got along well with Bennett, who appreciated my support for accountability and teaching kids basic values in school, and he didnt disagree when I said the states needed more federal help to pay for early-childhood programs. When Bennett criticized the National Education Association as an obstacle to accountability, I said I thought the NEA was doing better on that score and reminded him that Al Shanker, leader of the other big teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, supported both accountability and values education.
Unfortunately, my relationship with Bill Bennett didnt fare well after I became President and he began promoting virtue for a living. Although he had once inscribed a book to me with the words To Bill Clinton, the Democrat who makes sense, he apparently came to believe that either he had been wrong or I had lost whatever sense I had when he wrote those words.
Around the time of the Meet the Press interview, Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the judiciary committee, asked me to testify against Judge Robert Bork, who had been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Reagan. I knew Joe wanted me because I was a white southern governor; the fact that I had been Borks student in Constitutional Law was an added bonus. Before I agreed, I read most of Borks articles, important judicial opinions, and published reports of his speeches. I concluded that Judge Bork should not go on the Supreme Court. In an eight-page statement, I said I liked and respected Bork as a teacher and thought President Reagan should have considerable latitude in his appointments, but I still believed the nomination should be rejected by the Senate. I argued that Borks own words demonstrated that he was a reactionary, not a mainstream conservative. He had criticized almost every major Supreme Court decision expanding civil rights except Brown v. Board of Education. In fact, Bork had been one of two lawyers, along with William Rehnquist, to advise Barry Goldwater to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a southerner, I knew how important it was not to reopen the wounds of race by disturbing those decisions. Bork had the most restrictive view on what the Supreme Court can do to protect individual rights of anyone who had been nominated to the Supreme Court in decades. He thought dozens of court decisions needed to be reversed. For example, he said a married couples right to use contraceptives was no more deserving of privacy protection from government action than a utilitys right to pollute the air. In fact, as his ruling against Arkansas in the Grand Gulf case showed, he thought utilities and other business interests were entitled to more protection than individual citizens from government actions he disagreed with. However, when it came to protecting business interests, he threw judicial restraint out the window in favor of activism. He even said federal courts shouldnt enforce antitrust laws because they were based on a flawed economic theory. I asked the Senate not to take the risk that Judge Bork would act on his long-held convictions rather than on the more moderate assurances he was then giving in the confirmation process.
I had to file the testimony rather than give it in person, because the hearings were delayed and I had to leave for a trade mission to Europe. In late October, the Senate rejected the Bork nomination, 5842. I doubt that my testimony influenced a single vote. President Reagan then nominated Judge Antonin Scalia, who was as conservative as Bork but hadnt said and written as much to prove it. He sailed through. In December 2000, in the case of Bush v. Gore, he wrote the Saturday opinion of the Supreme Court granting an unprecedented injunction to stop counting votes in Florida. Three days later, by a 54 vote, the Supreme Court gave the election to George W. Bush, partly on the ground that the outstanding disputed ballots couldnt be counted by midnight of that day as Florida law required. Of course not: the Supreme Court had stopped the counting of legal votes three days before. It was an act of judicial activism that might have made even Bob Bork blush.
After the trade mission, Hillary and I joined John Sununu and Governor Ed DiPrete of Rhode Island for a meeting with our Italian counterparts in Florence. It was the first trip to Italy for Hillary and me, and we fell in love with Florence, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano, and Venice. I was also fascinated by the economic success of northern Italy, which had a higher per capita income than Germany. One of the reasons for the regions prosperity seemed to be the extraordinary cooperation of small-business people in sharing facilities and administrative and marketing costs, as northern Italian artisans had been doing for centuries, since the development of medieval guilds. Once more I had found an idea I thought might work in Arkansas. When I got home, we helped a group of unemployed sheet-metal workers set up businesses and cooperate in cost-sharing and marketing as I had observed Italian leatherworkers and furniture makers doing.
In October, Americas economy took a big jolt when the stock market fell more than 500 points in one day, the biggest one-day drop since 1929. By coincidence, the richest man in America, Sam Walton, was sitting in my office when the market closed. Sam was the leader of the Arkansas Business Council, a group of prominent businesspeople euphemistically known as the Good Suit Club. They were committed to improving education and the economy in Arkansas. Sam excused himself to see what had happened to Wal-Mart stock. All his wealth was tied up in the company. Hed lived in the same house for decades and drove an old pickup truck. When Sam came back, I asked him how much hed lost. About a billion dollars, he said. In 1987, that was still a lot of money, even to Sam Walton. When I asked him if he was worried, he said, Tomorrow Im going to fly to Tennessee to see the newest Wal-Mart. If there are plenty of cars in the parking lot I wont be worried. Im only in the stock market to raise money to open more stores and to give our employees a stake in the company. Almost all of the people who worked for Wal-Mart owned some of its stock. Walton was a stark contrast to the new breed of corporate executives who insisted on big pay increases even when their companies and workers werent doing well, and on golden parachutes when their companies failed. When the collapse of many stocks in the first years of the new century exposed a new wave of corporate greed and corruption, I thought back to that day in 1987 when Sam Walton lost a billion dollars of his wealth. Sam was a Republican. I doubt he ever voted for me. I didnt agree with everything Wal-Mart did back then and I dont agree with some of the companys practices that have become more common since he died. As I said, Wal-Mart doesnt buy American as much as it used to. Its been accused of using large numbers of illegal immigrants. And, of course, the company is anti-union. But America would be better off if all our companies were run by people dedicated enough to see their own fortunes rise and fall with those of their employees and stockholders.
I ended 1987 with my third speech of the decade at the Florida Democratic convention, saying as I always did that we had to face the facts and get the American people to see them as we did. President Reagan had promised to cut taxes, raise defense spending, and balance the budget. He did the first two but couldnt do the third because supply-side economics defies arithmetic. As a result, we had exploded the national debt, failed to invest in our future, and allowed wages to decline for 40 percent of our people. I knew the Republicans were proud of their record, but I looked at it with the perspective of the two old dogs watching young kids break-dancing. One old dog says to the other, You know, if we did that, theyd worm us.
I told the Florida Democrats, We have to do nothing less than create a new world economic order and secure the place of the American people within it. The central arguments I made were Weve got to pay the price today to secure tomorrow and Were all in it together.
In retrospect, my speeches in the late eighties seem interesting to me because of their similarity to what I would say in 1992 and what I tried to do as President.
In 1988, I traveled to thirteen states and the District of Columbia to speak on topics about evenly divided between politics and policy. The policy speeches mostly concerned education and the need for welfare-reform legislation, which we were hoping would pass the Congress by the end of the year. But the most important political speech for my future was one called Democratic Capitalism, which I delivered to the Democratic Leadership Council in Williamsburg, Virginia, on February 29. From then on, I got more active in the DLC, because I thought it was the only group committed to developing the new ideas Democrats needed both to win elections and do right by the country. In Williamsburg, I spoke about the need to make access to the global economy democraticthat is, available to all citizens and communities. I had become a convert to William Julius Wilsons argument, articulated in his book The Truly Disadvantaged, that there were no race-specific solutions to hard-core unemployment and poverty. The only answers were schools, adult education and training, and jobs. Meanwhile, at home, I continued to wrestle with budget problems facing schools and prisons, to promote my agenda for good beginnings, good schools, and good jobs, and to push for tax-reform and lobbying-reform legislation. Eventually, because the legislature wouldnt pass them, both these items were put on the ballot for the next election. The interest groups advertised heavily against them. Lobbying reform passed, and tax reform failed.
Governor Dukakis was moving to secure the Democratic nomination for President. A couple of weeks before our convention opened in Atlanta, Mike asked me to nominate him. He and his campaign leaders told me that, though he was leading in the polls against Vice President Bush, the American people didnt know him very well. They had concluded that the nominating speech was an opportunity to introduce him as a leader whose personal qualities, record in office, and new ideas made him the right person for the presidency. Because I was his colleague, his friend, and a southerner, they wanted me to do it and to take the entire allotted time, about twenty-five minutes. This was a departure from the usual practice, which was to have three people representing different groups within our party give five-minute nominating speeches. No one paid much attention to them, but they made the speakers and their constituents happy.
I was flattered by the invitation, but wary. As Ive said, conventions are loud meet-and-greet affairs where the words coming from the platform are usually just background music, except for the keynote address and the presidential and vice-presidential acceptance speeches. I had been to enough conventions to know that another long speech would bomb unless the delegates and media were prepared for it and the conditions in the hall remained conducive to it. I explained to the Dukakis people that the speech would work only if I spoke with the lights down and the Dukakis floor operation worked to keep the delegates quiet. Also, they couldnt clap too much or it would substantially increase the length of the speech. I told them I knew that was going to be a lot of trouble, and if they didnt want to do it, Id give him a rousing five-minute endorsement instead.
On the day of the speech, July 20, I brought a copy of my remarks to Mikes suite and showed it to him and his people. I told them that, as written, it would take about twenty-two minutes to deliver, and if there wasnt too much applause we could stay within the twenty-five-minute window. I described how I could cut 25 percent of the speech, or 50 percent, or 75 percent, if they thought that would be better. A couple of hours later I called back to see what they wanted me to do. I was told to give it all. Mike wanted America to know him as I did.
That night, I was introduced and walked out to strong music. As I began to speak, the lights were dimmed. It was all downhill after that. I wasnt through three sentences before the lights came up again. Then every time I mentioned Mikes name, the crowd roared. I knew right then I should scrap the speech in favor of the five-minute option, but I didnt. The real audience was watching on television. If I could ignore the distractions in the hall, I could still tell the folks at home what Mike wanted them to hear:
I want to talk about Mike Dukakis. Hes come so far, so fast that everybody wants to know what kind of person he is, what kind of governor hes been, and what kind of President hell be.
Hes been my friend a long time. I want you to know my answer to those questions, and why I believe we should make Mike Dukakis the first American President born of immigrant parents since Andrew Jackson.
As I proceeded to answer the questions, the convention got back to talking, except to cheer when Mikes name was mentioned. I felt as if the speech was a two hundredpound rock I was pushing up a hill. I later joked that I knew I was in trouble when, at the ten-minute mark, the American Samoan delegation started roasting a pig.
A few minutes later, the ABC and NBC networks started roasting me, showing the distracted convention hall and asking when I was going to finish. Only CBS and the radio networks ran the entire speech without critical commentary. The convention press people obviously hadnt been told how long I was expected to speak, or what I was trying to do. Also, the way I wrote the speech was all wrong. In an attempt to tell Mikes story without too much interruption by applause, I made it both too conversational and too teachy. It was a big mistake to think I could speak only to people watching on TV without regard to how I would go over with the delegates.
I had some good lines, but, alas, the biggest applause I got was near the painful end, when I said, In closing. . . . It was thirty-two minutes of total disaster. I kidded Hillary afterward that I wasnt sure just how badly Id bombed until we were walking out of the arena and she started going up to total strangers and introducing me as her first husband.
Fortunately, Mike Dukakis wasnt hurt by my misadventure. He got good reviews for naming Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate; they both gave good speeches; and the ticket left Atlanta with a hefty lead in the polls. On the other hand, I was a dead man walking.
On July 21, Tom Shales wrote a devastating piece in the Washington Post that summed up the press reaction to my speech: As Jesse Jackson had electrified the hall on Tuesday, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas calcified it Wednesday night. He called it Windy Clintys classic clinker, and described in agonizing detail what the networks did to fill time until I finished.
When we woke up the next morning, Hillary and I knew I had jumped into another pit Id have to dig myself out of. I had no idea how to begin, except to laugh at myself. My first public response was: It wasnt my finest hour. It wasnt even my finest hour and a half. I kept my game face on, but I promised myself I would never again abandon my own instincts about a speech. And except for a brief moment in my speech to Congress on health care in 1994, I didnt.
I was never so glad to get back home in my life. Arkansans were mostly supportive. My paranoid supporters thought Id been set up by somebody. Most people just thought Id sacrificed my normal spark and spontaneity to the shackles of a written speech. Robert Say McIntosh, a volatile black restaurateur with whom Id had an on-again, off-again relationship, rose to my defense, slamming the media coverage and hosting a free lunch at the state Capitol for anyone who turned in a postcard or letter hitting back at one of my national media critics. More than five hundred people showed up. I got about seven hundred letters on the speech, 90 percent of them positive. Apparently the people who wrote them had all heard the speech on radio or watched it on CBS, where Dan Rather at least waited until it was over to get his digs in.
A day or so after I returned, I got a call from my friend Harry Thomason, producer of the successful TV show Designing Women, which his wife, Linda Bloodworth, wrote. Harry was the brother of Danny Thomason, who sang next to me in the church choir. Hillary and I had gotten to know him and Linda in my first term when he came back to Arkansas to film a Civil War television movie, The Blue and the Gray. Harry told me I could make silk out of this sows ear, but I had to move fast. He suggested I go on the Johnny Carson show and poke fun at myself. I was still shell-shocked and told him I needed a day to think about it. Carson had been having a field day with the speech in his monologues. One of his more memorable lines was The speech went over about as well as a Velcro condom. But there really wasnt much to considerI couldnt end up any worse off than I already was. The next day I called Harry and asked him to try to set up the Carson appearance. Carson normally didnt invite politicians on the show, but apparently he made an exception because I was too good a punching bag to pass up, and because I agreed to play the sax, which he could use as an excuse to keep his ban at least on nonmusical politicians. The sax argument was Harrys idea, not the last clever one he would think up for me.
A couple of days later, I was on a plane to California, with Bruce Lindsey and my press secretary, Mike Gauldin. Before the show, Johnny Carson came by the room where I was waiting and said hello, something he almost never did. I guess he knew I had to be hurting and wanted to put me at ease. I was slated to come onstage shortly after the show started, and Carson began by telling the audience not to worry about my appearance because weve got plenty of coffee and extra cots in the lobby. Then he introduced me. And introduced me. And introduced me. He dragged it out forever by telling everything his researchers could find out about Arkansas. I thought he was going to take longer than I did in Atlanta. When I finally came out and sat down, Carson took out a huge hourglass and put it down next to me so that the whole world could see the sand running down. This performance would be time limited. It was hilarious. It was even funnier to me because Id brought my own hourglass, which the studio people said I absolutely could not take out. Carson asked me what had happened in Atlanta. I told him I wanted to make Mike Dukakis, who wasnt known for his oratorical skills, look good, and I succeeded beyond my wildest imagination. I told him Dukakis liked the speech so much, he wanted me to go to the Republican convention to nominate Vice President Bush, too. Then I claimed Id blown the speech on purpose, because I always wanted to be on this show in the worst way, and now I am. Johnny then asked if I thought I had a political future. I deadpanned an answer: It depends on how I do on this show tonight. After we traded one-liners for a few minutes and got good laughs from the studio audience, Johnny invited me to play the sax with Doc Severinsens band. We did an upbeat version of Summertime, which went over at least as well as the jokes. Then I settled in to enjoy the next guest, the famous English rocker Joe Cocker, as he sang his latest hit, Unchain My Heart.
After it was over, I was relieved and thought it had gone about as well as possible. Harry and Linda threw a party for me with some of their friends, including two other Arkansans, Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, and Gil Gerard, whose first claim to fame was his starring role in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
I took a red-eye flight home. The next day, I learned that the Carson show had earned good ratings nationwide and astronomical ones in Arkansas. Normally, not enough Arkansans stayed up late enough to earn those ratings, but the honor of the state was at stake. When I walked into the state Capitol, a hometown crowd was there to clap, cheer, and hug me for my performance. At least in Arkansas, the Carson show had put the Atlanta debacle behind me.
Things seemed to be looking up for me, and the rest of America, too. CNN named me the political winner of the week, after dubbing me its big loser just the week before. Tom Shales said that I had recovered miraculously and that people who watch television love this kind of comeback story. But it wasnt quite over. In August, Hillary, Chelsea, and I went to Long Island, New York, to spend a few days on the beach with our friend Liz Robbins. I was asked to umpire at the annual charity softball game between artists and writers who spend summers there. I still have a picture of myself calling balls and strikes on the pitching of Mort Zuckerman, now publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News