Fate of the Union: America's Rocky Road to Political Stalemate

By Robert Shogan | Go to book overview

3
The Prinee of Ambivalenee

IN JULY 1979, with his presidency slipping away, Jimmy Carter sought a boost from the nation's Democratic governors, then gathered in Louisville, Kentucky, for a conference of all governors from both parties. He got what he wanted, an endorsement for his as yet unannounced candidacy for reelection in the face of an anticipated challenge from the champion of party liberals -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

But he also got something he certainly did not want -- a lecture on political leadership from the most junior of all the Democratic governors in terms of age and length of service. This was William Jefferson Clinton of Arkansas, a fellow Southerner who had honed his talent at the best schools the North had to offer, a Rhodes scholar and a country hustler, a man of considerable gifts but of even greater ambitions and appetites, a new face who had already made a great noise in his party and yet would not turn thirty-three for another month.

Besides all this, Clinton was a Carter friend and ally of some years' standing. Carter had helped Clinton when the young man had run unsuccessfully for Congress in 1974, his first try for public office, and Carter served in the newly created position of national Democratic campaign chairman, a position created by the party hierarchy in a vain attempt to bury the Georgian and his all-too-evident lust for the White House. In 1976, Clinton had returned the favor to his benefactor, having led Carter's successful presidential campaign in Arkansas after he himself had been assured of election as the state's attorney general.

And in his current predicament, the president needed all the help he could get from his friends. That the president had brought much of his trouble on himself made things no easier. He had rushed home from a Far

-49-

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