The “New Democrat”
ACCORDING TO HIS BIOGRAPHER, Clinton’s 1978 inauguration as governor of Arkansas “had the aura of a generational rite.” His friends from around the country traveled to Little Rock to watch one of their own, “the first in their class,” reach political prominence, and at such a young age. The shaggy-haired governor brought with him the idealism and the expectations of his generation. “Bill started his two-year term with the energy of a racehorse exploding from the gate,” recalled Hillary. “He had made dozens of campaign promises, and he started fulfilling them in his first days in office.”1
When he took office, Arkansas ranked last in the nation in state per capita spending on education. Believing that the state could no longer depend on agriculture for its survival, Clinton proposed a massive overhaul of the education system, including large increases in teacher pay and a mandatory testing program. He expanded the role of the Department of Economic Development in an effort to recruit new business to the state and keep those that were already there. He tackled a host of other problems as well. In an effort to improve Arkansas roads and highways, he increased taxes on registration fees on cars and pickups. He attacked fraud in the welfare system, reformed the food stamp program, and developed aggressive energy conservation measures.
By all accounts, the governor tried to accomplish too much, too fast. “I was always in a hurry to get things done,” Clinton later admitted, “and this time my reach often exceeded my grasp.”2 In his first two years he managed