by Max Brantley
Bill Clinton was scheduled for a 1 p.m. speech to the closing luncheon of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Little Rock today. He arrived a few minutes late, entered to an ovation and proceeded to speak and answer questions for nearly two hours. He also worked the rope line afterward. He was mobbed by autograph seekers and people waving digital cameras and cell phones. Tom Cruise has never been in such demand.
He finally was urged out by handlers shortly before 4 p.m.
It was a tour de force, though hardly unfamiliar to anyone who's followed the man from Hope, Hot Springs, Fayetteville, LR and points north. Is there such a thing as a stump-the-Bill question? Hard to imagine He had extended remarks on the declining petroleum yield of seawater injection wells; the comparatively high cost, low participation and poor results of the American health care system; standardized school testing; Darfur, etc. Political analysis? Plenty. Criticism of the current administration? Yes, but in a policy-oriented way, studded by warm remarks about the current president and his father.
What's the news lead for the reporters in attendance? We liked what he had to say about Karl Rove because we couldn't agree more. A lack of a Rove indictment is not exactly high praise of the White House or cause for celebration. The facts are incontrovertible and damaging, Clinton said. Rove leaked information about a CIA agent, with potentially harmful results to U.S. intelligence interests. And it was done to punish a political foe. This is wrong. It shouldn't be forgotten. Yet, as we noted earlier today, Rove is back in the saddle as Bush's chief political advisor.
There was the inevitable question about a run for president by Hillary. She'd be a great one and the U.S. is past due -- if perhaps not yet ready -- to elect a woman, he said. But he cautioned that she'd made no decision and that he didn't know she could receive the nomination or win if she did. It's bad luck to speculate about such things, he said.. What would his role be in a Hillary administration? To do whatever she asks him to do. And to not do whatever she asks him not to do. Words to live by, yes?
PS-- The convention has been hugely successful and, we think, a real boost for LR. The Clinton Library and the Arkansas Arts Center (adorned by a stunning Picasso exhibit) were the settings for lavish cocktail parties. A rooftop party in the River Market district drew a big crowd late Thursday night. Buses took the 400 or so conventioneers to restaurants around town Friday night (we joined a dozen or so for the full treatment at Doe's -- tamales, shrimp and a six-pound sirloin). The Juneteenth show provided street theater last night for visitors staying at the Peabody. Talk about excitement. A couple of stray gunshots sent people running on a couple of occasions late Friday, but apparently no harm was done. Tonight, we'll send conventioneers off with a fish fry and a blues show on the grounds of the Historic Arkansas Museum, not much more than a block from another night of hip-hop at the Riverfest Amphitheatre.
There were sterling speeches by Wesley Clark and Susan McDougal in addition to the work sessions. And, we forgot: Our Leslie Newell Peacock, the universe's premier bird beat writer, won the association's first-place national award in feature writing for her cover story on the ivory-billed woodpecker.
All of this and nearly three hours of the Big Dog.