How the Rodham girl lost her accent

These days, Arkansans might have a thing or two to say to New Yorkers about the woman who would be as one among them.

By Suzi Parker
September 20, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Once upon a time, Hillary Rodham Clinton pondered a run for governor in the state of Arkansas. She floated the idea, tested the waters. Then her husband decided he'd run there one last time. That was 1990.

My, how times have changed. She may have voted (absentee) in the past two state elections and kept her membership in a downtown Methodist church intact, but Hillary Clinton's days of singing "Arkansas, (You Run Deep in Me)" appear to be over for good.


These days, Clinton seldom visits the state at all. The last time she stopped by was almost a year ago, in October 1998, to speak at the 40th reunion of the Women's Emergency Committee, a group that worked to keep the public schools open following the Central High School segregation crisis in 1957. Her visit was at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and she stayed in town just 24 hours.

When New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani visited Arkansas in July for a media stunt and a low-key fund-raiser, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee joked that Clinton's probable opponent in next year's Senate run had now visited the state more this year than had the first lady.

Now that the Clintons have signed a contract for a $1.7 million house in a
quiet Westchester County, N.Y., hamlet, it appears that at least one of the Clintons is waving goodbye to Arkansas forever.


Hillary Clinton was conspicuously absent in Hope, Ark., last March when the
president stood alone in a cold rainstorm for the dedication of his boyhood home. At the time, a glum president said his wife was having back problems and
lamented that she wasn't there to share the honor. Less than a week later,
however, Hillary's back seemed fine as she traveled to Egypt and was photographed riding a camel.

The first lady skipped an Arkansas visit again last month, when her husband and the vice president kicked off the Gore 2000 fund-raising drive here in Little Rock.

By way of explanation for Clinton's continued absence from her former home state, Marsha Berry, the first lady's White House spokeswoman, told Salon News, "She has had a very busy schedule."


Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham, still lives in a Little Rock condominium on a cliff near the Arkansas River. But when mother and daughter want to get together, it's mom who does the traveling these days. Last month, along with Chelsea Clinton, the pair looked at houses in New York, for example.

Meanwhile, Arkansans are now starting to say out loud what they always privately suspected: that Hillary thinks she is too good for Arkansas.


Sure, a lot of people in the state didn't exactly put out their best Southern welcome for Hillary Rodham when she first arrived. It was back in the 1970s, and she was a feminist lawyer who refused to take her husband's name. But most people had come around to her, especially when she started singing a different tune in the 1980s.

In 1988, for example, Clinton said in a speech: "You know, Bill was lucky because he was born in Arkansas. I'm just an accident that happened to land here, and I am forever grateful."
Statements like that one have made some of Arkansas' more naive types cling to the idea that if Clinton is elected in New York, Arkansas will have a "third senator" on Capitol Hill to look out for their interests.

Wrong. A New York senator will focus on the urban and suburban issues at play in the northeast -- not the rural, agricultural issues that dominate Arkansas, say political experts.


And to many Arkansans who are watching her campaign in New York, Hillary Clinton suddenly seems a little too "citified" to care anymore about some two-bit Southern state that grows watermelons, raises chickens and built her husband's political career for more than 20 years.

An editorial in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently pointed out that "Miss
Hillary" had already lost the adopted Southern accent in which she told "60 Minutes" (in a 1992 interview) that she was standing by her man. And in an editorial cartoon, the newspaper warned New Yorkers about the "Hillary
Witch Project: Terror in Upstate New York."

A local coffeehouse may have a brew named in her honor, but that'll more
than likely be the last thing Hillary Clinton has named after her in
Arkansas. No one wants to go on record saying it, but the word you hear is:
snob. And, well, a few other choice words.


Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, explains, "There are some out there
that may be a little resentful of the first lady's ability to go to a different state when [Arkansans] have paid a cost here in terms of grand jury appearances, legal fees and so forth."

While Little Rock's movers and shakers babble excitedly about the future presidential library that's being built here, Hillary Clinton's name is seldom mentioned in conjunction with this shrine. And that's hardly surprising, since she has attempted to distance herself from the project.

In her Talk magazine interview, Lucinda Franks asked Clinton what would
happen to the president if she becomes a senator. Hillary coolly replied, "He has a great many interests, [like] his library."

"Carpetbagger" was originally a term used to describe opportunistic Northerners who came south after the Civil War. These days, around Little Rock, the prevailing opinion is that we're watching our own opportunist leave Arkansas in the dust as she seeks her political fortune up among the Yankees.

Suzi Parker

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas writer.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani