When Bill Clinton left the White House 13 years ago and repaired to New York with his family, Arkansas was left with the legacy of seven years of investigations and ruined reputations instead of the vast dividend of public works and national good will that some had expected of a favorite-son presidency.
It was some recompense when a presidential library and a graduate school of public service, loosely affiliated with the new William J. Clinton Foundation, settled on the south bank of the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock. The library became a major tourist attraction (in 2013 its visitors surpassed three million) and the adjoining institutions bearing his name became a magnet for upscale development all along the old riverfront street that was renamed President Clinton Avenue.
Besides the hotels, restaurants and museums, the attractions include one of the nation's most advanced urban library systems, built by longtime Clinton adviser Bobby Roberts; riverside parks, a state wildlife center and a new international headquarters and nature park for Heifer Project, the global hunger-relief group run at the time by Clinton's former state parks director.
Clinton's foundation became the world's fastest-growing nongovernmental organization, and the globetrotting former president won international acclaim for his foundation's work to combat sickness, poverty and the fruits of climate change in the third world and parts of the United States. Even the billionaire scion of the Mellon fortune who had bankrolled the Arkansas scandal industry when Clinton was president converted to admirer and said he never meant any harm.
A few dividends for Arkansas after all?
Then, in 2013, Clinton seemed to turn more of his personal attention to his native state, some of it celebratory and some of it political, like advancing the political careers of a generation of Clinton acolytes and the former first lady of Arkansas and carrying the torch for an unpopular president's health initiative in one of the unhealthiest states in the union.
So it is as good a year as any to recognize the accumulation of all those works, whether they were for good or ill, with the Times' designation as the 2013 Arkansan of the Year — if not Clinton individually then the whole family, whose names now adorn the foundation, and the coterie of friends and followers who are involved in all those enterprises.
Let's call the honoree Clinton Inc.
There was opposition to renaming the old East Markham Street for Clinton from enemies who thought the impeached president had disgraced the city and state and also churlish criticism that, once he was a private citizen again, Clinton had shown his true colors by shunning Arkansas for the lights of the big city so that his wife could run for senator in New York. In spite of his impeachment, though, Clinton enjoyed extraordinary national popularity for a departing president, and it would rise ever higher as he and his foundation undertook the work of combating AIDS and poverty in Africa, Asia and South America while other ex-presidents (except Jimmy Carter) shuffled into quiescence or padded their bank accounts with big consulting and speaking fees.
The Clinton Foundation — it was renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation last year to recognize their initiatives; Chelsea, especially, is said to have taken a more active role in the direction and management of the foundation — started as an effort to build a health-care system in Africa that would bring down the prohibitive cost of drugs for HIV/AIDS and generally address the pandemic. That broadened into the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which was to improve access to medicine and treatment globally — in the developing world initially and eventually communities in the United States, as well.
Arkansans know there is climate change, it gets hot in the summer and cold in…