Favorite

Rockefeller duty 



Winthrop Rockefeller’s death in 1973 at the age of 60 was especially poignant because the cancer that caused it seemed to have been brought on by a peculiar sort of intractable grief, his inability to reconcile his sacrifices for people with their utter rejection of him at the polls. He did not expect defeat after four frustrated years as governor, and friends said he was devastated by the sheer magnitude of it and could not recover. Cancer killed him two years later.

It is possible only to suspect that the same pathological yearning fed the malignancy that on Sunday morning felled his son, Winthrop Paul, at the age of 57. Winthrop Paul spent much of his adult life calculating the moment at which he must accept his duty like his dad and run for governor. Sensing time’s winged chariot hurrying near, he decided agonizingly in 2004 that despite suddenly terrible odds — his party had become a right-wing monolith — the moment had to be at hand. That is when the fatal malignancy set in. A year ago today, he pulled out of the race to seek radical treatment in Seattle.

Win Paul and his father were very different men, probably because the youngster grew up on an Indiana farm with his Lithuanian-born mother, Bobo, and became close to his father only as a young man when he came to live on the Petit Jean farm and experienced the elder’s political triumphs and his confounding weaknesses.

But he was like his father in two important ways, one imparted to him by example and the other by genetics. There was the sense of duty, of noblesse oblige, which his father may have felt more keenly than anyone of his time. Having alighted in Arkansas in 1953 as a Manhattan playboy in flight from the tabloids and his scornful patrician family, the elder Rockefeller created his life’s mission from the teachings of his mother. Those born with great unearned gifts, she told the boys, are obliged to use them to help others.

His mission, he decided, would be to bring this poor state into the sunlight by his philanthropy and, finally, by transforming its benighted and uncaring government. After his landslide defeat in 1970, he told legislators in his farewell address that he had found Arkansas in 1953 like a beautiful antebellum home that was boarded up to deny the coming of change. Despite the defeat of his cherished programs, he said he hoped he had succeeded at least in throwing open the windows “to allow those fresh winds to penetrate our home and, yes, even our minds.”

Gov. Rockefeller wrote a small book for his son on his 21st birthday. It was an apologia for the strange course of his life and it explained that duty.

“Through the different stories and insights in the book,” Win Paul would say later, “he gently reminded me of his life’s message: The greater your gifts, the more you are obliged to do.”

The other likeness, a particularly perverse one, was a void in the usual talents that make people succeed in politics. Winthrop was the worst ad-lib speaker from the back of a flatbed truck anyone had heard. Glad-handing and schmoozing with strangers was painful but he forced himself to do it, clumsily and often with the aid of a shot of vodka. Win Paul became only a little better at both. Well, he was elected lieutenant governor three times. He moved with easier grace and confidence.

Winthrop Rockefeller was the most liberal American governor of his century. He proposed in his second term the most sweeping program in Arkansas history, including a 50 percent increase in taxes. He would have raised income taxes on his class from 5 percent to 12 percent, the highest rate in the United States, and he demanded that lawyers, architects, accountants and doctors remit sales taxes on their services. It all went down to crushing defeat, twice, presaging his own landslide defeat in 1970.

Though he left office trailed by the gloom of failure, the elder Rockefeller has been beatified by history. Win Paul took inspiration from that.

Writing about his dad in 2003, he said, “I know that I was lucky to be born a Rockefeller, but I am luckier to have been born Winthrop Rockefeller’s son” and to have been challenged to follow his vision.

What he would have done with the mantle if the illness had spared him and he had somehow wrestled the nomination from a Republican Party far different from his dad’s, he gave few clues except by the gentle and compassionate examples of his life. He did complain almost offhandedly to students at Rogers last year that taxes on rich people were burdensome, which would have perplexed his father, and he seemed to be repackaging his ideas on social issues for a more conservative constituency. But he never catered to prejudices against gays and immigrants and he manifested none of the flintheartedness of the men who now carry the banner for the GOP.

It’s safe to guess in the absence of reality that his instincts and his inspiration would have guided him to a better place in history.




Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • Coal is over

    The free market's natural search for cheaper and more efficient energy has taken over and even President Trump and a governing party heavily in denial about climate change cannot stop it.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • Race to kill

    You wonder if Attorney General Leslie Rutledge would be so eager to execute if her grandpa, Leslie Rutledge, who was imprisoned for killing neighbor Joe Beel and mortally wounding his brother Frank, had been sentenced to death in 1952.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • Coal is over

    The free market's natural search for cheaper and more efficient energy has taken over and even President Trump and a governing party heavily in denial about climate change cannot stop it.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • Race to kill

    You wonder if Attorney General Leslie Rutledge would be so eager to execute if her grandpa, Leslie Rutledge, who was imprisoned for killing neighbor Joe Beel and mortally wounding his brother Frank, had been sentenced to death in 1952.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Viewed

  • Forget the hairdo

    As the 2018 races begin to heat up, we see more and more women running for office. And as more women run, we will see more of the seemingly endless critiques of their appearances.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.
  • Intracity tourism

    The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • O'Reilly should run for president. He's already cleared one major hurdle by proving he's a…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Intracity tourism

    • I love being a tourist in my own backyard. One of the advantages of being…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Art bull

    • Well, when the Bull was first put up there, it meant one thing, and that…

    • on April 24, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation