Favorite

So long to a governor’s governor 

To be so smart and talented and well-intentioned, maybe the best politician of his time, Bill Clinton could make a heck of a mess.

He would endure these spells when he lacked discipline and practicality. He’d whip himself into over-energized lathers during which he’d spew ideas and dial phones and lose all track of time and logic.

Clinton resembled a clarinet virtuoso who didn’t know how to put a reed in the instrument, and who’d leave the horn out in the rain. He needed someone following along, picking up after him.

So, no one stayed in greater need of devoted, competent, calming, disciplining and long-suffering staff.

Early in his first year as president, Clinton had badly mishandled the issue of gays in the military. He’d lost an economic stimulus package. He’d nominated and withdrawn the name of a touted black civil rights lawyer, academician, author and thinker for a top job in the Justice Department. His defenders said he was snake-bitten. His detractors said his presidency predictably was failed already.

This is what some old friends from Arkansas were saying: “He needs a Jim Pledger.”

Not the Jim Pledger, necessarily. Jim was a tall, boots-wearing old boy from Danville seemingly lacking in ambition beyond home. His brain would have sustained him in Washington, but his style surely was ill-suited for the fast pace and pretense of the White House.

He’d stayed home to be Jim Guy Tucker’s right hand, too. His ego required nothing bigger. Many whose egos required more ended up with those egos handed back to them by Washington, D. C.

What President Clinton needed in those early days, they said, was somebody to do for him what Jim Pledger always had done for Governor Clinton. That was to say, “Gov’ner, I don’t think they’re gonna go for that in Yell County.”

Pledger’s Yell County always served as a kind of Peoria for Bill Clinton’s Arkansas.

Let’s put it this way: Clinton was a governor who needed a governor, and by the latter I mean one of those attachments to regulate the speed of his motor. Pledger was the governor’s governor.

I always called it good ol’ boy competence. It was the kind of thing the nation saw in Pledger’s Yell County pal, James Lee Witt, who’d been Yell County judge while Pledger was county treasurer.

They tended to underwhelm when they spoke. Then, invariably, you’d look up and they’d have done the job, and well, while those more fluid with the spoken word were leaving disasters in their wake.

Witt told me Friday, the day after Pledger’s year-long bout with cancer ended, that he remembered the day in 1984 when Clinton came to speak to the County Judge Association. Witt said Clinton motioned for him to come to the head table. He said Clinton told him he was thinking about bringing Pledger on board his staff, and wondered what Witt thought.

“I told him he couldn’t make a better appointment,” he said.

Witt told me that in 30 years he simply could not ever recall Pledger’s getting mad, or at least showing it.

I never saw him show much enthusiasm of any kind, to tell you the truth.

Actually, there was that one time.

Pledger had been a legislative liaison, chief of staff and finance and administration director for Clinton, and finance and administration director for Tucker. He’d taken the job running the Arkansas State Fairgrounds and Barton Coliseum.

I happened to call him for some political recollection, and it happened to be the morning after a big concert at Barton.

Reba McEntire. Jim Pledger was demonstrably excited about Reba McEntire.


Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by John Brummett

  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • Can we talk? Can we get anywhere?

    Dialogue is good. It would be even better if someone would venture off script every once in a while.
    • Sep 21, 2011
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Asa on pre-K

    • Aug 17, 2016

Most Shared

  • Industrial hemp pilot program coming soon to Arkansas

    One of the booths at this week's Ark-La-Tex Medical Cannabis Expo was hosted by the Arkansas Hemp Association, a trade group founded to promote and expand non-intoxicating industrial hemp as an agricultural crop in the state. AHA Vice President Jeremy Fisher said the first licenses to grow experimental plots of hemp in the state should be issued by the Arkansas State Plant Board next spring.
  • The prayers of Rapert

    Sen. Jason Rapert is keeping a close eye on the Alabama Senate race.

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

Event Calendar

« »

December

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
31  

Most Recent Comments

 

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