Arkansas Journal


This week, we have run a series on Tom Cotton, the amazing young Republican running for Congress in Arkansas. The four parts of the series are at the following links: IIIIII, and IV. I have a few additional notes concerning my visit to Arkansas, if you’re in the mood . . .

Growing up, I always had trouble with “Arkansas.” The name didn’t sound like it looked. Plus, there was a state called “Kansas.” And someone from “Arkansaw” was called an “Arkansan” — last two syllables like “Kansan.”


At the airport in Little Rock, you see a sign advertising flights from this city to Washington, D.C.: “From Clinton to Reagan.” Yes, the Little Rock airport is named for the Clintons — both of them.

I wonder how Reagan would feel about that. I wonder how the Clintons feel about an airport named after Reagan.

By the way, do you know that Bill Clinton was McGovern’s Texas coordinator in 1972? Tells you something about his politics, right from the beginning.

I’m told that, in northwest Arkansas, there are many millionaires. The Walmart effect, primarily, I guess.

Fred Barnes and I are traveling together, here in Arkansas. (Fred, as you know, is with The Weekly Standard.) He tells me that he has been to all 50 states — and Arkansas was the 50th. Not on this trip, but before.

I’m reminded of something I heard Marilyn Horne say once: She had sung in all 50 states; and Wyoming was the 50th.

I hear a term I’ve never heard before: “Arklatex.” Let me quote Wikipedia: “The Ark-La-Tex (also known as Arklatex, ArkLaTex, or more inclusively Arklatexoma) is a U.S. socio-economic region where Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma intersect.”

Reminds me of “Delmarva.” (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia — very Chesapeakey.)

In thinking about “Texarkana,” I always thought of Texas and Arkansas — Texarkana is split between those two states, as Kansas City is split between two states. I learn, on this trip, that the “ana” part of “Texarkana” stands for Louisiana. Never thought of that, never knew it.

Arkansas borders a lot of states — six of them: Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. Tom Cotton tells me something astounding: In Arkansas — within Arkansas — you can drive south to all of those states. How’s that? What about Missouri in the north? Well, Missouri jogs down a little, in the northeast of Arkansas. You can indeed drive south to it.

Strange. A cartographical, or geographical, quirk.

Cotton’s campaign manager is a man named Doug Coutts. Robert Conquest (the historian) lives on Peter Coutts Circle in Palo Alto (or Stanford, depending on how technical you wish to be). The first time I visited him there, I said, “Who was Peter Coutts?” He said I was only the second person ever to ask him that. The first was a British poet. I’m sorry I can’t remember his name.

And who was Peter Coutts? A mysterious Frenchman who adopted that name. His story was told twelve years ago in the Palo Alto Weeklyhere.

I see a bumper sticker in Texarkana: “Be Democratic, Vote Republican.” For ages, Arkansas was a one-party state. No longer.

Texarkana is not divided by a river or something natural like that. It’s just plain divided — by a state line. You can straddle the two states.

I talk to an old pro in Arkansas politics, and Arkansas society. He has known the Clintons for a long time. He says that Bill Clinton has an excellent memory — a phenomenal memory. He meets you, he’ll remember your face and name years later.

“He comes back” to Arkansas, my friend says. “She doesn’t.” What is the extent of Bill Clinton’s political influence here? “He still moves the African-American vote.”

I observe Tom Cotton shake many hands, in several towns — always asking people for their vote. That’s an extremely important thing in politics. I remember a story Tip O’Neill told. I think I have the facts right.

Early on, he ran for Congress (or something else) and lost. Shortly after Election Day, he encountered an old teacher of his on the street — a nun. He said, “Did you hear I lost the election, sister?” She said, “Yes, Tom” (as he was known to her). “I’m sorry about that.” He said, “Well, at least you voted for me.” She said, “Actually, I didn’t, Tom.”

Flummoxed, he said, “But why, sister?” She answered: “Because you never asked me.”

O’Neill said he learned a lifelong lesson: “Always ask ’em for their vote.”


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