Politics & Policy

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.”

Watching Cotton at work, I think of something else: For a while in 1987 and 1988, a lot of people wanted Jeane Kirkpatrick to run for president. She thought about it. Explaining her hesitation, she said, “It’s not the schlepping, it’s the asking.” It’s not the running around, the busting of your hump: It’s the asking for (a) money and (b) votes.

Hard, for some.

‐In Texarkana, I see something that makes me smile, inwardly: the Ritz Motel. It is homely, run down. The contrast between the name — Ritz! — and the appearance . . .

And the contrast between the name “Ritz” and the word “Motel” (as distinct from “Hotel”)!

‐As far as I can tell, Arkansas is a beautiful state — a state abounding in natural beauty. Its nickname, incidentally, is the Natural State. But where the hand of man comes in . . .

I’ve never liked it when the Left and conservative “traditionalists,” or “trads,” blast the way America looks: the fast-food joints, the strip malls, all the cement and garishness. I guess I get my populist hackles up or something.

But, you know? They have a point. They really do.

I’m not a big one for central planning. I’m not a big one for zoning and all that. I think free people should act as they will. But there must be a way — a legitimate, fair, and democratic way — to make America less ugly.

‐Hot Springs was a bad, bad town — a place of mobsters, a southern Vegas, the home of Billy J. (William Jefferson Clinton). One of the mobsters who ruled here was Owney “The Killer” Madden. My friend Michael Walsh, of National Review Online, wrote a novel of Madden: And All the Saints.

‐Tom Cotton, in a couple of talks to voters, uses a word I have never heard before: “intermeddle.” Is it a homemade word or a dictionary word? A dictionary word, I discover — new on me.

‐His home county is Yell County — one of the great place-names in all of America, I believe. Let me quote from my Cotton series: “The name of the county does not refer to hollerin’. Yell County is named after Archibald Yell (1797-1847), one of the state’s first politicians (its second governor).”

‐Also in that series, I mentioned the Ouachita Mountains, which run from east to west (unusually). After seeing the name, I mentally pronounced it Spanishly — Ooah-CHEE-tah. Kind of like Juanita. But the correct pronunciation — if I have heard rightly — is WASH-taw, or WAW-shih-tah.

Huh. My home county, in Michigan, is Washtenaw.

‐My sample is not very large, but it’s not tiny either: Young black men in Little Rock seem to be the politest people in America.

‐You have been told all your life, I’m sure, what I have been told: The Republican party is the party of the rich; the Democratic party is the party of the common man.

I have an interesting experience: I’m in southwest Arkansas one night, and in Darien, Connecticut, the next.

Southwest Arkansas is not affluent, by a long shot. Darien is very, very affluent — probably one of the most affluent places in the United States. (Absolutely beautiful too, by the way.) In Southwest Arkansas, they are very, very Republican, now. Conservative.

Darien? I take a long walk, before giving a speech. Obama signs are everywhere. Left-wing bumper stickers are affixed to $80,000 cars. One bumper sticker, in the parking lot of a country club, says, “Separate Church & Hate!” In Arkansas, I saw lots of church signs, talking about love and all that good stuff.

I wonder where the hate quotient is higher — Arkansas or Darien.

From what I know, Darien will vote overwhelmingly for Obama. And the modestly off people in Arkansas for Romney.

The Republican party is the party of the rich, and the Democratic party is the party of the common man. Don’t ever forget it, okay?

Anyway, hate to leave on a bitterish note. But here I go. Have a great weekend, and I’ll catch you next week.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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