First in His Class
Bill Clinton always talked fondly of his Arkansas home when he was away from it, but when he returned to Hot Springs in the summer of 1969 after his first year at Oxford, he felt out of place. Hardly anyone his age was in town. Many of his high school friends were serving in the military. One of his childhood pals had been killed by an enemy mortar attack near the demilitarized zone in Vietnam and lay buried in a graveyard on the edge of town.
The fallen Marine was now memorialized as a local hero. Clinton had been regarded in near heroic terms himself only a year before, when he had sailed to England as his hometown's first Rhodes scholar, but now he was tormented about Vietnam. His mother noticed an emotional wall around him. She would gaze out the window of their brick rambler on Scully Street and see him shooting baskets in the driveway, hour after hour. At night he stayed up with his stepfather, Jeff Dwire, and talked about what he could do about the source of his turmoil: SSS Form 352, the Order to Report for Induction into the military. He had received the draft notice two months earlier during his spring term at Oxford.
Clinton felt conflicted. He would confide to Arkansas friends about his "need to serve," an impulse, he would say, that some of his Rhodes colleagues could not understand. Yet he also felt a countervailing determination not to fight in Vietnam. His anti-war feelings went back to his junior year at Georgetown, when he had worked as a clerk for one of the centers of congressional dissent, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by his home-state role model, Sen. J.W. Fulbright. Clinton shared Fulbright's view that even if the United States could win in Vietnam, it still was fighting an immoral and unnecessary war.
Clinton's crisis of conscience spilled out in letters to friends, including Paul Parish, a Rhodes colleague from Mississippi who was spending the summer in Scotland and working on an appeal for conscientious objector status. The letters, Parish recalled, "were all, I could do this or I could do that.' The tenor was: It is almost impossible to see anything that appeals to the moral sensibility. . . . All the choices he saw were corrupt."
While still at Oxford, Clinton had begun exploring alternatives to submitting to the draft. He had contacted a friend at Yale Law School to find out what it would take to enroll in the graduate Reserve Officers' Training Corps program there. He had called friends back home for help arranging physicals for the state National Guard. And he had met with Cliff Jackson, a fellow Arkansan studying at Oxford, as conservative as Clinton was liberal, but seemingly friendly enough, a teammate on the Oxford subvarsity basketball team. As Jackson later recollected their meeting, Clinton told him that he had researched his situation and determined that since he had already received the induction notice, the only way he could enlist in a military alternative such as ROTC was with the approval of the state Selective Service System director in Little Rock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. Jackson had connections to Rockefeller, and would be in Little Rock that summer working for the state Republican Party.
If Clinton was scheming with Jackson to void his draft notice, he gave little hint of that to his Oxford friends. They bade him farewell in June assuming that he would not be coming back. Parish drove to Heathrow Airport with his girlfriend, Sara Maitland, to see Clinton off. It was, Maitland said later, "just a mess. . . . We had this tearful departure at the airport. It had all become an enormous emotional drama. Bill had decided to go. Was it the right thing to do? The wrong thing to do? It was all very stressful, going back to Arkansas."
In his first days home, it appeared that Clinton saw no choice but to submit to the draft. There was little time left. In a letter he wrote to Denise Hyland, his former college girlfriend, he revealed that he had been given a new induction date: July 28. The local National Guard and Reserve units, which had been checked out by his stepfather and his uncle, were full. "I'm going to be drafted," he wrote to her on July 8. "There isn't much else to say. I am not happy, but neither was anyone else who was called before me, I guess."
But that mood of resignation did not hold. As the July 28 deadline loomed, Clinton renewed his efforts to find an alternative to induction. He took physicals for the Air Force and Navy officer candidate schools, but failed both because of faulty vision and hearing. Finally he turned to the advanced ROTC program connected to the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, which had no quotas and was open to law students. The program had grown rapidly in the year since graduate student deferments were eliminated.
Lee Williams, Fulbright's chief aide in Washington, worked the telephone from his Capitol Hill office trying to arrange Clinton's enrollment. Williams, a graduate of the law school and a vehement opponent of the war, had tried to help hundreds of young men find alternatives to fighting in it. His papers, now part of the Fulbright Archives at the University of Arkansas, indicate that he contacted the director of the university's ROTC program, Col. Eugene J. Holmes, on July 16, after discussing the specifics of Clinton's situation with one of Holmes's assistants. At about the time Williams made his phone call, at least one inquiry came from the office of Gov. Rockefeller. "Can we do anything to help young Bill Clinton?" one of Holmes's assistants was asked. "Probably," came the reply. "Have him come and see us."
Clinton, his hair trimmed, traveled up to Fayetteville that week to make his case. He met with Col. Holmes at his home and with Lt. Col. Clinton Jones at the ROTC headquarters on campus. Holmes later said that his meeting with Clinton involved "an extensive, approximately two-hour interview." Clinton did not tell Holmes that he was an opponent of the Vietnam War and of the draft. The next day, Holmes took several calls from members of the Garland County Draft Board telling him that Sen. Fulbright's office was putting pressure on them and that they needed the colonel to relieve it by enrolling Clinton in the program. Holmes decided to accept Clinton. The July 28 induction notice was nullified. The Garland County Draft Board granted Clinton a 1-D deferment as a reservist.
A few days later, Clinton wrote to Denise Hyland about the change in his draft status: "On the 17th, eleven days before my induction date, I was admitted to a two-year, two-summer camp ROTC program at the University of Arkansas for graduates and junior college transfers. I will have a two-year obligation just as if I've been drafted, but I'll go in as an officer three years from now. It's all too good to be true, I think. There is still the doubt that maybe I should have said to hell with it, done this thing and been free!"
He concluded: "If this letter is a bit disjointed and rambling, it is because I am not yet fully adjusted to the new circumstances and my apparent future."
It was not until Clinton had signed up for the University of Arkansas ROTC that he became actively involved in the anti-war movement. In mid-August he traveled to Washington and spent several days with a Rhodes colleague, Rick Stearns, who was working on a commission headed by Sen. George McGovern (S.D.) reforming Democratic Party rules. He also visited the Vietnam Moratorium Committee headquarters, where activists were planning a nationwide protest for Oct. 15. Clinton had a few friends who were well connected in the movement, including Stearns, but he was on the outer edge of the anti-war subculture, according to David Mixner, one of the principal organizers.
The brief visit to Washington restored Clinton's spirits, but it also reminded him of how odd he felt in Arkansas. He wrote to Stearns a week later: "I am home now, still full of the life that your friends and my friends and the city pumped into me. Before I forget, let me tell you how grateful I am to you for introducing me to all those people. Arkansas is barren of that kind, or at least I've found few of them. Maybe they have better sense than to traffic with such a naive, sloppy romantic." Clinton added that he hoped he could go with Stearns to a September gathering in Martha's Vineyard planned by young leaders of the anti-war movement. "I need and would like like hell to be doing something like that."
On the evening of Sept. 8, Stearns called Clinton from Washington. They talked about Oxford and the draft. Clinton said he felt guilty and hypocritical for having the ROTC deferment. Stearns was among the many scholars who had managed to get graduate school deferments for the first year, even though they were supposed to have been discontinued, but Stearns had recently been reclassified 1-A (available for service) by his draft board in California and expected to be drafted any week. Nonetheless, Stearns had decided to go back to Oxford for his second year.
"I told Bill that the only fair thing for me to do was to take my chances," Stearns later recalled. "If I get drafted, I get drafted, but I wasn't going to worry about it. If the day came, it came. I felt that was more honorable than trying to connive a way of avoiding the whole thing."
The next day, Clinton wrote Stearns.
"My mind is every day more confused than it was before; and countless hours doing nothing save waiting for the phone to ring are driving me out of my head," Clinton's letter said. "Nothing could be worse than this torment. . . . And if I cannot rid myself of it, I will just have to go into the service and begin to root out the cause. I wish I could describe to you the quandary I am in, so you could counter with some helpful advice - I have been here all summer in a place where everyone else's children seem to be in the military, most of them in Vietnam. . . . You see, I haven't explained it very well - the anguish is not that apparent - I am running away from something maybe for the first time in my life - and I just hope I have made the correct decision, if there is such a thing. I know one of the worst side effects of this whole thing is the way it's ravaged my own image of myself, taken my mind off the higher things, restricted my ability to become involved in good causes or with other people - I honestly feel so screwed up tight that I am incapable, I think, of giving myself, of really loving. I told you I was losing my mind. Anyway - I'm anxious to hear from you. I want so much to tell you we're going back to England."
Three days later, on Sept. 12, Clinton stayed up all night writing a letter to the chairman of the Garland County Draft Board, saying that he never had any real interest in ROTC and wanted to be reclassified 1-A and drafted as soon as possible. But if writing that letter was a cathartic moment for Clinton, it did not resolve his ambivalence. He carried the letter around with him for several weeks. But he never mailed it.
The series of events that led Clinton back to Oxford are in dispute. By Clinton's account, he talked to Col. Holmes and gained permission to return to Oxford for the second year since the basic training that he was required to attend before beginning advanced ROTC would not start until the following summer. Holmes said later that he allowed Clinton to return to Oxford for "a month or two," but expected him to enroll in the law school as soon as possible. But a letter that Clinton wrote Holmes from Oxford in December 1969 in which he apologized for not writing more often - "I know I promised to let you hear from me at least once a month," Clinton said in the letter - is the strongest evidence that Holmes was aware of and approved Clinton's plan to go back to Oxford.
It may be that Holmes made a private agreement with Clinton that he was embarrassed to acknowledge years later. If he did, he apparently never told his subordinates. The rest of the ROTC staff was expecting Clinton to enroll that fall. Ed Howard, the drill instructor, later recalled that there was great anger when word spread through the office that Clinton was not on campus. "A lot of people in the unit were kind of mad about it," Howard said. "We did not know where he was. All we knew is that Bill Clinton did not show up."
Cliff Jackson was among those angered by Clinton's decision. He said in a letter to his girlfriend that he was starting to suspect that Clinton's friendship with him was mere convenience. "Bill Clinton is still trying to wiggle his way out of the disreputable' Arkansas law school," Jackson wrote in one letter. "P.S.," Jackson added in another letter, "Bill has succeeded in wiggling his way back to Oxford."
No one at Oxford had expected Clinton back for a second year. When the American Oxonian, official journal of the Rhodes Association in the United States, published its list of scholars studying at Oxford in the fall of 1969, Clinton's name was not on the roll. He arrived in late September and slept on a rollaway bed in the corner of Rick Stearns's second-floor room at Holywell Manor overlooking a twelfth-century church and graveyard. He was rootless, moving through Oxford with scruffy hair and a red beard and grubby Army coat. He seemed less connected to the establishment than at any other time in his life.
Within a few weeks of his return, however, Clinton's draft status changed once more. He decided to give up the deferment that he had worked so hard to get and resubmit himself to the draft. It is a difficult episode to sort out, muddled by Clinton's various accounts over the years, which tend to be incomplete or contradictory, and by a scarcity of documentary evidence. The essential question is not so much what Clinton did as why he did it. Was it a decision driven by guilt and honor that should be accepted at face value? Or was it the endgame maneuver of a draft-wise young man playing every angle to avoid military service without appearing unpatriotic or duplicitous? There is a temptation to choose one or the other explanation, yes or no, rule out anything in between. But with Clinton, it is rarely that simple. A civil war raged inside him between his conscience and his political will to survive. It seems that he tried to appease both impulses. At times he might have been guided by virtue. Other times he deceived the world, if not himself.
The preponderance of the evidence leads in one direction: to the notion that with each passing week there were more signs that he might not get drafted even if he abandoned his deferment. In the weeks before Clinton's return to Oxford, the government announced several major policy changes concerning the draft. The most significant came on Oct. 1, when President Richard M. Nixon, seeking to defuse the anti-war clamor on campuses, ordered the Selective Service System to change its policy for graduate students. From that day on, graduate students who received draft notices would be allowed to finish the school year. Clinton was safe at least until the following July.
Even before that announcement, the wind of change was in the air. On Sept. 14, newspapers in New York, Washington and Arkansas carried articles quoting sources as saying that the administration would soon withdraw 35,000 troops from Vietnam and suspend the draft temporarily later that fall. On Sept. 17, President Nixon confirmed the troop cuts in Vietnam and said that he would soon announce a major policy change on the draft. Two days later, Nixon announced that the October draft call would be spread out over three months - essentially canceling the call for November and December - while the administration pushed for a draft lottery system. Young men, under the lottery, would be vulnerable to the draft for only one year. Those with high numbers would probably never have to worry about the draft again.
Clinton's draft records show that he held the 1-D deferment from Aug. 7 to Oct. 30, 1969. Those two dates mark the days when the Garland County board met, considered Clinton's case and reclassified him, first from 1-A to 1-D, then back from 1-D to 1-A. These are not the dates, however, when Clinton took the actions that led to the reclassifications. According to the letter he wrote Denise Hyland, Clinton struck his ROTC deal with Col. Holmes on July 17 - three weeks before the board officially approved his 1-D deferment. Similarly, it seems certain that he notified the draft board that he wanted to give up his deferment and be reclassified 1-A sometime before the official Oct. 30 draft board action.
The question of when and why Clinton gave up his deferment is important as it relates to his truthfulness in later accounts and what he would have known about his vulnerability to the draft on the day he made his decision. Twice in his political career - during his first run for governor in 1978 and in his campaign for president - his draft status has come under scrutiny. Both times he specifically said he never had a 1-D deferment. Neither time did he mention he had received an induction notice. In fact, in a 1991 interview, he left the opposite impression. "I expected to be called while I was over there the first year," Clinton said in the interview. "But they never did."
There are no documents substantiating exactly when Clinton asked the draft board to drop his deferment. The best estimate can be deduced from statements made by Randall Scott, who worked with Clinton in organizing an Oct. 15 anti-war protest at the American Embassy in London. Clinton indicated to Scott that some of his high school friends had been killed in Vietnam and that he did not feel right protesting while he remained in what might be viewed a safe haven. On the day of the protest, according to Scott, he told Clinton that carrying a petition to the American Embassy was a brave act by the Rhodes scholars. Clinton's response was, "And I told my draft board to make me 1-A."
It seems likely from Scott's account, then, that Clinton asked the draft board to reclassify him 1-A sometime between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, right during the time when he would have known that he was less vulnerable. In summary, it was a mixed bag of certainties, probabilities and unknowns that Clinton was dealing with that October. But it was not clear that Clinton had avoided the draft completely. He had, whatever his motivations, exposed himself to some degree of risk by asking to be reclassified. If the lottery came, his draft fate would depend on a number.
Luck would help determine the fate of a gambling town's favorite son.
Two months later, on the first day of December 1969, the first draft lottery since World War II began at 8:02 p.m. in a small conference room at the Selective Service System headquarters in Washington. Clinton's birthday brought him luck that night. Aug. 19 was the 311th day picked. The yearly quota for 1970 was predicted to be about 350,000 men, which would be filled at least 100 numbers short of Clinton's No. 311. Although he was theoretically draftable for another year and at times he told friends that his draft board might still get to him, he was, in reality, free.
All that was left for Clinton was to explain his actions to the man who helped him at a crucial moment. On Dec. 3, he wrote a letter to Col. Holmes that would later emerge as the best-known essay of Clinton's life, the testament of a bright, troubled, manipulative young man struggling with his conscience and his ambition. It was in the letter to Holmes, which resurfaced during the 1992 presidential campaign, that Clinton thanked Holmes for "saving me from the draft" while noting at the same time that the only reason he even temporarily "accepted the draft" despite his political beliefs was "to maintain my political viability within the system."
In a situation where Clinton once thought all his options were bad, he had avoided everything that he did not want to do. He did not want to get drafted and fight in Vietnam. He did not want to spend three years in the safe haven of ROTC, and two years after that as a commissioned lieutenant, even if the war had ended long before then. He did not want to go to the University of Arkansas School of Law when so many of his Rhodes friends were heading to Yale. And he did not want to feel guilty about his deferment. "It was just a fluke," Clinton would say years later, when first asked how he had made it through this period without serving in the military.
But of course it was not a fluke. A fluke is a wholly accidental stroke of good luck. What happened to Clinton during that fateful year did not happen by accident. He fretted and planned, he got help from others when necessary, and he was ultimately lucky. In the end, by not serving in the military, he did what 16 million other young men did during that tumultuous era.
[Editor's Note: Following is the second set of excerpts as published in The Washington Post on Feb. 6, 1995.]
Bill Clinton went out into the world as a favorite son, barely 18 years old, and now, nine years later, a man of 27, he was back. He had survived the perilous journey through the '60s and come home with his mission accomplished. He had established his academic credentials at Georgetown, Oxford and Yale. He had woven his way through the war years undamaged in body if not in soul. He had proved that he could compete with the brightest of his generation, and indeed had constructed a vast network of contemporaries who would stand by him for the rest of his career. He had learned the ways of Capitol Hill and engaged in the rollicking and dirty business of electoral politics in Connecticut and Texas. He had visited the capitals of Europe and gazed upon Lenin's Tomb and Shelley's mausoleum and searched in the cold Welsh rain for the birthplace of Dylan Thomas.
Now he was home in his green, green grassy place, his folk-tale Arkansas, here to begin Act Two: a political life.
His relationship with his state was shaped by a triangular internal contradiction that would stay with him from then on. At one point of the triangle was myth: the way he would romanticize the Arkansas of huge watermelons and simple country folk, especially when he was away from it. At a second point of the triangle was pragmatism: the realization that Arkansas was the easiest base, the only base, for his political rise. At the third point of the triangle was ambition: a powerful desire to move beyond his provincial roots.
Not long after moving to Fayetteville to teach law at the University of Arkansas in August of 1973, he appeared at a watermelon party of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee. The event was held in the sprawling two-acre back yard behind the grand old house of Ann and Morriss Henry along Highway 45. The party regulars at the Henry house were local figures of the sort that any aspiring politician would need to know. Clinton swept through the crowd as though he were an honored guest. "Somebody brought him," Ann Henry recalled later. "He had just got to town, he shook hands, he talked, and by the time he left he knew every single person there. It was a perfect way for him to leave an impression."
Years later, perpetuating the myth that his life progressed in a series of accidents and uncalculated events, Clinton would insist that he embarked on his first political candidacy reluctantly and only after he had failed to persuade several other people to make the race. In fact, he seemed eager, hungry - anything but reluctant.
He told Rudy Moore, a progressive state legislator who was an early Clinton backer, that he wanted to run for office but believed that a seat in the state legislature would not satisfy him. At age 28 there would be nothing extraordinary about Clinton serving in the state legislature. His boyhood friend, Mack McLarty, had gone to the state capital as a representative when he was 25. In the realm of state politics, Clinton was too old to be called a boy wonder. "He felt he had to go bigger," Moore said later. "He had his eye on a higher prize."
There was one obvious choice. He would run for Congress.
Political aide Ron Addington was in Little Rock, spending the weekend with his girlfriend, when Clinton called him from Fayetteville on the Sunday morning of Feb. 24, 1974.
"I'm announcing tomorrow," Clinton said.
"Tomorrow?" Addington gasped.
"Yeah, we're setting up some press conferences."
"Okay, let's do it!" Addington said.
That was Clinton, he thought: impetuous, hungry, thinking that he could conquer the world in a day. And this was not even a normal day. It was a Sunday. And Clinton wanted press conferences in four cities to kick off his bid for the Democratic nomination in the 3rd Congressional District: Fort Smith, the district's largest city; Fayetteville, Clinton's new base; Hot Springs, his hometown; and Little Rock, the state capital and headquarters for the state press corps.
It would be a monumental feat to make it to all four sites in a single day. Addington told Clinton that he would go to work on rounding up the press and meet Clinton in Russellville, a midpoint in the triangle between Little Rock, Fayetteville and Hot Springs, where they would spend the night in preparation for the first press conference the next morning.
Clinton arrived in Russellville late, and he and Addington headed out over the mountain to Hot Springs, one of the most perilous drives in Arkansas. Clinton was driving as he always drove, carelessly, talking and gesturing the whole time, his eyes often off the road, every now and then swerving wildly into the oncoming lane or running his right tires onto the shoulder. The car had no passing power, but Clinton would try to pass anyway, usually when he was chugging uphill heading into a blind curve. Halfway through the trip, Addington turned to Clinton and said, "If we survive, you are never going to drive again when I'm in the car!"
At 8 o'clock on Monday morning in frigid 22 degree weather, 60 Clinton friends and relatives gathered at the Avenelle Motor Lodge in Hot Springs for the announcement. Here, at long last, was the opening moment of Bill Clinton's political career. He went after his Republican opponent, John Paul Hammerschmidt, right away, ignoring his primary challengers. "If the people demand more honest politics," he said, "they'll get more honest politics."
His mother, Virginia, stood nearby. "All smiles," as Addington remembered her. "All smiles and laughing."
In the small world of Democratic politics in northwest Arkansas, the center of the action was Billie Schneider's little restaurant. At a long picnic table in her back room, Schneider's friends gathered several nights a week to drink beer and chew on large juicy steaks and even juicier politics. It was an eclectic crowd ranging from long-haired college students to wealthy lawyers who looked to her for the latest town gossip. Schneider was the godmother of Washington County politics, a yellow dog Democrat who sometimes refused to serve diners whom she considered too Republican. She looked like a saloon owner from the Old West: her voice deep and raspy from too many cigarettes, her face craggy and shaped by the ups and downs of her life. She drank and swore and was not afraid to tell people what she thought about them. She had the outgoing personality of Clinton's mother, Virginia, and was not shy about offering the young law professor political advice.
One of the campaign's first press releases referred to William J. Clinton, which is how his name was printed in a local newspaper. Schneider saw it and called Clinton's campaign headquarters. Addington answered the phone. "You and Bill get your butts up here and I mean just as soon as you can!" Schneider yelled.
Addington explained that Clinton was out campaigning and would not be back until later that night.
"Well, when he gets in, get your butts up here!" Schneider said.
Addington and Clinton walked into the restaurant just before closing. The sight of Clinton's formal first name and middle initial sickened Schneider's populist soul. She wanted to make sure Clinton understood that he was back in Arkansas. This was not Georgetown, Oxford or Yale.
"What is this William J. Clinton?" she asked. "You're not gonna run as William J. Clinton. You're Bill Clinton. And you're gonna run as Bill Clinton!"
Like So Many Of The People who were drawn into Clinton's orbit, the workers in his congressional campaign were alternately inspired and exhausted. College students accustomed to staying up late, but also sleeping late, had a hard time keeping pace with him.
In the May primary against three opponents and again in the June runoff, Clinton was a political whirlwind. He began with 12 percent name recognition and little money, and ended up easily prevailing in both races. He was always on the move from town to town, staying in the homes of friends or newfound political allies, or at his mother's place if they ended the night near Hot Springs. His schedule was invariably on the remake, thrown off by his compulsion to stop and chat. Sometimes the Fayetteville staff lost touch with him. If he was working the southern stretch of the district, they would leave messages at the "Y" City Cafe, certain that he would stop at that tiny crossroads eatery on his way between Hot Springs and Fort Smith, lured by the gossip awaiting him there and the seductive coconut cream pie.
For many politicians, the incessant demands of a campaign are the most enervating aspects of public life. One face after another, one more plea for money, one more speech where the words blur in dull repetition - at some point it can become too much.
Not for Clinton. To him, the prospect of attending a pie supper in towns such as "Y" City or Mount Ida seemed invigorating. Pie suppers rank among the most cherished political folk rituals in western Arkansas. On any Saturday night during an election season, communities gather for an evening of entertainment as pies and cakes baked by local women are sold at auction, with the money going to volunteer fire departments or other civic institutions. One savory pecan pie can sell for three figures, especially if the politicians in attendance try to buy some goodwill and end up in a bidding war, as frequently happens. Homemade desserts, picnic tables lined with voters, plenty of talking and raucous storytelling, usually some barbecue at the rear counter - Clinton was never more in his element. He also realized that every pie supper he attended helped him transform his image from the long-haired Rhodes scholar and law professor into a young man of the people.
Clinton was worried that Hammerschmidt's campaign might make an issue of the manner in which he had avoided military service in 1969. Hammerschmidt was a World War II Air Force pilot who strongly supported the Vietnam War and had close ties to veterans' groups in the district. The documentary record of Clinton's actions after he received his draft notice at Oxford five years earlier was resting in a file inside a fireproof half-ton vault at the University of Arkansas ROTC building a few blocks down the hill from the law school. The documents included a letter to the director of the ROTC program, Col. Eugene J. Holmes, in which Clinton denounced the war and thanked Holmes for eventually saving him from the draft.
Clinton's usual response to anyone who asked him about his military record was that he had received a high draft number in the lottery and was never called. He discussed the more complicated details of his draft history with only a few friends. One was Paul Fray, who had joined the campaign. "He told me what he said in the letter about the war," Fray said later. "I told him that he could get into a pickle if the Republicans got the letter and that he should try to get the original back."
Holmes had retired, and was living in northwest Arkansas. How Clinton contacted him and persuaded him to return the letter is unclear. Some members of the ROTC staff believe that Clinton relied on intermediaries from the university administration, where he had several friends and political supporters. Decades later, the colonel would label Clinton a draft dodger and claim that he had been deceived, but the evidence indicates that in 1974 he was still willing to help Clinton. ROTC drill instructor Ed Howard later recalled that Holmes called him that summer and "said he wanted the Clinton letter out of the files." Howard, a noncommissioned officer, was alone in the office; most of the staff was at summer training at Fort Riley, Kan. He called the unit commander, Col. Guy Tutwiler, at Fort Riley and informed him of Holmes's request. Tutwiler instructed Howard to make a copy of the Clinton letter and give it to Holmes, but to keep the original. A member of Holmes's family stopped by the ROTC headquarters and picked up the letter.
Later that afternoon, Tutwiler called Howard again and told him to take the original letter and everything else in that file, which was among the records the ROTC had maintained on Vietnam War-era dissidents, and send it to him at Fort Riley by certified mail. According to Howard, Tutwiler later explained that he had "destroyed the file, burned the file," because the military no longer maintained dissident files and he did not feel that Clinton's letter should ever "be used against him for political reasons." According to Fray, Clinton ended up with a copy of his letter to Holmes, and assumed that "the situation was done with." He did not know that Holmes's top aide, Lt. Col. Clinton Jones, had already made a copy of the letter.
Inside the Clinton campaign, they all called Clinton "the Boy." "The Boy's on a roll today," they would say. Or, "The Boy's in a pisser of a mood."
The nickname was in part complimentary: it evoked Clinton's youth, friendliness and achievement. But it also had a subtext that addressed the immature aspects of his personality. The Boy never wanted to go to bed. The Boy had no concept of money. Once, early in the campaign, the Boy called Addington and announced that he had to come over to Addington's apartment to shower and shave because he had forgotten to pay his utility bills and his water and power had been turned off.
The Boy had a tendency to talk too much and could not always be trusted to keep campaign matters in confidence. One day he told reporters about internal poll results, prompting Doug Wallace and David Ivey, the two aides in charge of press matters, to issue a blistering memo that was labeled "To all District Headquarters Staff," but was directed primarily at Clinton. "The damage done by the release of the last poll without the accompanying previous poll can only be judged after some time, but it is obvious that it has hurt," they wrote. "From now until the time Bill Clinton finishes this campaign, NO ONE will talk, or even breathe in the direction of a news reporter, without first clearing it with David Ivey or Doug Wallace. THIS ALSO MEANS THE CANDIDATE."
The Boy could throw a fit when he felt frustrated. He would explode in a flash, then act as though it had never happened. Harry Truman Moore, a law student who served as his photographer, remembered that Clinton would often snap at his travel aides when they tried to pull away from a crowd to keep him closer to his schedule. "He'd say, Don't ever pull me away from a crowd like that again!' Then, 10 minutes later, he'd say, Why are we late?' We'd all get used to it."
His most memorable eruptions came in arguments with Hillary Rodham, his girlfriend from Yale Law School days. Rodham had arrived in Arkansas in mid-August to help in the campaign straight from Washington, where she had just finished a grueling stint as a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry of President Richard M. Nixon. One day Addington, Clinton and Rodham were on their way to an event in Eureka Springs. Clinton and Rodham were debating how to handle a campaign issue.
"Bill wanted to do one thing. She wanted to do another," Addington recalled. "They started shouting at each other. I was driving. Bill was in the front seat, Hillary in the back. He was hitting the dashboard. She was hitting the seat. They were going at it. We drove up a street near the headquarters and stopped at a light. Hillary said, I'm getting out!' She got out and slammed the door. And Bill said, Go on.' We got out on the highway and I was going fast because we were late. Bill started venting his anger on me. It was one of the most uncomfortable times I've ever spent with him. Then he took a short nap. When he woke up, everything was fine."
Rodham was a central figure during the final weeks of the campaign. She was, thought campaign worker Mary Lee Fray, "fighting for her man" romantically and politically. One of the worst-kept secrets during the early days of the campaign was that Clinton had become involved in a relationship with a young female campaign worker who was a student at the university. Soon after Hillary arrived from Washington, the woman went into exile.
Rodham took on several aides whose style she disapproved of. Addington came to think of Rodham as a negative force. "We lost the spirit because of her. Everybody started bickering with everybody else," he said later. In a memo to Clinton, campaign aide Doug Wallace noted that though he thought Rodham's "intentions were the best," her presence was more negative than positive.
Most of Rodham's bickering was with Paul Fray, a strong-willed political operator. Their power struggle reached a critical stage near the end when they got into several arguments over money. The campaign needed more funds to compete with Hammerschmidt on television and to ensure a strong get-out-the-vote effort, but Rodham advised against borrowing too much or taking it from questionable sources. In one instance, according to the accounts of Fray and several other campaign aides, Rodham took the ethical high ground, Clinton vacillated, and Fray was willing to do whatever it took to win. Fray says that he was contacted by a lawyer representing dairy interests who had $15,000 ready for the campaign. The implication was that the money would come from the dairy industry with expectations that if Clinton became congressman he would serve their interests, and it would go to election boxes in Fort Smith where votes could still be bought.
In several parts of Arkansas in those days, voters still cast paper ballots that went into cardboard boxes. There were frequent allegations that different boxes were stuffed and that payoffs were required to prevent stuffing. "The attorney already had the money," Fray said later. "It was a question of me picking it up and delivering it. I knew there were places where we could spend a little money and it would turn out right."
At a late-night meeting at headquarters, Fray discussed the deal with Clinton and Rodham. Rodham flatly rejected the proposal. "She nixed it," according to Fray. "She got adamant. She said to Bill, No! You don't want to be a party to this.' I said, Look, you want to win or you want to lose?' She said, Well, I don't want to win this way. If we can't earn it, we can't go :to Washington:.' "
On Nov. 5, election night, the mood was buoyant. Reports from the field indicated that the race was close. By midnight, every county had reported except the largest and most conservative one, Sebastian County, home to Fort Smith. Clinton was leading by several thousand votes, but Clinton supporters at the Sebastian County Courthouse were picking up reports of vote tampering. Several aides piled into a car and drove to Fort Smith. They milled around for a while, but determined there was nothing they could do and drove back to Fayetteville.
The Fort Smith tally finally came in with an enormous swing in Hammerschmidt's direction. Clinton had lost by 6,000 votes. Paul Fray started swearing and throwing things out the window. "It was the goddamn money," he said. Clinton realized, though, that he had won for losing. His race was the most talked about contest in the state. He had become the darling of the Democratic Party by taking on a tough incumbent and coming within 2 percentage points of defeating him. "We accomplished a miracle out here," Clinton told his staff. "We started with no name recognition and look what we accomplished. We scared the pants off that guy." One morning soon after the election, Clinton drove to the square in downtown Fayetteville and started shaking hands. He stood in the square all day. His friends thought it was his way of cooling down after nine months of nonstop campaigning. No, there was more to it than that. He was warming up. The next race had already begun.
[Editor's note: Following is the third set of excerpts as published in The Washington Post on Feb. 7, 1995.]
Eighteen years after the 32 Rhodes scholars of the class of 1968 sailed across the Atlantic aboard the SS United States on their way to the ancient colleges of Oxford, where they were trained as "the best men for the world's fight," the old boys were reaching 40. Doctor, lawyer, scientist, professor, journalist, investor, art curator, military officer - most of them had reached some level of achievement in their professions. But only one class member seemed intent on engaging in the world's fight in the largest sense of Cecil Rhodes's imperative. In 1986, in the annual class letter in the American Oxonian, secretary Bob Reich finally broached a subject that he and many of his classmates had contemplated since their days together in England: Bill Clinton running for president.
"The latest polls in Arkansas show that the governor has a 72 This is the last of three excerpts from David Maraniss's new book, "First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton." percent approval rating, which places him in the same category as McDonald's hamburgers and Dan Rather, ahead of Ronald Reagan and the new Coca-Cola," Reich wrote in the jocular style that characterized his yearly reports. "Rumor has it that Bill will be the Democratic candidate for president in 1988. I just made up that rumor, but by the time you read this, the rumor will have spread to the ends of the nation."
The expectation was always there. It had started long before there was any sense to it, back when Clinton's mother had boasted that a second-grade teacher had told her that her boy could be president. Or perhaps it went back generations further, back to his poor southern forebears who connected themselves, if only in name, to things presidential: back to Thomas Jefferson Blythe, a Confederate private from Tippah County, Miss., who once bet a saddle on the outcome of a sheriff's race; and to Andrew Jackson Blythe of Tennessee; and to George Washington Cassidy of Red Level, Ala. Wherever it came from, it was always there, not a matter of predestination but of expectation and will, and it had built up year by year, decade by decade.
Early on the evening of March 20, 1987, the office of Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas issued a brief statement announcing that Bumpers would not run for president in 1988. The announcement came as a surprise to some in the political world. Since the beginning of the year, Bumpers had been traveling the country, meeting with prominent Democratic Party financiers and operatives, seeming to prepare the groundwork for a presidential campaign. But this was not the first time that Bumpers had edged toward the national spotlight and then backed away. He had first been urged to run for president in 1976, shortly after he left the governor's office for the Senate. He had considered it again in 1984. Now, at 61, he was taking himself out of consideration for the last time. Running for president, he said in his statement, "means a total disruption of the closeness my family has cherished. If victorious, much of that closeness is necessarily lost forever."
Whatever Bumpers did or did not do was always of great interest to Clinton. Their relationship had gone through brief periods of hostility and longer periods of reconciliation and alliance, but it had always been marked by a certain amount of tension. They were separated by 20 years in age, yet often got in each other's way. With Bumpers out of the presidential derby, Clinton now seriously considered making the race.
Clinton and Betsey Wright, his longtime aide, dispatched scouts to Iowa, New Hampshire and several "Super Tuesday" primary states to gauge how a Clinton candidacy might be received. Little Rock state Rep. Gloria Cabe, whose loyalty to Clinton went back to the bleak days after his defeat in the 1980 governor's race, ventured up to New Hampshire and spent three days in a Holiday Inn calling campaign activists from a list Clinton had compiled. Clinton's first swing through the state went so well that he returned "flying like a kite," convinced that he could finish second there and win the southern primaries.
In the early morning of May 7, another Democrat was scratched from the field. It was Gary Hart, who was forced to withdraw in the face of allegations and documented evidence regarding his extramarital sex life, which Hart had helped turn into an issue by denying that he was a philanderer. Longtime political pros who had been allied with Hart now looked to Clinton as an alternative. But there was the lingering question: Did Bill Clinton have a Gary Hart problem?
As journalists and party activists in Washington asked the question among themselves, and in so doing advanced Clinton's reputation as a womanizer, Clinton and his advisers struggled with how to deal with it. Bob Armstrong, the former Texas land commissioner who had developed an easygoing, big brotherly friendship with Clinton since they worked together in the 1972 George McGovern presidential campaign, had several telephone conversations with Clinton in the aftermath of the Hart implosion. One of the issues Clinton brought up, according to Armstrong, was whether there was "a statute of limitations on infidelity - whether you get any credit for getting it back together."
Clinton and Betsey Wright also had several private debates about the lessons of the Hart episode. Clinton "wanted to believe and advocated that it was irrelevant to whether the guy could be a good president," Wright recalled. She argued that it had a significant bearing in Hart's case "because it raised questions about his stability." Any previous affairs might have been irrelevant, she said, but "to have one while he was running was foolhardy."
Clinton agreed. Hart, he said, was foolish to flaunt it.
Dick Morris, a longtime Clinton pollster and consultant whose clients were now primarily Republicans, was brought into the discussions. Clinton questioned Morris about how he thought the public would react to the infidelity issue. They gingerly explored different ways to address the topic or sidestep it. Morris sensed that Clinton had "a tremendous terror of the race because of the personal scandals that were visited upon candidates who ran. His experience watching candidates be destroyed by those scandals or impaired by them chilled him, and led him to a feeling that this was a terribly inhospitable environment upon which to tread."
The issue, Morris said, "loomed large in his consideration. It loomed very large." The momentum kept building for Clinton to run. Wright and her assistants rented a ballroom at the Excelsior Hotel for a possible announcement. But rumors about Clinton's extramarital sex life intensified in Little Rock. A few days before the scheduled announcement, Wright met with Clinton at her home on Hill Street. The time had come, she felt, for Clinton to get past what she considered his self-denial tendencies and face the issue squarely. For years, she told friends later, she had been covering up for him. She was convinced that some state troopers were soliciting women for him, and he for them, she said. Sometimes when Clinton was on the road, Wright would call his room in the middle of the night and no one would answer. She hated that part of him, but felt that the other sides of him overshadowed his personal weaknesses.
"Okay," she said as they sat in her living room. Then she started listing the names of women with whom he had allegedly had affairs. "Now," she concluded, "I want you to tell me the truth about every one." She went over the list twice with Clinton. At the end, she suggested that he should not get into the race. He owed it to his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, not to. She did not know what he planned to do.
The next day, she drove to the airport and picked up Carl Wagner, the first of a group of Clinton friends who were traveling to Little Rock for the announcement. Wagner and Clinton had gone through the McGovern campaign together - Wagner running the Michigan effort while Clinton ran Texas. They had kept in touch ever since. Clinton had asked Wagner to come down to Little Rock a day early to help "think this thing through." On the way back from the airport, Wright did not tell Wagner about her encounter with Clinton. She did offer her opinion that her boss seemed "too conflicted" and "might not be ready."
Wagner met with Clinton and Hillary that night. They sat around the kitchen table and talked for several hours. It was, Wagner recalled, a blunt conversation in which he and Hillary assessed the practicality of Clinton making the presidential race. Could Clinton raise $20 million? Did he have the time he needed? They analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the other candidates, especially the probable Republican nominee, Vice President George Bush. Wagner thought that the economy would be strong enough to make Bush difficult to beat. Clinton was surprised by that argument and launched into a long discussion of economic policy. Wagner noticed that Clinton was more comfortable talking about policy, depersonalizing the discussion. He wondered whether Clinton was prepared for the consequences if he became a candidate. At the end of the evening, as Clinton and Hillary moved toward the stairs leading from the kitchen up to their second-floor bedroom, Clinton turned to Wagner, who was still seated at the table, and asked, "So what's the bottom line?"
"I tell you what," Wagner responded. "When you reach the top of the steps, walk into your daughter's bedroom, look at her and understand that if you do this, your relationship with her will never be the same. I'm not sure if it will be worse or better, but it will never be the same."
After Clinton disappeared up the steps, Wagner went to the phone and called Steve Cohen, another old Clinton friend who planned to be at the announcement. "Jesus Christ," Cohen remembered Wagner telling him, "this guy doesn't know whether he wants to run!" Cohen called another friend, Sandy Berger, who also had plane reservations for Little Rock. There was a chance Clinton might not run, Cohen told Berger. They decided to fly in anyway.
By early afternoon the next day, a dozen Clinton friends from around the country had congregated at the Governor's Mansion for an announcement-eve luncheon. Most waited in the living room as Clinton sat on the porch steps leading out to the back lawn, engaged in a final conversation with Wagner and Mickey Kantor, a California lawyer and Democratic activist who had been part of Clinton's network since the Jimmy Carter era. If Clinton had made up his mind after the encounter with Betsey Wright, if he had reached a decision after the discussion with Wagner in the kitchen the night before, he still felt a need to weigh the options to the last possible moment.
As the three men talked, Chelsea, then 7 years old, approached her father and asked him about a family vacation planned for later that summer. As Kantor remembered the scene, Clinton told his daughter that he might not be able to go because be might be running for president. "Well," Kantor recalled Chelsea responding, "then Mom and I will go without you."
Chelsea had always had a powerful effect on Clinton. The subtext of his relationship with his daughter was his own unfortunate history with fathers. He did not want to be considered a neglectful father himself, yet his political obsession gave him little time with Chelsea. He would try to soften the guilt by joking about it, often telling the story of how, when Chelsea was asked to describe what her father did, she had said, "He gives speeches, drinks coffee and talks on the telephone." It was as true as it was amusing. Now, when Kantor saw the look on Clinton's face after Chelsea matter-of-factly scratched her father from the family vacation plans, he was sure that Clinton would not run for president that year. "It was the turning point of the conversation," Kantor said later.
Clinton faced the gathering of friends in the dining room and apologized for luring them all to Little Rock for no reason. No problem, they said, one after another. The struggle between family and ambition was something all of them had dealt with in various ways.
Clinton's statement was issued late in the day. "I need some family time; I need some personal time," he said. "Politicians are people too. I think sometimes we forget it, but they really are. The only thing I or any other candidate has to offer in running for president is what's inside. . . . That part of my life needs renewal. The other, even more important reason for my decision is the certain impact that this campaign would have had on our daughter. The only way I could have won, getting in this late, after others had been working up to two years, would be to go on the road full time from now until the end, and to have Hillary do the same thing. . . . I've seen a lot of kids grow up under these pressures and a long, long time ago I made a promise to myself that if I was ever lucky enough to have a child, she would never grow up wondering who her father was."
The year 1990 presented Clinton with one of the toughest political decisions of his career: whether to seek reelection again. He had been governor for 10 of the last 12 years. What more could he do? he asked his advisers. He seemed tired of the job and feared that the people of Arkansas had grown weary of him.
Clinton's state of mind further complicated the decision about whether to relinquish the governorship. He seemed to be "dithering and depressed," in the view of Dick Morris, who had helped construct the permanent campaign that had carried Clinton through the 1980s. As Morris saw it, Clinton's dilemma was that he was temporarily without a crusade and that he was incapable of being a caretaker chief executive. He had to be engaged in "some important, valiant fight for the good of the world to lend coherence and structure to his life, and when he didn't have those fights he would turn on himself, he would eat away at himself, he would become depressed, paranoid, surly and, one suspects, escapist."
There were persuasive reasons to remain in the governor's office. If Clinton left and ran for president as a former governor, he would be depriving himself of status and a financial power base, especially if President Bush appeared unbeatable in 1992 and Clinton ended up postponing his national run until 1996. He was getting strong advice from former governors not to give up the job until he had to. They missed it, they said, and he would too.
Hillary seemed as unclear as anyone else about her husband's plans, even after he had scheduled a press conference to announce his decision. On the day before the event, Hillary called Gloria Cabe and asked whether she had any inside information on what Clinton had decided. Betsey Wright, who was still on leave from her post as chief of staff, talked to him on the morning of the announcement and was convinced up to 30 minutes beforehand he intended to say he would not run again. Cabe was among those who thought he had decided not to run and changed his mind when he entered the room and began to speak. David Leopolous, one of Clinton's closest high school friends, later recalled that "you could have knocked Hillary over with a feather when Clinton declared that he was seeking another term."
"She did not expect it," Leopolous said. "None of us did."
The following summer, Clinton talked to scores of friends about whether he should run for president in 1992. He could present a convincing case either way, as he always could. One of his arguments on the negative side had echoes of 1987. He would say that he was not sure that Chelsea was ready. There was a new problem as well: his promise to the voters of Arkansas that he would serve out his term as governor.
In August, Hillary went up to Bentonville for a meeting of the Wal-Mart environmental board, which she chaired. Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and Roy Spence, head of a Texas advertising agency, were also there. Mauro and Spence had known the Clintons since the McGovern campaign in Texas. Now Mauro was on the Wal-Mart environmental board with Hillary, and Spence had the company's advertising account. After the meeting, Hillary said, "Let's drive around."
Spence drove around aimlessly. Mauro sat in the back and Hillary in front. "We're thinking about doing it," Hillary said. "We're thinking about going forward with this great adventure. What do you all think?"
"This is what we've been waiting for, for a long time," Spence said.
Hillary said there were some problems and she needed their advice. "Bill made a contract with the people of Arkansas to not run and he's really worried about it," she said.
Spence said it was important to "lance that boil." How? asked Hillary.
"Your enemies will hold it against you, but your friends don't have to," Spence said. "They'll want you to run. Get in the car and drive around Arkansas and seek the counsel of the family members."
Spence circled back to the Wal-Mart parking lot and turned off the engine.
"You know, Roy, they'll say a lot of things about our marriage," Hillary said.
"What should we do about that?"
"Admit it. Early."
That subject got a more thorough vetting at a meeting that the Clintons held with their closest political advisers. They convened in the office of Frank Greer, a media consultant working for Clinton. In dealing with reporters and political operatives all summer, Greer had come to realize that Clinton had "an incredible reputation around town" for philandering. The next morning, Clinton was scheduled to meet the elite of Washington's political press corps at a traditional function known as the Sperling Breakfast, founded by Godfrey Sperling Jr. of the Christian Science Monitor. What should he do, if anything, to assure this crowd that his personal life was under control, that he would not implode like Gary Hart?
The mention of the subject irked Clinton. The rules had changed since Hart, he said. Now there was so much hypocrisy involved. If you just go out and divorce your wife, you never have to deal with this. But if you work at your problem, if you make a commitment, then you do. So people are rewarded in politics if they divorce their wives. That was the genesis of the answer they decided Clinton should give at the Sperling Breakfast. He would say that he had had some problems, but that he and Hillary had worked things through and they were committed to their marriage.
The next morning, before the breakfast, Greer encouraged several reporters to ask about Clinton's sex life. No one seemed eager to do it. Finally, as the session was nearing an end, the question came up. Clinton replied that it was the sort of trivia that people obsessed about while Rome was in decline. With Hillary at his side, he added: "Like nearly anybody who has been together for 20 years, our relationship has not been perfect or free from difficulties, but we feel good about where we are and we believe in our obligation to each other, and we intend to be together 30 or 40 years from now, whether I run for president or not."