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Style Showcase Jim McDougal Had
His Way With Words

By Lloyd Grove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 1998; Page B01

Say what you will about James McDougal, he was no shrinking violet. He was a bright sunflower of a man -- a tad wild, maybe, but also a riot of color. He was an unabashed dandy, tending toward brass-handled walking sticks, immaculate ice cream suits and a Panama hat to cover his perfectly bald head. Like the charmer he was, he also talked a good game -- his always interesting patter alternately baroque and earthy.

When he died yesterday at age 57, he deprived the world of yet another Whitewater defendant. Until late 1992, he had been the business partner of then-Gov. Bill Clinton and his wife in the notoriously ill-fated Arkansas land project -- the man who enticed them into the deal in the first place.

When Whitewater became the object of a federal investigation, McDougal and his ex-wife, Susan, were at first staunchly loyal to the Clintons. Susan McDougal continues to languish in jail because of her noncooperation. But after Jim's conviction on several counts of fraud, he changed his tune. In the beginning he was the sworn enemy of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, yet by last year he was cooperating with Starr in return for reduced prison time.

But McDougal stopped talking yesterday -- depriving Starr of a potentially damaging witness against Hillary Rodham Clinton (who pointedly did not join the president's statement of condolence to McDougal's family) and silencing, once and for all, the cantankerous, idiosyncratic voice of an Arkansas original.

He sat down for an interview in April 1996, just before he went to the White House to sit in on the president's videotaped deposition in his case. Some of the things he had to say are still memorable.

On Hillary Clinton: "What really irritates me the most, as a Roosevelt Democrat . . . is this constant self-comparison with Eleanor Roosevelt. We didn't get any Eleanor! But we got a lot of Evita. . . . Here's what is, shall we say, infuriating. . . . Everybody's got their own baggage to carry or not carry. But when they get so goddamn sanctimonious, and want to parade themselves as intellectuals, that makes you want to get down and choke them!"

On President Clinton: "He is very likable. He's the kind of fellow that everybody else wants to protect and help."

On Ken Starr: "He's typical of all Republican politicians. They're moral and physical cowards."

On the tenets of Dixie manhood: "As a Southerner, I'm more outraged at what they're doing to the women than what they're doing to me."

On the public image of Arkansas: "You see, the reporters arrived down there with the thought that we're a bunch of savages sitting around an open fire, maybe eating a little human flesh, and that we can't read and write."

On himself: "I never thought of myself as tough. Stubborn. Inordinately stubborn. And sort of a screwball. . . . I become more angelic as I grow older. . . . I suppose there is an upside to this. Obviously, I could have died an obscure fellow, buried in the corner of somebody's pasture. I suppose I've at least left my mark, however small it may be."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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