Clinton in crisis: Our boy has let us down, say the folk in Little Rock

Clinton in crisis: the American public remains divided on whether the President should go as lawyers prepare his fightback
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The Independent Online
IN LITTLE ROCK, "the capital President Clinton first called home", as the sign on the city's outskirts puts it, they were reading the details of Kenneth Starr's charges against their former governor with no less relish, but a little more sadness, than the rest of America.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the only state-wide paper, carried the full text of the Starr report with a prominent health warning. "Cautionary note to our readers," the paper began. "Many passages in the report contain descriptions and language that are frankly unsuitable for a family newspaper . . . we have arranged the report so that it can be easily separated from the rest of today's paper."

On a balmy Saturday morning, the people of Little Rock read it on benches along the banks of the Arkansas River, in the popular Riverfront Park and on Center Street, where Bill and Hillary Clinton used to live in the suburban red-brick governor's mansion. The paper was sold out before most folks had finished breakfast.

No disrespect intended, but Little Rock - population 175,000 - is not America's most Internet-aware town. The folks got a smattering of the Starr report from CNN on Friday night but it was not until they browsed through the local paper yesterday morning that the full story hit them, headlined: "Starr report: Sex and Lies."

"He's an idiot. If he lied about that, what else is he lying about?" asked Karen Edwards, a receptionist at Little Rock's Capital hotel.

The Democrat Gazette was dropped off in Mr Clinton's home town, three hours away, where the locals like to tell strangers, "I live in Hope". The town's tourism slogan says, "Good times are big, sweet and juicy". But it has nothing to do with its most famous son's reported sexual appetite, referring instead to Hope's renowned watermelons, which sometimes weigh more than Monica Lewinsky. "We are disappointed," said J W Rowe, a retired state civil servant in Hope who now runs a paper recycling business. "Folks here are Christian folks. I know the boy [Mr Clinton] personally. I think you could say we feel he let us down.

Back in Little Rock, Billy Glasscock exclaimed: "Heck, to think that the infamous business started right over there." He was on the footpath opposite the Excelsior hotel, where Mr Clinton as governor allegedly attempted to dally with Paula Jones.

"This is a media thing. The man had an affair with another woman. Ain't the first and ain't gonna be the last," said Frederick Lyons, an 80-year- old taxi driver who could pass for half that age. " 'Fore he came in [as governor], there was no jobs around here. Now, most everybody got a job."

The younger generation had heard the news before venturing out on Friday night to the trendy Flying Saucer restaurant and bar, where the waitresses wear T-shirts showing a pint of ale with the slogan, "Good head".

"What's the big deal? Lewinsky was a big girl. Very big, actually," said Heather Smith, a 21-year-old employee of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, as she ordered a "Purple Haze", an ale coloured with something the bartender could not describe. "He (Mr Clinton) probably had more fun at the Toad Suck Daze."

That, it seems, is an annual rave in a town outside Little Rock. "The guy's nuts," added Lynette Byram, a 25-year-old waitress. "Paula Jones had just filed a lawsuit against him, and he was doing Monica."

Stan King, a 29-year-old who left nursing for a career in sales because the former could not pay his rent, had this to say: "Look, the money they spent on this investigation could have immunised kids in half the southern states, underprivileged kids whose parents just don't have the money."

But Hal Daub, mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, who was attending a conference in Little Rock was downcast. "This is a sad day for my country. I take no pride in saying this, but it is embarrassing for the United States," he said.

"He's the Artful Dodger but this time he got caught."