BROWNSIGNING

No sooner had Bill Clinton been elected president than these things started sprouting on roadsides and medians....

"Hope--Birthplace of President Bill Clinton."Hope Clinton Sign

There are so many it's almost a joke. "Has your town got its Clinton sign yet?"

We're understandably proud of our hometown boy what made good, even if we don't entirely agree with all of his policies or approve of some of his shenanigans. The country knew he was a hound when they elected him.


"Hot Springs--Boyhood Home of President Bill Clinton."Hot Springs Clinton Sign

The thing that pleases us most about Clinton's success is the fact that everybody outside Arkansas expected him to fail. They all said that the bumpkin from the sticks was a political lightweight that would in short order be devoured by beltway sharks. They all said he wasn't up to the task of dealing with foreign heads of state or handling the complexities of foreign policy. He was accused of staffing the White House with a bunch of bright-but-naive kids who were "playing president."

What can I say? All those political pundits turned out to be wrong.

"Little Rock--The First Capital President Clinton Called Home."Little Rock Clinton Sign

In our enthusiasm for establishing our relationship with Mr. Clinton, we can sometimes appear a little needy, using the most tenuous of connections to justify erecting a sign. Take for example the brownsign that reads, "Fayetteville--First Home of Bill and Hillary Clinton."

"Fayetteville--First Home of Bill and Hillary Clinton"Fayetteville Clinton Sign

As pleased and proud as we are, though, we sometimes get a little nostalgic for the days when he was "Bill Clinton, Boy Governor," and nobody made such a fuss. I'm sure there are days when the Clintons feel the same way. Late at night back in the eighties you might be at the U.S. Pizza Company, where they roll out the crust so thin it's more like a giant Italian nacho than a pizza. Somebody at the table says, "Oh, look, there's the governor." You might look up and you might not. If you did, all you saw was Governor Clinton and a state trooper ordering pizza.

Now I understand the Clintons are looking for a place to settle in California. That's typical. It seems to me that once an Arkansan makes a mark in the world he's no longer welcome here. He's like the kid who set the curve on the midterm. He makes the rest of us look bad. If you're wondering why Arkansas is near the bottom of any category you wish to name, that's just our way of being polite.

Arkansans have a pathological devotion to humility, and in order to help you keep your valuable modesty intact, they'll do you the great favor of taking you down a peg at every opportunity. Around here there is no greater sport than withering sarcasm. If you accomplish something really significant, I advise you not to speak of it unless you are asked about it directly; and even then you should dig your toe into the dirt and try to work in the phrase, "Aw, shucks, 'tweren't nothin'." Don't fret about it if you're from out of state. This kind of harassment is reserved for family and friends rather than guests.

Here's how the game works: Years ago I made the mistake of mentioning to coworkers that I had once met John Astin, the guy who played "Gomez" on The Addams Family TV show. To me that's about as interesting as claiming to have grown a potato shaped like Richard Nixon, but you would have though I had said I had gone bowling with the Pope. For the rest of the day all I heard was, "We're going to Arby's, I guess Mr. Jet Set will be 'doing lunch' with his agent." "Here comes Joe Hollywood." "We'll be in the break room, I guess you'll be in your trailer."

The Clintons aren't coming back here to stay, and I can't say that I blame them. The minute he starts in with, "Boris Yeltsin said to me once...," well, a phrase like that throws the humility machine into high gear. As I write this, I suddenly realize that I've done the same thing with this artcle... "Has your town got its Clinton sign yet?"

RTJ-7/2/98

Photo added 3/7/99


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