I had been down on myself before, but never like this, for this long. As I said, I first became self-aware enough to know that those feelings rumbled around beneath my sunny disposition and optimistic outlook when I was a junior in high school, more than five years before I went to Oxford. It was when I wrote an autobiographical essay for Ms. Warnekes honors English class and talked about the disgust that storms my brain.
As we headed into the State of the union speech on the twenty-third, we seemed to be making some progress on a budget agreement, so I used the address to reach out to the Republicans, rally the Democrats, and explain to the American people my position on both the budget debate, and on the larger question that the budget battle presented: What was the proper role of government in the global information age? The basic theme of the speech was the era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. This formulation reflected my philosophy of getting rid of yesterdays bureaucratic government while advocating a creative, future-oriented, empowering government; it also fairly described our economic and social policies and Al Gores Rego initiative. By then my case was bolstered by the success of our economic policy: nearly eight million new jobs had been created since the inauguration and a record number of new businesses had been started for three years in a row. U.S. automakers were even outselling their Japanese competitors in America for the first time since the 1970s.
On October 17, Israel and Jordan announced that they had reached a peace agreement. Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein invited me to witness the signing ceremony on October 26, in the Wadi Araba border crossing in the great Rift Valley. I accepted, in the hope that I could use the trip to push for progress on the other Middle East tracks. I stopped first in Cairo, where President Mubarak and I met with Yasser Arafat. We encouraged him to do more to combat terrorism, especially by Hamas, and pledged to help resolve his differences with the Israelis concerning the delayed turnover of designated areas to Palestinian control.
Hillary gave a terrific speech, one she had written carefully and practiced hard; it displayed how much she had learned about the concerns of the different regions of the state and how clearly she understood the choices voters were facing. She also had to explain why she was running; show that she understood why New Yorkers might be wary of voting for a candidate, even one they liked, who had never lived in the state until a few months before; and say what she would do as a senator. There was some discussion about whether I should speak. New York was one of my best states; at the time my job approval was over 70 percent there and my personal approval was at 60 percent. But we decided I shouldnt talk. It was Hillarys day, and the voters wanted to hear from her.
On the ninth I signed legislation granting the President a line-item veto. Most governors had the authority and every President since Ulysses Grant in 1869 had sought it. The provision was also part of the Republican Contract with America, and I had endorsed it in my 1992 campaign. I was pleased that it had finally passed, and I thought its main utility would be in the leverage it gave future Presidents to keep wasteful items out of budgets in the first place. Signing the bill had one significant downside: Senator Robert Byrd, the most respected authority in Congress on the Constitution, considered it an unconstitutional infringement on the legislative branch by the executive. Byrd hated the line-item veto with a passion most people reserve for more personal injuries, and I dont think he ever forgave me for signing the bill.
I spent most of the rest of 1981 traveling and calling around the state. The Democrats wanted to beat Frank White, and most of my old supporters said theyd be with me if I ran. Two men with a deep love for our state and a passion for politics took a particular interest in helping me. Maurice Smith owned a 12,000-acre farm and the bank in his little hometown of Birdeye. He was about sixty years old, short and thin, with a craggy face and a deep, gravelly voice he used sparingly but to great effect. Maurice was smart as a whip and good as gold. He had been active in Arkansas politics a long timeand was a genuine progressive Democrat, a virtue his whole family shared. He didnt have a racist or an elitist bone in his body, and he had supported both my highway program and my education program. He wanted me to run again, and he was prepared to take the lead role in raising the funds necessary to win and in getting support from well-respected people who hadnt been involved before. His biggest coup was George Kell, who had made the Hall of Fame playing baseball for the Detroit Tigers and was still the radio announcer for the Tiger games. Throughout his stellar baseball career, Kell had kept his home in Swifton, the small northeast Arkansas town where he grew up. He was a legend there and had lots of admirers all over the state. After we got acquainted, he agreed to serve as the campaign treasurer.