The latest exploration of Dale Bumpers' papers at the University of Arkansas reveals that senior statesman and former U.S. senator to be an acute -- and early -- analyst of Bill Clinton et femme. Complete with their essential lack of the one quality that may be most important in real leaders: character.
It seems that early on, in 1982, Sen. Bumpers had diagnosed the big trouble with the Clintons, Mr. and Mrs., when he called them "the most manic obsessive people I have ever known in my life, and perhaps even the most insensitive to everybody else's feelings. ... Everything centers around them and their ambitions. It is precisely the reason Bill got beat (when he ran for re-election as governor) in 1980. People felt, and correctly, that they were being manipulated."
Naturally enough, the Bumpers family, great Friends of Bill in general, expresses some doubts about the authenticity of the senior Bumpers' candid comments in 1982.But the thoughts expressed in his diary have the ring of the Dale Bumpers all have long admired -- not to mention the ring of truth. As he commented the same day he and David Pryor, another prominent Arkansas Democrat, introduced Bill Clinton to a big crowd in Little Rock: "Clinton ought to be most grateful to both of us, but he never is. You can never do quite enough for him and Hillary. I know they blame David and me both at least partially for their defeat in 1980 (when Clinton was running against Frank White for re-election as governor)."
Sen. Bumpers also notes that his wife, Betty, after meeting Bill Clinton for the first time, noted that he "had no character," and described him as essentially a chauvinist. Three months earlier, her husband had a long conversation with Bill Clinton, who would become known as Slick Willie, and concluded:
"Bill Clinton is a truly tragic figure. I doubt that I've ever known anybody as manicly (sic) ambitious for political office, but who simply doesn't have the judgment or character to deal with it once he gets it. I know of two or three exceedingly dirty tricks his campaign pulled in this (race) and they're things that if they ever came to light would simply further confirm the suspicion people in Arkansas have of him.
"They like him, but they know he'll do anything to get the office. He's bright, his heart's in the right place, he's energetic, he really wants to make a difference, and he cares deeply about his state. He just simply cannot sort it all out when character is required to make the right decision."
As another Clinton prepares her presidential run, it might be useful to keep in mind what John Adams, a former president of indisputable character, once said: The people "have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge -- I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers."
Another president who knew a thing or two about leadership -- Dwight Eisenhower -- put it this way: The qualities of a great man are "vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation and profundity of character." It's unlikely anybody would describe either Clinton at this point as paragons of character.
It's been decades since Dale Bumpers' diary entry in 1982, and by now it has acquired the ring not only of political analysis but prophesy.