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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William J. (Bill) Clinton, June 15, 1974. Interview A-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Personal history of political involvement

Clinton describes how he became involved in politics and weaves his story in with Arkansas political developments in the 1960s. He worked on some Arkansas campaigns and then for George McGovern's presidential bid. This passage offers a quick look at Clinton's political trajectory and a glimpse of some of his strategic beliefs, such as that state organizers for national campaigns should be locals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William J. (Bill) Clinton, June 15, 1974. Interview A-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
When did you get started in politics?
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Well, there's been a sort of residual political involvement in my family since I was a kid. As I said, my family, direct family was never involved in it. But my two uncles were always involved in local politics and in state politics to some extent. From the time I was a boy my uncle Roy was a state representative in the early '50s for a term. And worked for the state for many years. My grandfather was a state parole officer for many years and before that had another state job. My uncle Raymond was active in the local politics in Hot Springs, Arkansas, right after World War II, when they came back and cleaned out the old Leo McLaughlin machine. Was a very interesting thing. He used to hide all the old mafioso back when Leo was the most powerful man in the state. Mayor of Hot Springs. But they cleared him out after World War II under the leadership of, among other people, a young man named Sid McMath who subsequently became governor and who was the person who brought Faubus into state politics. At least in part he was responsible for that. But anyway, so there was this interest in it but it was peripheral because my father never took an interest in it. And then when I was in school I got interested in politics and was just consumed with it from about the time I was 14 years old. And in 1966 when Faubus went out as governor there were a number of people running for re-election and running for the position. And I just got involved in one of them's campaign. I was 18 and wanted to work in campaigns. And that was the start of Frank [Culver/Culbert?] we were talking about, who was then on the supreme court and is now on the supreme court again. And had been in Arkansas politics for a long time. And a lot of the people who were for Faubus were also for him, although some were for some other people, too. And he just was, it was one of those bad years. The Democrats were being beaten in the Congress. You remember. And there was a great deal of anti-incumbent feeling there. Wallace was making great strides. The Wallace movement. And people were feeling bad about Faubus and Rockefeller was fixing to go in. And I guess Frank [Holdt?] could never shake this Faubus tag that he had. And that plus the fact that the Republicans went in and voted, the people who were for Rockefeller went in and voted for the other fellow in the run off beat him. But anyway, I was interested in that race. And worked in it very hard. Did a number of different things. Then I went to Washington and went to work for Fulbright on the Foreign Relations Committee. I had a part time job there working my way through school the last two years. They have me a job which was a good thing because my father got sick and I doubt if I could have stayed there.
JACK BASS:
In school where there?
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Georgetown University. And then in '68 I came home and worked in Fulbright's re-election campaign. And then I went to Oxford for a couple of years and didn't do too much in politics. Had a lot of friends who were working in a lot of these, you know, legislative movements, unknown the war movements and stuff like that. I came home to Arkansas quite a bit. My father [died?] The '70 governor's campaign was something. Did a little work in it in Hot Springs but not to any great degree.
JACK BASS:
For Bumpers?
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Yeah, but just a little bit in the run off. You know. In and out of town. I mean I didn't have a position or anything. But I got a call from a person in Bill Fulbright's office to get on the streets for Dale Bumpers. He can be elected governor and he can be.. Before the run off. Which was one reason there's so much of a bone of contention there. But that's—
WALTER DE VRIES:
When did you build this friendship with Faubus?
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Just, when I got ready to run for Congress. When . . . then I went to work for McGovern for a while, on and off for a couple years when I was in law school. Helped him set up his campaign in Connecticut. I did some things for him in the South. Then I traveled around—that's how I met Belinda. I traveled to several southern states before the convention trying to gather votes on that California question, which was more important, less important than we thought it was. I now think we played it wrong, but that's another story. And then after that was over, I came home. . . . I came home believing it was over because of the way the convention had been handled and treated in the press and then the Eagleton thing broke. From the way that was handled I was sure it was over, but. . . . Then they asked me to go to Texas, which I thought was symptomatic of the problems we were having. You know, having to send people from other states. I didn't like that very much. I understand that's traditional in some people's presidential campaigns but I still don't think it's necessarily a good thing. Especially as many as we sent around to as many different places. But anyway, I told them I'd do whatever they wanted so I went there. And worked there. And when that was over I went back and graduated from law school and came down here. I was going home to Hot Springs to practice. Either that or work for the attorney general, who's a friend of mine. Then another bright young star, and a very good public servant, maybe you ought to see him while you're in the state.
JACK BASS:
He's been ill.
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Yeah, he has been to the hospital. May be out now. But he's a good man. And I heard that they had some disruption here at the law school. I came down and they had some places. So I called the dean and told him if he wanted me to come teach for a year or two I would. But no more, but I would. They were sort of skeptical but they asked me to come for an interview and I did and they offered me a job. So I came here. And then in January . . . I'd been thinking—