OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A tale of two governors

Arkansas is singing Gov. Sarah Sanders a Bill Withers song, going, "You just keep on using me 'til you use me up."

In 1980 then-Gov. Bill Clinton had to listen to Arkansas singing the music of Aretha Franklin, spelling out "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."

The only difference between the performance of Clinton's youthfully arrogant, inept and ill-fated first term as governor of Arkansas in 1979-80 and the performance of Sanders' youthfully arrogant and inept first term in 2023-24 is that hers probably won't be ill-fated.

Arkansas doesn't have the pride it had then. I don't think much of anything or anyone does.

The wunderkind governors are similar in their rookie blundering essences, but their worlds are literally worlds apart. Mistakes then aren't mistakes now. It's hard to blunder with consequence anymore in Arkansas, so nationalized is our modern politics.

Plus, Sanders may be vice president before her first term reaches its natural end. Ineptitude as governor of Arkansas is practically a commendation for Donald Trump's vice president of the United States. She ranks somewhere on Trump's veep sweepstakes lower than Marjorie Taylor Greene and higher than George Santos.

Here's what I mean by this comparison and contrast, drawing on the convenience that I covered him then when I was 27 and cover her now when I am 70.

Clinton hesitated to go to a national governor's conference for fear someone would think he was blowing off Arkansas in service to his national ambition. He bowed to the power of the local front page on ink-smearing newsprint.

Sanders gallivants, not as much by the state's leave as its delight.

She was on Fox News on Friday--since it was a Friday, and since Friday is a day of the week--to say that Joe Biden doesn't love America. That would have been unacceptably harsh pre-Trump. Clinton knew better than to say Ronald Reagan didn't love America. Sanders knows better than to admit Joe Biden does. Sanders goes on Fox because it's a two-fer: She reaches the highest concentrations of Arkansas voters there, and she gets to hold forth on national talking points without getting asked about nagging Arkansas trivia.

Clinton got drubbed for surrounding himself with three bearded young deputy governors who were seen as inept or smart-alecks. Sanders surrounds herself with young "traveling Trumpettes" and refugees of a Republican governorship in Arizona. She pays no price when her staff does not do even basic vetting to find out that the man being appointed to great acclaim to head the state parole board got removed from a police job for a serious transgression a few years ago.

Clinton got run through the wringer because a federal grant, one that flowed through a routine signoff in his office for a wood-chopping project for winterization, produced only a few cords of wood. Sanders seems hardly inconvenienced by disregarding the letter of the state Constitution and creating a constitutional snafu in the state prison system.

Clinton got lampooned on the front page of a Monday newspaper for running so late on two Sunday events that he ordered the State Police to speed from one to the other. He was assailed for flouting traffic laws and being so arrogant as to run late, when, to be precise, he lingered at the first because he always lingered too long talking to people and he sped to the second to make his apologies and try to ingratiate himself after the rudeness.

Sanders needn't worry about an appreciable number of people reading a Monday newspaper about anything, much less for an update on her spending $19,000 to buy a lectern from out-of-state political pals, which--other than the fact that that was then and this is now--seems at least as arrogant as visiting too long with voters at one place and getting the State Police to exceed the speed limit to try to atone for lateness with voters at another place.

Hillary Clinton once suggested that a swimming pool get installed at the Governor's Mansion so she and Chelsea could swim. She got rudely rebuffed by campaign consultant Dick Morris for fear that populist Arkansas voters might find out about such a tone-deaf request.

Sanders reports as required by law that the State Police spent $1.4 million on security services for her and her family over six months, even as the specifics are kept secret based on a new law she enacted. In response, people are saying it's a meaner world out there, especially for those brave enough and righteous enough to do the Lord's and Trump's work.

Clinton got beat for a second term and got back in office two years later only after making a public apology to the people for his youthful blunders of his first term.

As for Sanders, being a Trumpian in 21st Century America means never having to say you're sorry. Otherwise, you'd be saying it all the time.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

Upcoming Events