The Other `Bill' From Arkansas
FOR younger Americans, it took Bill Clinton to put Arkansas on the political map. Their parents remember a day, not so long ago, when this putative rural backwater produced some of the savviest, most influential politicians around.Skip to next paragraph
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Etched into the history of the 1950s and '60s are such legendary figures as Rep. Wilbur Mills and Sen. John McClellan, Arkansas Democrats who ruled key congressional committees with iron hands.
Twenty years later, the third member of what may have been the most powerful congressional delegation of its time reflects with satisfaction on Arkansas's reemergence into the national spotlight.
"The country's very fortunate to have someone with Bill Clinton's ability," says former Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright, whose long career is best remembered for the international exchange program that bears his name.
"When I was young, we used to say `Thank God for Mississippi,' because it was the only state poorer than we were," Senator Fulbright says. "But economic conditions are much better, relatively, than they used to be, and I think Clinton deserves much of the credit. He's been a good governor. He's very bright. When he gets to the White House, he'll use his head."
A visit to Fulbright's Washington law office reminds one, oddly enough, of Thomas Jefferson's tombstone.
The modest Virginian had the three accomplishments he was proudest of inscribed on it but neglected to have one incidental achievement noted - that he had been President of the United States.
As for Fulbright, the modest Arkansan displays none of the usual mementos of an illustrious Senate career that spanned three decades. No photos of handshakes with the presidents he has known and worked with, dating back to Franklin Roosevelt. No hints of his long tenure as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during which he galvanized congressional and public opposition to the Vietnam War. Only reminders of the thing he cherishes most: the Fulbright Scholar Program that has opened doors t o the world for thousands of students and scholars.
"It's the main thing," he says of the program in a recent interview, the singular achievement of a celebrated, sometimes controversial career.
Since the Fulbright program was enacted in 1946, more than 100,000 scholarships have been awarded, about a third to US citizens, for study, lecturing, and research abroad. Nearly half a century later the Fulbright alumni list has become an international who's who of prime ministers and diplomats, business leaders and scholars. Resolutions of appreciation, signed by dozens of participants, adorn Fulbright's office walls.
"I introduced the legislation two weeks after we dropped the atomic bombs on Japan," Fulbright recalls. "I understood then that atomic weapons would make war intolerable. In a sense, that's dictated everything I've tried to do in the exchange program.
"The main purpose is not academic - it's political," he says. "I had a theory that if you go live in another country, if you get acquainted with other people, if you realize that they have families and children just like you do, you won't be inclined to go to war with them."