Friday, January 30, 1998 Published at 08:44 GMT
Clinton crisis: The view from Little Rock
The political crisis in Washington over sex allegations against President Clinton has reverberated around the world. But what do the residents of Little Rock, his home town in the southern state of Arkansas, make of it all? Malcolm Brabant has been talking to them:
The closer you get to the President's roots, the smaller he becomes. Viewed from another continent, where his nation's dominance is always crystal clear, the President of the United States seems omnipotent.
Seen from his home town, William Jefferson Clinton becomes, in the words of Dorothy Clayton, an 83-year-old member of the Immanuel Baptist Church, his church, "just like any other man, with the frailties of other men."
Looking down on an ugly city, an uncoordinated mix of tower blocks and mediocre low-rises that hide a handful of southern architectural gems, it is a tribute to the meritocracy that is America that a man from such humble beginnings can leapfrog over the privileged, sophisticated blue bloods of New England and the Pacific coast to become their chief executive. But it is little wonder that he's clinging on to Oval office with limpet-like strength.
Because, surely, after the grandeur of Washington, he can't want to come back to this small town in the middle of nowhere which has thought all along that Slick Willie was a smooth talker, a serial womaniser, and now seems profoundly embarrassed that the rest of the world thinks it too.
On Tuesday night the people of Little Rock listened as Bill Clinton spoke of the two-century-old Presidential duty to report on the State of the Union.
In that moment he aligned himself with some of the greatest figures in America's past: Washington, Lincoln, Jackson, Roosevelt, Truman. There was no sense of irony in his voice or demeanour, even though he may, at any moment, be consigned to history's waste disposal unit.
No doubt his die hard supporters, and there are still many according to the polls, beamed with pride as he outlined his plans to improve social security, education, health care for the elderly, and threatened to redesign the Iraqi landscape.
But given his perilous position, the grand designs and muscle-flexing seemed empty, if not ridiculous, in the light of the all-consuming sex scandal.
Make no mistake, despite the denials of Bill and Billary, as the first lady used to be called, the President is still in danger. He has now made an enemy of Monica Lewinsky who, earlier this week, he labelled "that woman,"' when he unequivocally assured the American people that they had not had a "sexual relationship".
If, when the true facts finally surface, it transpires that they had, then the President will be guilty of lying to the American people and will, almost certainly, be toast.
Two days ago a self-confessed strumpet sat in the chair opposite and told me she was certain he was being dishonest. Her name is Connie Hamzy, who now lives alone with her memories in a seedy part of Little Rock. She couldn't be more different from the young, wide-eyed, fresh-faced, and clearly ambitious Monica Lewinsky.
Miss Hamzy is one of America's best-known groupies. She regards herself as a national treasure whose list of former bedmates reads like a rock-and-roll hall of fame.
Mr Clinton knows all about Miss Hamzy. In 1992 his aides signed affidavits swearing that their boss did not attempt to seduce Miss Hamzy at the Little Rock Hilton in 1984. The story surfaced in Penthouse magazine and threatened to damage the campaign for President being launched by the then governor of Arkansas.
Miss Hamzy acknowledges that she was keen to add the Clinton scalp to her list of conquests. But she says they never achieved a state of union, because they couldn't find an empty bedroom. Miss Hamzy is one of several women with a story to tell, whom the President's supporters fear will now start emerging from the woodwork.
She has already sent copies of her claims to the independent counsel Kenneth Starr to illustrate, as she puts it, that the President and all of his men, are capable of perjury. Accompanying her testimony are copies of a polygraph, or lie detector test, she took last year. I spoke to state trooper Wes Adams who administered the test and confirmed that she passed on all counts.
Before slipping away into the night, Miss Hamzy gave me a list of other Little Rock women she said were linked to Mr Clinton as well as this memorable self-assessment, delivered in a shrill Southern drawl: "I may be a slut, I may be a whore, but I am not a liar."
Being a liar is a subjective matter, and pivots upon one's perception of the truth. There are suggestions in Washington that Mr Clinton has scoured the bible and genuinely believes that recieving oral sex does not constitute adultery. Where could he have learned that? At the church where he served as a chorister for eighteen years? At the Immanuel Baptist Church, full of clean-cut Americans whose boys wear straight partings and ties, and girls ribbons and pinafore dresses?
For an answer I turned to pastor Rex M Horne junior, without mentioning the, er, 'o' word, and he left me in no doubt that any sexual practice performed with someone other than one's wife or husband is indeed adulterous.
On the steps of the state capital I talked to a number of the Clintons' lawyer friends who have long experience of the President using vague words to escape from trouble. But as one of them said: "This time the American people will not tolerate him trying to wiggle away on a hyper-technical use of language."
Most Arkansans I have spoken to do not consider that the son of their soil deserves to be sacked for sexual impropriety.
But hardly anyone seems to believe his denials.
Because they think they know what he's like.