Closing out 2012


Two items as the New Year begins:

So it turns out that our U.S. Secretary of State, twice our First Lady (Arkansas, then the nation) and a former U.S. Senator (New York) wasn’t faking after all. She didn’t have “acute Benghazi allergy” or “diplomatic flu” or any of the other public relations ailments ascribed to her by critics who sneered that her illness was bogus, that she simply wanted to avoid testifying before Congress on the attack that killed our ambassador to Libya and three of his aides.

No, it was the real — and potentially very serious — thing: a blood clot doctors believe was the product of a fall and resulting concussion.

There was never reason to doubt her. Some reasons to have believed her all along:

1. Benghazi was a horror, but hardly the only one to befall Americans, be they military or diplomatic personnel, contractors, aid workers or even journalists in the Middle East in the previous year; there had been attacks on a half-dozen other U.S. missions in the preceding months. It is a dangerous world.

2. Clinton’s Congressional supporters were fully prepared to note — indeed, already have and surely will again — that Congressional budget constraints made improved security at embassies problematic.

3. Even while attempting recuperation at home, Clinton accepted without complaint the quite critical findings of a commission studying the tragedy, and pledged improvements.

4. Her illness only postponed her testimony; she risks her credibility in whatever future work she chooses unless she appears.

5. Benghazi might ought to be front and center with the American people but it is not. Given the economic tumult and the tennis match Congress is making of it, it is difficult to see it dominating the agenda.

6. The record is likely to demonstrate that security considerations for Benghazi stopped somewhere below her level as Secretary.

7. And this: anyone who can survive the Whitewater ordeal, to include sequential grand juries and sworn depositions, would hardly fear a Congressional committee.

Demands for her testimony weren’t about Benghazi. They were attempts to discredit the leading candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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2012 ended on a sad note that had nothing to do with record snowfalls and power outages. A good man left the stage, a man who had given much to the state and likely would have given more.

Whether Steve Bryles would have been an outstanding U.S. Representative we will never know, though certainly he would have been an excellent one. He gave it a try a couple years ago, in the First District Democratic primary, but fell short. He tried to defeat his esophageal cancer but, a couple days after Christmas, fell short in a general election that almost no one wins.

Bryles, a Blytheville native, served with quiet distinction in the Arkansas Senate for a dozen years that ended because of term limits in 2011. He represented his northeast Arkansas district ably, though unlike too many of his colleagues, he looked beyond it and recognized a broader constituency. Poor kids, the best example.

Bryles could see no alternative to bettering the lives of the disadvantaged children of Arkansas than giving them the best possible education, and, for those living in the most wretched of circumstances, if that meant additional help then so be it. It was with amusement and admiration that one could watch Bryles and other like-minded legislators, such as former Sen. Jim Luker of Wynne, leap from their seats when the proposed public school spending bill was distributed; they would fairly rip the document to shreds until they found, then to inspect, the allocations for underserved youngsters.

He had other shining moments, Bryles, and one in particular stands out. It came as a Senate committee wrestled with legislation that would prevent gay couples from serving as foster or adoptive parents. Finally Bryles had enough. He could not, would not, sit quietly and allow legislation he condemned as “hurtful…designed to hurt people” to leave committee with speaking against it, and no matter that his district was not regarded as a hotbed of liberalism.

At his death Bryles was, at Gov. Beebe’s appointment, director of the state Livestock and Poultry Commission, and his own man. He was 55.

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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.