THE INNER CIRCLE

It was a kitchen cabinet--literally. In the summer of 1991, as he was inching toward running for president, Bill Clinton would convene informal breakfasts in the kitchen of the Arkansas governor's mansion in Little Rock. Seated around the central counter, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, would talk things over with two of their best friends, Bruce and Bev Lindsey, and a procession of other guests. At the end of one particularly intense chat, Bruce Lindsey had a question. "Bill," he asked in mock distress. "What do we do if we win?"

Everyone laughed.

On the final night of the Democratic convention a year later, the Clintons stood with a swaying throng onstage, belting out the campaign's own song, "Circle of Friends." The scene was designed to show the bring-us-together message of the fall campaign. But it had another meaning. If Clinton wins, he'll bring to Washington his own vast circle of friends--a circle with its center point in the mansion's kitchen. Bruce Lindsey put aside his Little Rock law practice to be Clinton's consigliere, riding the campaign plane beside the candidate. And Bev Lindsey, a veteran staffer of Democratic campaigns, has been overseeing Clinton's debate prep.

Every president arrives with a unique network and world view-a portable culture that shapes the success or failure of his administration. Jimmy Carter's outsider presidency was driven by his shrewd but insular Georgia Mafia. Ronald Reagan's antifederal, tax-cut credo was fashioned by Hollywood, his years as a GE pitchman, the Goldwater movement and the tuxedoed swells of Bel Air. The George Bush of Skull and Bones and Ways and Means, of the CIA and the RNC, was fated to be an in-basket president: successful in wartime urgency, blind to domestic concerns that didn't show up in a Situation Room or congressional cloakroom.

The Clintons are the ultimate networkers of their generation. But what does their "Circle of Friends" look like? In crises and private moments, whom will Clinton turn to?

Clinton's world is no cadre of down-home "outsiders." His and Hillary's range of contacts are as sophisticated--some would say elitist--as any since John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. As much as by Little Rock and Hot Springs, they were shaped by such places as Georgetown, Yale, Wellesley and Oxford. It's a world of men and women who have fashioned their careers in and around universities, elective office and student-based "movements." Business executives, and even economists, are rare. So, too, are people with experience in the military. And so, it must be said, are blacks and Hispanics. Many are lawyers from a baby-boom generation of postindustrial "knowledge workers." Naturally enough, they believe with an almost religious zeal in the redemptive power of schools, colleges and courts. It is a group forged in a more liberal era, when the best and the brightest of the young believed that government could be a tool of social change.

If he wins, Clinton will bring to Washington a new style and set of social assumptions. His circle, and his campaign, is full of husband-and-wife teams like his own and the Lindseys'. It would be the first administration to draw fully on a rising cadre of career women trained for law and politics. It probably would be the first to include a number of activist gays and lesbians. Though it would contain its share of people of wealth, its ethos would be informal. Last week Clinton campaign chairman Mickey Kantor-a high-priced Los Angeles lawyer by trade-was ferried around Washington in a student's battered Toyota.

A closer look at the many networks that compose Clinton's World, and the political lessons and people who come with them:

When Clinton's candidacy seemed to be falling apart in New Hampshire last winter, a group of friends called the Arkansas Travelers took to their cars and buses and drove north. They were led by Arkansas Sen. David Pryor--whose crisis aid will not be forgotten when it comes to making key appointments. They took out newspaper ads with their home phone numbers, urging locals to call for the good word on their hero. Thousands did.

It was a typically Arkansan move. In a vast state with fewer people than metropolitan Atlanta, a personal style remains."Bill knows everybody by their first name" says former Democratic state chairman Skip Rutherford. " But in Arkansas you're supposed to." Clinton operated that way in Little Rock, and would do so in Washington.

Clinton today counts among his closest friends a core of Arkansans from the business and legal worlds. Besides Lindsey, they include Hillary's law partners and Jim Blair, counsel to the giant Tyson's Foods. Perhaps Clinton's closest friend in the business world is Little Rock's Thomas F. (Mack) McLarty, whom he met at Boys' State and who now runs the powerful Arkansas-Louisiana Gas Co.

These friends tempered Clinton's early, Naderesque attitude toward business--and his personal connections to them have sometimes given rise to conflict-of-interest charges. Clinton has learned to live cheek by jowl with a business community that has more clout and cash than most outsiders realize. Among those who have raised money in million-dollar hunks for his campaign is Alice Walton, daughter of the late Sam Walton.

The cousinly Arkansas touch pops up in Clinton's world in unexpected places. A prime example is Harry Thomason, of Hampton, Ark. He worked with his wife, TV producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, on a home-movie-style film about the Clintons shown at the convention. The Bloodworth-Thomasons continue to offer critical assistance: they enlisted a topflight Hollywood hairdresser for Clinton's second debate.

Clinton didn't perform the traditional act of political networking in his home state: attending the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville. Instead, he made his earliest Arkansas political contacts in Washington, as a student at Georgetown. While working as a student intern for Sen. William Fulbright, he met Bruce Lindsey, who later became a top aide to Pryor.

Clinton was the president of Georgetown's class of 1968; the president of the class of '67 was Roger Altman, who went on to become rich as an investment banker. Altman, now an adviser and important fund raiser for Clinton, is a leading contender for a top economic post in a Clinton administration. As an official in the Carter administration Treasury Department, Altman assembled the private financing for the Chrysler bailout-a hair-raising government rescue that left him skeptical of using such "interventions" as a pattern. "They shouldn't constitute any norm," he says.

It is the way of Clinton's world that networks double back and interweave-often due to Hillary Clinton's own wide circle of contacts. Altman, for example, reconnected with the Clintons when he served with her on the board of the Children's Television Workshop in New York. The epicenter of Hillary's circle is Wellesley College, where, in 1969, she became the first student to give a commencement address. Helping women gain elective office has been a constant theme ever since. Hillary and several other members of the "Wellesley Network" were important early supporters of the National Women's Political Caucus, says longtime Clinton aide Betsey Wright. It was this group, in fact, that persuaded Wright to move to Arkansas in 1982 to become Bill Clinton's chief of staff. The Wellesley Network lives: Hillary's classmate Janice Piercy recently left her post with the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago to codirect the Clinton transition team's talent search.

While Clinton's draft maneuvering at Oxford has gotten the ink,the more important events involved the fellow Rhodes scholars he met there. " Rhodes scholars," says columnist Michael Kinsley (who was one), "tend to combine a genuine, naive idealism with a fair amount of opportunistic scheming. "Two of the most influential in Clinton's world are Robert B. Reich, now a prolific author and lecturer at Harvard, and Ira Magaziner, a business consultant based in Providence, R.I. Magaziner gained early fame at Brown University, where he led a drive for a "new curriculum" that gave students more choice in courses and room for individual initiative. He later tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rhode Island to turn itself into an entrepreneurial "greenhouse" with a sweeping program of state money and regulatory changes.

Both men are long-time proponents of what Reich calls "public investment economics." When George Bush derided Clintonites as a nest of "European-style social engineers," he meant Reich and Magaziner. Their growth strategy relies on redesigning "infrastructure"--everything from railroads to antitrust laws to worker-retraining programs--to help the country compete in global markets. Manipulating the money supply, tax rates or consumer demand isn't enough, they argue.

Clinton reads their work carefully, and they return the favor. When author David Osborne--a guru of practical "New Paradigm" political thinking--was looking for governors to profile, Reich urged him to go to Arkansas. Osborne's favorable reviews helped establish Clinton with the thinktank and policy-wonk set.

The Rhodes network itself continues to be important in Clinton's world. One of the most important figures in the campaign is George Stephanopoulos, a Rhodes scholar from Columbia who is Clinton's unflappable communications director. Another is issues director Bruce Reed, from Princeton.

Reich's most important influence was to urge Clinton to join him in attending Yale Law School, an institution that placed supreme faith in the ability of law to improve society as a whole, and not merely settle disputes. The famous credo, recalls Clinton classmate Nancy Bekavac, was: At Harvard Law, you learn what the law is; at Yale you learn what it ought to be. Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham arrived at Yale during a time of unprecedented ferment in the law, as teachers there were studying how to extend the theories of civil-rights law to women's and children's rights.

At Yale, Hillary was inspired by an earlier graduate of the school, Marian Wright Edelman, a civil-rights attorney who would soon found the Children's Defense Fund. Edelman, a power in Washington child-welfare circles, remains one of Clinton's closest friends-and a frequently mentioned candidate for a post in a Clinton cabinet. Hillary's legal activism led to other connections. As chair of the Legal Services Corp. in the Carter years, she met Mickey Kantor, a former poverty lawyer who quickly became a close friend-and one of the first major party insiders to champion Clinton as a presidential candidate.

Much has been made about Clinton's protest activities and travels. But, again, what matters more is the Americans he met along the way, in England and back in the United States. One was leftist writer Derek Shearer, son of an editor at Parade magazine and now brother-in-law of another close friend at Oxford, journalist (and fellow Rhodes scholar) Strobe Talbott of Time. Activists-turned-campaigners provided Clinton with his first entree into national politics. At Oxford, he befriended another fellow Rhodes, Rick Stearns, who in turn introduced Clinton to a wide circle of antiwar activists. That led Clinton, in 1970, to work in the Connecticut Senate campaign of Joe Duffey. Duffey (now the president of American University in Washington) and his wife, Anne Wexler (a leading corporate lobbyist), remain close friends of the Clintons--and another pair of potential administration figures. Stearns also found a job for Clinton in the McGovern campaign in Texas. There, in 1972, he first worked with Betsey Wright. Ten years later she became his chief of staff in Little Rock.

By 1974 when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress at the age of 28, Clinton was able to tap a national network of astonishing breadth. Though a political novice, records show that he greatly outspent the Republican incumbent, John Paul Hammerschmidt. That network has remained financially loyal to this day.

In his presidential campaign, the antiwar network provided Clinton with another crucial circle of friends: the gay and lesbian community. A Clinton ally from those times is David Mixner. Now a Los Angeles business consultant and leading gay activist, Mixner has raised more than $3 million for Clinton.

Governors of large states regard the National Governors' Association and its subgroups as a Rotary Club for obscure politicians. But from his first year as governor, in 1979, Clinton was a model participant, willing to do the scut work while others talked. Clinton remains especially close to progressive governors of smaller Southern states like his own. One who is touted as a possible Clinton White House insider is former South Carolina governor Richard Riley. He and others fought for improved education, increased foreign investment and a nondogmatic approach to using government as an engine of economic growth in low-tax states. " If you know the history of the South you know we think education is the answer," says Riley.

Others in Clinton's gubernatorial pantheon include Georgia Gov. Zell Miller and former governors Jim Blanchard of Michigan, Bruce Babbitt of Arizona and Ray Mabus of Mississippi. Any or all of them could end up in a Clinton administration where management by governors could be a hallmark. "We had to learn to do more with less," says Riley, "and that may be a lesson the nation needs."

Southern progressives established their own informal, bipartisan vacation retreat in 1981, and it has provided the Clintons with another network. Founded by Phil Lader, who at the time was the president of the Sea Pines Co. the "Renaissance Weekend" brings to Hilton Head each New Year's a varied group to discuss everything from politics to personal growth. The Clintons have been attending since 1984. At one discussion session a few years ago, Clinton insisted that politicians deserved a "zone of privacy"-and won substantial applause for what, in effect, was a tryout of the arguments he would later make in his presidential campaign.

Once derided by Jesse Jackson as "Democrats for the Leisure Class," the Democratic Leadership Council became one of Clinton's newest and most important networks-the last one he assembled before he launched his campaign. Founded by centrist Democrats, many of them Southerners upset by the 1984 Mondale campaign, the DLC knit together like-minded elected officials. It also launched a think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, which has been a spawning ground for many of the New Paradigm ideas-such as national service in exchange for college loans-that Clinton now champions and will undoubtedly propose to Congress if he is elected. The group has contributed to the Clinton campaign one of its top advisers, political economist Robert Shapiro. The DLC served another important function for Clinton. It hooked him up with Wall Street and other leading business types, who became major contributors.

The last circle of friends to fall into place was Bill Clinton's own campaign. Tried by fire in the New Hampshire and New York primaries, campaign aides developed a hit-'em-back-harder style that could carry over into a Clinton administration--and be troublesome. Besides the Lindseys, Wright, Kantor, Stephanopoulos, this new network includes polltaker Stan Greenberg, media advisers Frank Greer and Mandy Grunwald, campaign manager David Wilhelm, spin doctors James Carville and Paul Begala, spokesperson Dee Dee Myers and fund-raiser Rahm Emanuel.

Until now, the Clintons have been able to assemble their circles without having to choose among them. In fact, some barely know the others exist. But that will change if the Clintons make it to the Oval Office. Suddenly all friends will be visible-to each other and the nation. On social policy, can the DLC types coexist with, say, gay-rights activists? In economics, can his Little Rock business allies live with the "public investment" engineers? In the end, Clinton's biggest challenge as president could be deciding which of the many friends he's made he's willing to lose.

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If you could vote separately for vice president, whom would you vote for?

61% Gore 28% Quayle 6% Stockdale NEWSWEEK Poll, Oct. 15-16, 1992

PHOTO: He'll have to play some power cards: In Pittsburgh

Are you satisfied with Clinton's response to reports about his antiwar activities and his visit to the Soviet Union while he was a student at Oxford?

56% Yes 35% No

Was the Bush administration's check of Clinton's State Department files from this period proper or improper?

31% Proper 59% improper NEWSWEEK Poll, Oct. 15-16,1992