Brown turns debate to issues of concern to him

March 06, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- With former Gov. Jerry Brown of California as the prime spur, the four remaining Democratic presidential candidates debated citizen empowerment and the need to turn America's resources homeward after the Cold war last night in advance of next Tuesday's avalanche of 11 state primaries and caucuses.

On the day Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska dropped out of the race, the surviving candidates engaged in a lively give-and-take for 90 minutes on ABC News' "Nightline," with Mr. Brown of California on the offensive a good portion of the time.

For the first time in the Democratic debates, Mr. Brown was effective in turning the debate to some of the issues that have kept his campaign going on a shoestring, including a victory in the Colorado primary last Tuesday.

He continued to espouse the most radical proposals of any of the candidates, calling this time for withdrawing all but 1,000 American troops in Europe and focusing the country's wealth and energies on fighting crime and the drug traffic at home.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, agreeing that the end of the Cold war required new institutions to deal with America's relations with Europe, said he would cut U.S. forces there to 20,000. Former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas said he favored leaving 50,000 to 90,000 troops there and focusing on post-Cold War defense industry conversion at home. Gov. Bill Clinton said he would leave "a sizable force" in Europe.

Mr. Brown also challenged Mr. Clinton's credentials as a civil rights advocate, which he has used to rally black support in the South, to the point where an irritated Mr. Clinton replied: "Jerry, chill out."

Mr. Brown then held up a newspaper clipping showing Mr. Clinton with Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia standing with a group of black inmates, characterized by Mr. Brown as "a bunch of Willie Hortons" -- a reference to the convicted murderer featured in the 1988 Bush campaign's attacks on Michael S. Dukakis. Mr. Brown said Mr. Clinton and Mr. Nunn looked like "a couple of colonial masters" standing with the blacks, and asked: "What message you were trying to send?"

Mr. Clinton informed him that the men were in a Georgia "boot camp" for young, non-violent offenders to give them an opportunity to straighten out their lives rather than putting them directly into prison.

Mr. Brown again argued that the political system is "rigged" against the powerless and that Congress "is stuck" because special interests get their way in return for campaign contributions to candidates such as those who sat around the table with him.

Mr. Harkin, who has served 17 years in Congress, replied that "what we need is not a president who has been sitting on the sidelines as you have." Mr. Clinton noted that the stalemate in Washington resulted from divided government, with voters electing a president of one party and Congress controlled by the other.

Heated exchanges that had been expected between the two leading candidates, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Tsongas, over their economic proposals, which created sparks in the last round of primaries, did not materialize, to some degree because Mr. Brown injected himself so often and so insistently into the discussion.

At the debate's end, the candidates noted Mr. Kerrey's departure and praised his contributions to the campaign.

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