Democrats takes center stage in New York City Brown supporters break harmony of opening moment

July 14, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau Chief Staff writers Jack W. Germond, Susan Baer and John Fairhall contributed to this report.

NEW YORK -- The Democratic National Convention opened a four-day run here last night with the outcome a foregone conclusion: the nomination of the all-Southern, "Double Bubba" ticket of Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Al Gore of Tennessee.

Opening night at Madison Square Garden featured a touch of show-biz razzle and some high-tech dazzle, but the centerpiece was old-fashioned, red-meat political rhetoric, in the form of prime-time speeches attacking President Bush.

One of a trio of keynote speakers, Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, blasted Mr. Bush's record on jobs, the environment and urban decay.

"What did you do about it, George Bush? You waffled and wiggled and wavered," said Mr. Bradley, with thousands of delegates echoing his refrain.

The former New York Knicks pro basketball star, whose jersey still hangs from the garden's rafters, accused Mr. Bush of a "collapse of standards."

"They lead the most idealistic nation in history, but they are themselves without idealism," he said. "Fear, division and the death of hope -- these are the fruits of Republican rule."

Nor was independent Ross Perot spared a measure of Democratic ridicule and abuse.

"He says he's an outsider who will shake up the system in Washington. But as far back as 1974, he was lobbying Congress for tax breaks," Georgia Gov. Zell Miller said in his keynote address. "He tried to turn $55,000 in contributions into a $15 million tax loophole that was tailor-made for him. . . .

"Sounds to me like instead of shaking the system up, Mr. Perot's been shaking it down," the governor said in his north Georgia mountain drawl. "If Ross Perot's an outsider -- folks, I'm from Brooklyn."

Concluded Mr. Miller, whose speech was the best-received of the night: "The choice in this election is clear. We've got us a race between an aristocrat, an autocrat and a Democrat."

The voter anger that has propelled the Perot candidacy prompted some candid self-criticism from Mr. Bradley, who called this "a moment of reckoning, not just for the Republican or Democratic parties, but for America."

He went on to say that ordinary voters in places like Trenton, N.J., and Omaha, Neb., were "listening right now, warily, to what we Democrats are saying."

And the final speaker of the night, former Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas, exhorted Democrats to "convince the American people to trust us . . . to govern again. That is not easy, but we can do it." Ms. Jordan did not mention Mr. Clinton by name during her speech.

Speechmakers eager

Sometimes the speechmakers appeared so eager to align themselves with the anti-political mood in the United States that it was hard to believe they were addressing the party that has controlled one branch of the government for most of the past four decades and still holds the majority of offices on the state and local levels.

"We're tired of being lied to, tired of politicians who promise anything to get elected and then do anything but what they promised," said Texas Gov. Ann W. Richards, who first came to national prominence as the keynote speaker four years ago.

Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski highlighted one of the Democrats' themes for '92, declaring that "this is the year of the ++ woman because this is the year of change." She introduced the six female Democratic candidates for Senate who have already won primaries.

"As women, we speak a different language and we will seek different results," said Ms. Mikulski, currently the only Democratic woman in the Senate. "We won't just talk about family values. We'll make sure a mom or dad can stay home from work when a child is sick.

"And one other thing," she said, prefacing a reference to law Professor Anita Hill, whose charges of sexual harassment at last fall's confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were dismissed by an all-male Senate committee. "Never again, when a woman comes forward to tell her story to a committee of the United State Senate, will she ever be assaulted for telling the truth."

Projection wall

Fighting a trend of ever-smaller television audiences for political conventions, the Democrats tried some unconventional touches this year.

The convention podium features a 36-screen projection wall that was used to introduce key speakers. Last night the delegates were also treated to a production number from the current Broadway hit "The Will Rogers Follies." In political circles, the Depression-era humorist is still remembered for having said that he belonged to no organized party, he was a Democrat.

Eager to break the 12-year losing streak in presidential elections, Democratic leaders have been confidently predicting an atypical display of unity this year. But raucous jeers from the convention floor by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Jerry Brown last night suggested that Democrats might be Democrats after all.

"Let Jerry speak!" Brown supporters chanted off and on throughout the evening. Some waved handwritten signs reading Don't Fear" and "Take Back Our Party."

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