Clinton won't change this code word

Dan Rodricks

August 24, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

Notes from the Lake Erie Tour . . .

Is this Democratic campaign for president about change, or what? Bill Clinton: "We gotta change the White House." Hillary Clinton: "We need to change on behalf of our children." Al Gore, after changing his shirt: "I ask you to help us change this country." Tipper Gore: "Thank you. We love you. We won't let you down." New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, traveling with the candidates through Ohio: "The time for change is at hand." Mike Ries, mayor of Parma, Ohio: "It's time for change. Let's hear about that change. Are you ready for that change?"

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When Bill Clinton's flight arrived at the Cleveland airport Friday to begin his campaign bus tour, the greeting party was union -- a handful of steelworkers and electricians. They spotted a non-union Continental Airlines logo on the stairs Clinton would use when he left his plane. "Get that outta there!" one of them yelled. A campaign aide covered the logo with cardboard, erasing it from the imminent photo opportunity. "Can't have that," said union activist Tim Buxton. "This is still a union town." But you'd never know that from anything Clinton said while he was there. Don't think he used the word once.

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Clinton had to gush about them, but I won't. The pirogies at Parma Pierogies -- they spell it that way to be cute -- were just OK. This is a trendy pirogie place with a pink flamingo as a trade mark, which is cool. But I prefer my Slovak wontons from St. Michael's Catholic Ukrainian Church in good ol' Baltimore.

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Ray Zemek came up from Parma to drive a van for the Clinton staff. He's a stout steelworker with a thick neck and a Don Ameche mustache. He wore a white-on-white shirt and a red-white-and-blue tie of stars and stripes, 100 percent polyester, from the Ralph Martin collection. Ray used to have two. "But I gave one to Tom Harkin," he said, referring to the feisty Iowa Democrat who was organized labor's preferred candidate in the primaries. "He told me he'd wear the tie if he became president. Two weeks later, he dropped out." And never returned the tie.

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When the buses stopped at Chautauqua, N.Y., yesterday afternoon, Bill Clinton acknowledged one of his hosts, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan. "I sometimes think that when [Moynihan] walks into the U.S. Senate, the aggregate knowledge of the body doubles. And Al Gore says, 'Yeah, and when we both leave, there's nothing left.' Just joshing, folks. Gore never said that. I made that one up," Clinton, all shucks-and-grin, told the crowd.

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Worst sign of the campaign weekend (besides the usual

anti-abortion full-color fetus posters): "We Will Glisten With Clinton." And one of the better signs, soaped onto the rear window of a Dodge Caravan: "My Kids Can Spell Potato."

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Is Bill Clinton a tireless campaigner? Must aides pull him away from the handshakes? Does he actually speak more effectively the later the hour, the longer the day? Yes to all that. The only thing he didn't do this weekend was bungee-jump. Clinton had the chance last Saturday night at a county fair in New Castle, Pa., though there was a long line of customers willing to pay $40 for the thrill. When one of them, a tall teen with long brown hair, went sailing, his hair cascading, his arms open wide, the play-by-play announcer screeched into a PA microphone: "Woooooooooo!! Everybody! He looks just like Jesus!" You had to be there.

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Bernadette Bogdas, a nurse at an East Cleveland clinic, met Clinton as he passed through a public housing project Saturday morning. "I told him I was a nurse practitioner," she said, "and he knew what that was. I'm impressed."

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Clinton on Bush's convention promise of a tax reduction if federal spending is cut: "He wants to sucker-punch you one more time by offering you a tax cut. You believe that, I got some land in the middle of the ocean I wanna sell ya."

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Words carved in cornerstone of East Cleveland Baptist church where Clinton spoke Friday night: "Occupy Til I Come."

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