Bush, Clinton each claim to be Truman's heir Draft-status question angers Democrat

September 08, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Invoking Harry S. Truman, Bill Clinton attacked President Bush yesterday in a speech outlining economic themes Democrats hope will return them to the White House.

"We are running on vision and hope, and we are going to do what Harry Truman did for the next 57 days: Go across the country, give them hell and make America what it ought to be again," said Mr. Clinton, marking the traditional Labor Day beginning of the general election campaign.

"This election provides Americans with their clearest choice in a generation, a choice between hope and fear, between running in place and moving ahead, between more of the same trickle down and embarking on a new course to guarantee opportunities in the American dream," Mr. Clinton said.

The Democratic candidate was warmly received, but before the speech, he lashed out at reporters asking about his draft status as a student.

Mocking Mr. Bush for comparing himself to Mr. Truman, the Democratic nominee said, "The only part of Harry Truman's legacy that George Bush really wants is a victory in the election, and the only job he wants to save is his own."

Mr. Clinton blamed the Reagan-Bush administrations for the nation's economic problems. But with a thunderstorm cutting short his talk in Mr. Truman's hometown, he didn't present any specifics.

A crowd of a few thousand cheered, staying for the 15-minute speech in front of a statue of Mr. Truman on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse, despite the looming storm.

Mr. Clinton offered no new proposals but presented reporters and voters with copies of a book, "Putting People First," that includes the views, programs and speeches of the candidate and his running mate, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore.

Later, in Cincinnati, Mr. Clinton finished the speech he started in Independence, outlining his proposals to create jobs, provide universal health coverage and college loans in exchange for community service.

"We will do it in a way that brings down the federal deficit," he said without offering specifics.

His college-loan proposal provoked some of the loudest cheers from several thousand people attending an AFL-CIO picnic on the banks of the Ohio River.

The campaign's choice of states underscored the importance of the industrial belt in the Democratic strategy -- an arc from Missouri through the Midwest, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Although Clinton strategists insisted they were going to run a nationwide campaign, with eight weeks to go to Election Day, they will invest comparatively few resources in Republican strongholds like South Carolina, where Mr. Clinton campaigned Saturday and Sunday.

Before his speech in Independence, Mr. Clinton rebuked reporters for continuing to ask him about his Vietnam War draft record, which was called into question again last week by news accounts. They revealed a previously undisclosed chapter in Mr. Clinton's story about his record: the efforts of his uncle to land him a Navy Reserve slot and keep him out of the draft.

Although Mr. Clinton indicated he was surprised, saying it was "news to him," he later confirmed that he was told of his uncle's efforts last March. Then, in an interview on NBC on Sunday, he said he didn't say it was a surprise and suggested the news media misinterpreted his comments.

When asked yesterday if he had any more to add, Mr. Clinton reacted angrily. "You [reporters] all got a feeding frenzy about something that -- if it is true -- does not amount to a hill of beans," said Mr. Clinton, referring to whether or not he knew about his uncle's efforts.

He said reporters should focus instead on Mr. Bush's alleged role in the Iran-contra scandal.

In his speech in Missouri, Mr. Clinton didn't mention the Iran-contra scandal, as he stuck to economic themes in his assault on Mr. Bush.

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