FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- President Bush yesterda delivered his harshest personal attack yet on Gov. Bill Clinton, reminding voters about Mr. Clinton's experimentation with marijuana 20 years ago, accusing Mr. Clinton of plotting huge cuts in Medicare and calling the Democratic nominee a "weak-kneed" waffler.
"This guy couldn't remember in detail that he didn't inhale 20 years ago, and he can't remember what came out of his mouth 20 minutes ago," President Bush said, describing a condition he called "Clintonesia" -- "weak knees, sweaty palms and an incredible desire to say anything on all sides of any issue, depending on who you're trying to please."
President Bush, whose comments reflected his advisers' conviction that attacking Mr. Clinton is the only avenue left to them, also abandoned the Republicans' carefully crafted position that the core of the draft issue is not whether Mr. Clinton served, but whether he has told the truth about it.
"By the way," President Bush shouted at an airport rally in Fort Lauderdale, "I do believe that serving in uniform is a good criterion for being commander-in-chief of the armed forces."
Struggling to save 33 electoral votes that are supposed to be in the Republicans' safe column, President Bush started the day by doing what all politicians do when they get in trouble in Florida: He went to a retirement home and said he will protect Social
Security and Medicare and the other guy will not.
In a speech to supporters at On Top of the World in Clearwater, built 24 years ago as the first retirement condominium community on Florida's gulf coast, President Bush said Mr. Clinton was trying to scare the elderly away from the Republican ticket by accusing President Bush of planning to cut their retirement and medical benefits.
"Governor Clinton's a very ambitious politician," Mr. Bush told the audience, which had warmed up for his morning appearance by listening to a four-piece combo play vintage favorites. "That's fine. But in his first try on the national scene, he's using the oldest trick in the book: trying to scare America's seniors."
President Bush then tried to draw the elderly away from the Democratic ticket by accusing Mr. Clinton of planning to cut their retirement and medical benefits.
He said Mr. Clinton would slash Medicare and Social Security by $218 billion -- a suggestion Bush campaign officials later had to acknowledge Mr. Clinton has not made -- and he told his listeners that the Democrat would tax their grandchildren out of a college education.
He used his time in Florida, where polls show he is running even with Mr. Clinton, to announce that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would base its fleet of planes at MacDill Air Force Base, which has been threatened with closing.