Jackson, Clinton meet in Little Rock

November 23, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Meeting yesterday with President-elect Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson offered praise and support but strongly suggested that he would oppose any deficit-driven cuts in social programs.

Mr. Jackson later indicated that he would like to be invited to an economic policy summit Mr. Clinton is planning to hold in a few weeks.

Mr. Clinton hopes the summit will provide guidance and also help him build support for policies that have yet to be defined. His top transition economic adviser, Robert Reich, said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he was preparing a broad "set of options and trade-offs" for Mr. Clinton.

"I can't rule out anything," Mr. Reich said. Although Mr. Clinton "has not in any way abandoned his pledge to cut middle-class taxes," his economic advisers are "going to examine all the options with regard to that and other things."

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Clinton have had a cool relationship, although Mr. Jackson endorsed the Democratic nominee and worked to register voters. Their meeting, the first since the election, grew out of an invitation Mr. Jackson received from Little Rock officials and clergy to talk about the role of churches in communities.

The two men attended services together at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, where Mr. Jackson spoke, and then drove to the Governor's Mansion, where they talked for 30 minutes. Mr. Clinton then went belatedly to Immanuel Baptist Church, where he usually attends services, and Mr. Jackson preached at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

At St. Theresa's, Mr. Jackson spoke to the congregation after Mass, mixing biblical and worldly images in praising Mr. Clinton and the direction in which he wants to take the country.

"We have seen Southern governors wrapped in the Confederate flag and look at the American flag with contempt," he said, referring to past leaders who opposed civil rights.

"A governor with an ax handle blocking school doors is now relegated to the trash heap of history in silence and shame. Today we have a governor with his wife, his partner, who has been opening school doors, who sees diversity as a strength."

Mr. Jackson paid Mr. Clinton a compliment by using some of the campaign phrases the candidate used to describe what should be the relationship between a government and its people.

"We must choose hope and help over hurt and hate, and go forward to hope . . . moving toward a new covenant between leader and people, a sound proposition -- we don't have one person to waste," Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Jackson, who was accompanied into the church by his two sons, received a standing ovation from the mostly white congregation.

Mr. Clinton returned the praise, saying, "He was terrific. It was a great service."

Mr. Jackson downplayed past conflicts with Mr. Clinton. "I think that was exaggerated." He brushed off a question about whether he was seeking a job in the new administration. "We did not discuss that at all."

Asked about the possibility of budget cuts related to deficit reduction, Mr. Jackson said: "It may be premature to attack before we have a sense of where we're going," a reference to the economic summit.

"I hope that those of us who represent different dimensions of interest will be part of the summit meeting," he said. "I don't have any idea yet who will be at that conference."

As for possible cuts, Mr. Jackson said the government ought to look at the defense budget. "There is a better use of $300 billion a year than defending Europe from a Russian bear that is now on a tombstone."

The way to attack the deficit, he said, is targeted spending, a "fundamental re-investment in growth" that ultimately would produce a more robust economy and greater tax receipts.

But he urged patience and cautioned that it was too soon to judge a program that hadn't been spelled out. He said he would support the fulfillment of Mr. Clinton's campaign pledges, including statehood for the District of Columbia, and warned that the forces against change are "dug in."

He also called on citizens, during the transition period between administrations, to do their part to end crime and other social problems.

"Suppose there were 100 days of no killing, no robbery, no rape, no cocaine sniffing, no divorce, no school drop-out, just 100 days of modified behavior," he said.

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