Among hundreds in church, Jackson has an audience of one -- Clinton

November 23, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Several hundred people gathered in St. Theresa's Catholic Church to hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak. But his sermon really had an audience of one: the man in the center pew, President-elect Bill Clinton.

In a lyrical, allusive and sometimes elliptical address built around Mr. Clinton's own promise of a "new covenant," Mr. Jackson dramatically extended an olive branch yesterday after a campaign in which his relationship with the Arkansas governor frequently frayed. While Mr. Clinton listened intently -- occasionally nodding or smiling -- Mr. Jackson declared: "God has raised up a leader from among the common people."

Still, as he has since the election, Mr. Jackson underscored his intention to hold Mr. Clinton to the campaign promises of renewed government offensives against domestic problems from health care to urban decay.

"A covenant, a contract, [is] a commitment more powerful than the law, for in the law there are loopholes," Mr. Jackson said somberly. "But the covenant is solemn; it is beyond the legal, it is spiritual."

Later, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Clinton huddled for a private 40-minute meeting at the governor's mansion, where they discussed the transition and priorities for the new administration. Afterward, Mr. Jackson called the meeting "fruitful" and said that accounts of conflict between him and the president-elect are "exaggerated."

Mr. Jackson also said that the two men "did not discuss at all" any possibility that Mr. Jackson might take a formal post in the new administration. But he made clear that he is hoping for an invitation to the economic summit Clinton plans to convene next month.

As throughout the weekend, Mr. Clinton kept a low profile yesterday. After attending church and meeting with Mr. Jackson, he attended services at a Baptist church and then made no other public appearances.

While Mr. Clinton mostly stayed out of sight, three of the senior policy advisers for his transition appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation." Robert B. Reich, Al From and Judith Feder -- who are coordinating work on economic, social and health care issues, respectively -- all said they hope to present Mr. Clinton with recommendations for implementing his campaign promises by mid-December.

Mr. Reich, however, suggested the economic group's recommendations to Mr. Clinton might go beyond the agenda he presented in the campaign to offer additional proposals "within the underlying long-term framework of responsible, disciplined deficit reduction over four years."

Today, Mr. Clinton travels to Georgia to campaign for Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler Jr., who faces a run-off election tomorrrow against Republican Paul Coverdell.

In his sermon, Mr. Jackson used rich biblical imagery to dramatize the intense expectations among Democratic constituencies that await Mr. Clinton as he prepares to take office after 12 years of Republican rule.

"We are gathered in the ark, after the flood, seeking a new covenant -- not one person to waste," Mr. Jackson said, his last words reprising Mr. Clinton's own repeated assertion on the campaign trail.

And yet the most striking element of Mr. Jackson's remarks was his repeated insistence that citizens bear equal responsibility with Mr. Clinton for renewing the society "as joint signatories on the new covenant."

Using language that echoed Mr. Clinton's own campaign-trail calls for greater "personal responsibility," Mr. Jackson said: "It's appropriate to look for a new leader, a new savior, but with that must come new behavior. . . ."

After his meeting with Mr. Clinton, Mr. Jackson said he had stressed the importance of an active citizens' movement to push for such liberal causes as statehood for the District of Columbia and national health insurance.

"The same people who voted on Nov. 3 must be part of an active movement to make sure that the promises made are supported as well as kept," Mr. Jackson said.

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