Clinton's conflicting constituencies Brown and Sweeney: tTC Late Commerce secretary, AFL-CIO boss symbolize election strategy.

April 07, 1996

PRESIDENT CLINTON's appeal to conflicting constituencies has been brought home by the tragic death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. While making inroads in wooing support from corporate America, as witness the business leaders accompanying Mr. Brown on his ill-fated trip to the Balkans, the administration has secured early backing from the AFL-CIO.

Big Labor's enlistment in the Clinton re-election cause predictably outstrips that of Big Business. But developments in both sectors should give pause to Republicans.

The AFL-CIO under former president Lane Kirkland ranged from neutral to mildly pro-Democrat. With insurgent leader John Sweeney now in charge, organized labor has dropped its reticence. It has pledged a whopping $35 million to the Democratic campaign and is targeting freshmen Republicans who seized control of the House of Representatives.

While labor has been unhappy with many aspects of the Clinton record, it has warmed to the president since Mr. Sweeney's accession. The new Democratic push for an increase in the minimum wage reflects a growing solidarity.

Mr. Clinton's welcome in some sectors of American business has been strengthened by a strong free-trade record, deficit reduction, conservative monetary policies and the public-private cooperation in pushing exports and investment symbolized by Mr. Brown's fateful trip to the Balkans.

To be sure, there are millions of Americans who have lost ground in the Clinton era because of government layoffs, corporate downsizing and revolutionary change in the American economy. But most polls indicate the incumbent president is not getting as much blame as tradition would suggest.

By setting a national agenda aimed at reducing Medicare, Medicaid and other popular programs, Republicans are taking much of the heat for job insecurity and the growing gap between rich and poor. GOP leaders may rightly contend they are doing the correct thing. But they are dealing with a clever incumbent who knows how to please rival constituencies.

Pub Date: 04/07/96

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