'What a night!' for Dole Republican nominee delivers generational challenge to Clinton

A bold departure

Dole tries to turn political liabilities to his advantage

Republican Convention

Campaign 1996

August 16, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SAN DIEGO SUN STAFF WRITERS KAREN HOSLER AND JULES WITCOVER CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — SAN DIEGO -- Making his case that he is a better man than Bill Clinton to lead America, Bob Dole pledged last night to lead a tax-cutting administration that would be "able, honest and trusts in you."

Dole's speech, accepting the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, posed a generational challenge from a disabled World War II veteran to the first baby boomer to sit in the White House.

"Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquillity, faith and confidence in action," he said.

"To those who say it was never so, that America has not been better, I say, you're wrong and I know, because I was there. I have seen it. I remember."

The 56-minute address was a bold departure from political custom by a seasoned candidate who starts out back in the polls. In a high-stakes gamble, Dole chose to highlight his own political liabilities, including his age, in an effort to turn them to his advantage.

There were no surprises or new policy initiatives in the address, which was received enthusiastically by the partisan crowd inside the San Diego Convention Center.

Instead, Dole used his hour in the national media spotlight to introduce himself to the voters.

"What a night!" he exclaimed, as he strode to the podium and looked out over a sea of delegates waving American flags and "Dole-Kemp '96" pennants.

At 73, Dole would be the oldest man to become president. Last night, he focused attention on his age, one of the few things that most voters know about him.

"I know that in some quarters, I may be expected to run from the truth of this, but I was born in 1923," he said. "Good presidents and good candidates don't run from the truth."

He also took aim at critics who say he has a mean streak and is too interested in striking compromises.

"If I am combative, it is for love of country," he said. "And to those who believe that I live and breathe compromise, I say that in politics honorable compromise is no sin, it is what protects us from absolutism and intolerance."

Calling Bill Clinton "my opponent, not my enemy," Dole launched a verbal assault on the incumbent president, describing him as selfish and dishonest.

"For too long, we have had a leadership that has been unwilling to risk the truth, to speak without calculation, to sacrifice itself," he said.

"It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton administration a corps of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes."

Dole took a swipe, as well, at Hillary Rodham Clinton. Without mentioning her by name, he ridiculed her child-rearing book, titled "It Takes A Village."

"I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child," Dole said to roars from the convention floor.

The speech, which brought the four-day convention here to an upbeat close, had been eagerly awaited by Republicans. Except for any debates that take place this fall, it was Dole's best chance to deliver an unfiltered message to the voters.

"This is the closest he's come to providing the vision that I've been looking for," Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa said. "People needed to hear it from him. I think they will respond to it."

Former House Republican Leader Bob Michel of Illinois was somewhat less euphoric.

"This is the best speech I've heard him give in a long, long time," said Michel, who went on to say that Republicans "were prepared that it wouldn't be the most eloquent speech. But that's not the most important thing. What's important is content, his sincerity and his personal story."

Dole wove themes of moral values into his presentation, which included details of his campaign agenda. Its centerpiece is a proposed 15 percent across-the-board income-tax cut.

Implicit throughout was the contrast of character between Dole and Clinton that Republican strategists see as perhaps their best issue this fall.

Talking tough, while smiling at the same time, the Kansan offered himself as an antidote to an opponent he characterized as endlessly calculating and mainly interested in soaking taxpayers to pay for government spending programs.

Dole returned repeatedly to his own experiences, offering bits and pieces of his inspiring life story, including a near-fatal battlefield wounding in Italy in 1945 and a grueling recovery that left him with a useless right arm.

"There was once a time when I doubted the future," he said. "But I learned that obstacles can be overcome, and I have unlimited confidence in the wisdom of our people and future of our country.

"Tonight, I stand before you tested by adversity, made sensitive by hardship, a fighter by principle and the most optimistic man in America."

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