First lady gets rousing welcome Mrs. Clinton's speech focuses on children and family values

Renomination due tonight

Jackson and Cuomo call for a return to old-style liberalism

Democratic Convention

Campaign 1996

August 28, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CHICAGO -- Hometown girl Hillary Rodham Clinton received a hero's welcome at the Democratic convention on a day when the president's campaign highlighted themes of family and education.

Mrs. Clinton, who has been a target of Republican attacks, was introduced to the convention crowd last night by Tipper Gore, the vice president's wife.

She defended the first lady as "a woman who always maintains her grace, dignity and humor, even while being subjected to unimaginable incivility."

As Mrs. Clinton stepped onstage, the convention floor erupted in a thunderous roar and a sea of waving signs reading "Welcome Home Hillary."

"I'm overwhelmed by your warm welcome" she said, as the delegates stomped and cheered in the most enthusiastic demonstration at the convention thus far.

The earsplitting reception for Mrs. Clinton, who grew up in a Republican household in nearby Park Ridge, Ill., lasted four minutes.

"Chicago is my kind of village," she began, setting the tone for a 20-minute address that was a pointed response to Republican nominee Bob Dole, without mentioning him by name.

In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention this month, Dole acidly criticized Mrs. Clinton's book about child-rearing, "It Takes A Village," suggesting that it was somehow anti-family.

"We are all responsible for ensuring that children are raised in a nation that doesn't just talk about family values but acts in ways that values families," said Mrs. Clinton, who appeared confident and spoke in a deliberate manner.

"Yes, it takes a village. And it takes a president.

"It takes a president who believes not only in the potential of his own child but of all children, who believes not only in the strength of his own family but of the American family, who believes not only in the promise of each of us as individuals but in our promise together as a nation.

"It takes a president who not only holds these beliefs but acts on them. It takes Bill Clinton."

In a last-minute scheduling shift, her appearance was moved up from the closing spot on the program, which was then given to the convention keynote speaker, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh.

The change did not prevent Mrs. Clinton from overshadowing Bayh, whose 12-minute address was given before a largely empty United Center, with little audience reaction.

Delivering the most important speech of her life, Mrs. Clinton did not dodge the issue of health care.

After noting that a new health insurance measure recently signed into law by her husband contains some of the provisions of the failed reform plan she spearheaded, she said the "next step" was guaranteed health insurance for the unemployed and affordable coverage for the working poor.

She also praised administration-supported efforts to prevent hospitals from forcing new mothers to leave the hospital within 24 hours after giving birth and proposals that would require employers to give workers time off to attend to personal needs, including doctor's appointments and parent-teacher conferences.

The first lady's focus on family and children -- part of an effort to soften her image and counter attacks on her by Republicans -- was echoed yesterday by the president, when he announced a $2.75 billion literacy initiative during a campaign stop in Michigan.

Clinton, whose campaign train arrives in Chicago today, will be formally renominated, without opposition, at tonight's session.

Last night, two spellbinding old-style Democrats, Jesse L. Jackson and Mario M. Cuomo, deviated from the convention's carefully written centrist script, metaphorically wrapping their arms around the president while at the same time delivering a call for a return to the liberalism that Clinton has moved away from in the second half of his term.

Cuomo and Jackson, who were shunted into early evening speaking slots, before the major TV networks began their convention coverage, repeated their opposition to Clinton's decision to sign a Republican welfare reform measure.

Jackson pointed out that he had demonstrated outside the White House this summer to dramatize his displeasure.

But they argued that Clinton's re-election -- and regaining Democratic control of Congress in this fall's election -- are the only ways to repair the damage they fear the new welfare law would produce.

Cuomo went a step further, arguing that Clinton's rebound in the polls over the past two years was paving the way for a comeback by the party's liberal wing, its most loyal supporters.

"We are free, once again, to be Democrats, progressive, constructive Democrats," said the former New York governor, who was unseated in 1994. "And we are ready now to continue the work of restoring the American dream that was invented by Democrats six decades ago."

To cheers of approval from the delegates, Cuomo called for an ambitious agenda of government activism -- job creation, health insurance reform, more day care, additional spending for schools and government promotion of high-speed computer networks.

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