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 Vice President Al Gore's wife, Tipper.

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 more than four minutes.

"Chicago is my kind of village," she remarked, setting the tone for a speech 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 value families," Mrs. Clinton said to loud cheers.

"Yes, it take 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."

She 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 a variety of personal needs, including doctor's appointments and parent-teacher conferences.

The first lady's focus on family and children 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 -- the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Mario M. Cuomo -- deviated from the convention's carefully written centrist script, wrapping their arms around the president while delivering a call for a return to the liberalism of old.

Cuomo and Jackson, who were shunted into 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 will produce.

Cuomo went a step beyond, 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 from the delegates, Cuomo ticked off an ambitious agenda of government activism: job creation, health insurance reform, more day care, additional spending for schools and high technology.

"President Clinton, with the help of a Democratic Congress, can do for education what President John Kennedy did for space," he said.

Cuomo said that "the radical right and the rabid revolutionaries led by Newt Gingrich drove Democrats out of power. It was a low point in our modern history as a party.

"Now, less than two years later, most of America believes that Bill Clinton and his incomparable vice president, Al Gore, will win the election on November 5," he said to loud cheers.

Jackson noted that the 60-year-old guarantee of federal help to poor women, begun during Roosevelt's New Deal, had been "abandoned" by Clinton.

But, he added, Democrats "are mature enough to differ without splitting."

Clinton, he said, deserves four more years because he is "the best option" and "our first line of defense" against Gingrich.

Like Cuomo, Jackson held out hope that Clinton might be persuaded to move back to the left, despite the centrist tone of his re-election campaign.

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