Clinton: 'On right track' President claims nomination, vows to fight GOP budget cuts

Would be 'bridge' to future

Moderate tone echoes influence of Morris, departed adviser

Democratic Convention

Campaign 1996

August 30, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Carl M. Cannon and Susan Baer of The Sun's national staff contributed to this article.

CHICAGO -- Casting himself as a bridge to the future and a bulwark against Republican budget cuts, President Clinton claimed the Democratic presidential nomination again last night after the most turbulent day of his re-election campaign.

"Let us resolve to build [a] bridge to the 21st century, to meet our challenges, protect our basic values and prepare our people for the future," said Clinton, whose 67-minute speech, which ended in a cascade of confetti and balloons, climaxed an unopposed march to renomination.

The 50-year-old Arkansan, bidding to become the only Democrat in the last half of the 20th century elected to two terms as president, heads into the fall campaign with a large lead in the polls over Republican nominee Bob Dole.

Clinton's long-awaited turn in the convention spotlight was dimmed by the resignation hours earlier of his chief campaign strategist, Dick Morris, who was caught in a scandal involving a $200-an-hour prostitute.

The tabloid allegations against Morris, who had successfully pushed the president to emphasize family-values themes in his campaign, threatened to focus renewed attention on Clinton's Achilles heel -- lingering public doubts about his character and integrity.

At the least, Clinton advisers acknowledged, they proved a distraction at the moment the president has been pointing toward for months -- his acceptance speech before the closing session of the Democratic convention.

Clinton made no mention of the flap in his presentation, which bore the imprint of his departed strategist's thinking.

He emphasized fighting crime, reforming welfare, challenging Hollywood on the content of its programming, and his own tax cuts.

"Hope is back in America. We are on the right track for the 21st century," said Clinton, whose shift to the right under Morris' tutelage was met with steady improvement in polls showing that more people think the country is headed in the right direction.

Introduced to the convention throng by his full name -- William Jefferson Clinton -- the president was greeted with a prolonged ovation, as delegates waved thousands of blue-and-white "Clinton" pennants and hundreds of American flags.

The thrust of his speech was generational -- an effort by the first baby boom president to contrast himself with his aging Republican opponent.

Dole, 73, the final presidential nominee of the World War II generation, had harked back to the traditional values of his youth in his GOP acceptance speech, offering himself as a bridge from that era to this more complex and troubled time.

Clinton, for his part, repeatedly referred to the future, mentioning again and again the new century that will begin in the final weeks of the next presidential term.

Setting a moderate tone

But his address lacked a sweeping vision, and most of his rhetoric was devoted to a recitation of his administration's accomplishments and a laundry list of initiatives that he has previously announced.

Attempting to set a moderate tone for his general election campaign, Clinton portrayed himself as a reformer who had stood apart from the old Washington establishment.

"The question is no longer who to blame, but what to do," he said.

Clinton echoed a call for political civility issued Wednesday night by Vice President Al Gore.

Referring by name to his two main opponents, Dole and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, Clinton pledged to "not attack them personally."

"And I will not permit others in the party to do it if I can prevent it," he said. " This must be a campaign of ideas, not a campaign of insults. The American people deserve it."

Defending himself against Republican charges that his administration has sent the wrong signal on illegal drugs, Clinton tried to set a different tone last night.

'Drugs are deadly'

With statistics showing that illegal drug use among high school students has doubled since Clinton took office, the president cited his half-brother Roger's past addiction to cocaine.

"Drugs nearly killed my brother when he was a young man, and I hate them," he said.

"Drugs are deadly. Drugs are wrong. Drugs can cost you your life."

Picking up a theme of other convention speakers this week, Clinton defended his wife, Hillary, and her book against Republican attacks.

He said that his late mother, who struggled to juggle work and child-rearing, knew that "it takes a village" to raise a family.

Four years ago, Clinton offered an ambitious agenda to restore public faith in activist government, capped by a massive health care reform proposal that would have been the capstone of New Deal liberalism.

Last night, he sketched a more modest agenda for a second term, including a variety of education proposals that would cost more than $100 billion over six years.

Clinton took note of the deep split in his party over the welfare reform measure he signed into law last week.

And he challenged "every business person who has ever complained about the failure of yesterday's welfare system to try to hire someone off the welfare rolls."

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