Clinton's ``bridge to the 21st century' Acceptance speech: President rallies supporters, ignores Dick Morris scandal.

August 30, 1996

PRESIDENT CLINTON's acceptance speech last night was loaded with unforeseen nuances as he stuck by the centrist, balanced-budget, welfare reform, families-first agenda urged on him by newly disgraced political guru, Dick Morris, the object of a sex scandal that left party loyalists dismayed but apparently still confident of their candidate's survivalist instincts.

Despite this cloud over an otherwise exuberant Democratic National Convention, Mr. Clinton was at his oratorical best as he urged supporters to "build a bridge to the 21st century." He mixed his centrist message with populist appeals for jobs, education, health care and other benefits designed to highlight his party's differences with the Republicans.

In 1992, White House aspirant Clinton said he had balanced the budget 11 times as governor of Arkansas but avoided saying he would do the same if elected president. This time he took the pledge, thus reiterating a position urged on him by Mr. Morris after the Republicans won control of Congress two years ago.

He added assurances to worried liberals that he also would "preserve" Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment, but his operative word had a flexibility even GOP spin-masters could live with comfortably. As Reform Party candidate Ross Perot has complained, neither Mr. Clinton nor Mr. Dole has spoken frankly of the need to rein in entitlement programs that are long-term budget-busters.

On taxes, Republican nominee Bob Dole's issue of choice, Mr. Clinton quite rightly warned that a return to Reagan-era supply-side economics through a 15 percent cut in income tax rates could "start piling up another mountain of debt." The

president dropped his unfulfilled 1992 call for a "middle class tax cut," choosing instead targeted tax credits to create jobs for citizens dropped from welfare rolls, encourage home ownership and make college education more accessible. His was a large menu of small steps, all of which are aimed at various constituencies he will need Nov. 5.

The president was most eloquent in extolling the diversity of the cheering delegates before him -- a diversity much greater than seen at the Republican convention in San Diego. Noting that people were fighting and killing one another in foreign lands because of religious, tribal and racial differences, he said Americans need to be unified to achieve their destiny in the next century. This was a president, matured in office, who was determined to make a bigger mark on history than he has achieved so far. The questions remain: Will he, can he?

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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