Clinton says he's changed for better New GOP attack ads 'distract' and 'divert' from election issues

October 29, 1998|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Under attack by a new round of Republican campaign commercials focused on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton said yesterday that he hoped the American people had sensed the "inner changes" he has made and his efforts to atone for his misdeeds.

At a Rose Garden news conference with President Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Clinton responded to the new $10 million television ad campaign that depicts him as untrustworthy, saying Republicans are free to define the congressional elections Tuesday any way they wish.

But, Clinton added, "I hope the American people have seen in me over these last few weeks a real commitment to doing what I told them I would do from the beginning -- to try to atone to them for what happened and to try to redouble my efforts to be a good president.

"And I hope they have sensed the inner changes that are going on and the manifestations and the efforts I've made to help the education of our children in the budget, to achieve peace in the Middle East talks."

At the news conference, Clinton said the new ads were designed by Republicans to "distract" and "divert" public attention away from the real issues of Tuesday's election.

The president spoke repeatedly about the "clear choice" between the two parties.

Saying the election was a critically important one, he reminded voters of ideas he said Democrats favored and Republicans opposed: using the budget surplus to save Social Security, a patients' bill of rights, funds for building or modernizing 5,000 schools, a higher minimum wage, campaign finance reform and legislation on tobacco restrictions.

"Are we right or are they right?" Clinton said. "It's a clear choice.

"That will be the impact on people's lives in this election."

He announced that the government had run a surplus of $70 billion in the 1998 budget, the first surplus since 1969, and said he was pleased that Democrats defeated Republican efforts to spend part of the surplus on tax cuts rather than preserve it for Social Security reform.

(The new federal spending plan does, however, include $20 billion in so-called "emergency spending" that will come out of the surplus.)

"And we don't need an ordinary midterm turnout," the president said of the election. "We need people to show up."

The outcome will have wide-ranging consequences for the president. For one thing, the results of the election will likely be seen as a referendum on Clinton and the impeachment proceedings. What's more, the new Congress formed by the election will be the one that decides the president's fate.

Taken by surprise

Democrats were caught by surprise by the new round of anti-Clinton ads. Some reacted sharply yesterday, and House Democrats began an effort to raise money for a commercial of their own to counter the Republican ads.

"Attacking the president and investigating the president has apparently become an obsession with the Republicans," Vice President Al Gore said yesterday, responding to a reporter's question.

Meanwhile, Republicans added a new TV spot to their arsenal yesterday, one that accuses Clinton of hiding behind "legal mumbo jumbo" in the Lewinsky matter.

They said they hoped the ads would remind voters that a Republican-led Congress is needed as a check against a Democratic president who cannot be trusted.

"I'm very pleased that the Democrats are reacting as strong as they are," said Rich Galen, head of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee. "It shows that these spots hit exactly the nerve that reminds" Democrats that voters have doubts about Clinton.

Asked about the assertion in the new Republican ads that he was untrustworthy, Clinton pointed to his record of six years in office, saying he had made good on the promises he set out in 1992, such as helping welfare recipients gain jobs and save more of their own money.

"I think that it's fair for a person to be judged on his whole record," Clinton said. "I'm not trying to sugar-coat the fact that LTC made a mistake and that I didn't want anybody to know about it."

He was also asked how he would respond to a question posed in one of the Republican spots: What do you tell your kids about the Lewinsky affair?

"I think what people ought to say to their children is that when someone makes a mistake, they should admit it and try to rectify it, and that this is an illustration of the fact that those rules should apply to everyone," Clinton said.

"But that when people do that, if they do it properly, they can be stronger in their personal lives, in their family lives and in their work lives."

Pastrana shows support

In his opening comments, the newly elected Colombian president went out of his way to show support for Clinton in the face of criticism from opponents that the scandal has diminished Clinton's authority on the world stage.

"Allow me to say that my country and my compatriots feel deep respect for President Clinton and for his role as a world leader, and as a rarity in history," Pastrana said. "He is one who forges world peace."

In other matters, Clinton was asked about the possibility that the interim Middle East peace accord reached last week would unravel in light of the fierce opposition to the agreement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing at home in Israel.

Clinton said he recognized that Netanyahu would face such criticism and would need to be assured that the Palestinians would keep their end of the agreement.

"I would urge all the onlookers here -- including all of us in the press and in public life -- not to overreact to every little bump and turn in the road," Clinton said.

"There was a lot of mistrust that built up in this relationship. It wasn't going to evaporate even in nine days."

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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