Democratic Keynoter Lays Out an Agenda Both Moderate and Limited
CHICAGO (AP) _ Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, a conservative ``New Democrat″ who embodies his party’s new direction, told Democrats on Tuesday their mission is to reach into the ``quiet corners″ of America where ordinary people still struggle to make ends meet.
Bayh laid out an agenda both moderate and limited in a short keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. He offered no new ambitious proposals for government to attempt.
Thus Bayh (pronounced ``bye″) eschewed the sweeping visions that characterized the politics of the past _ those once represented by his own father as a liberal Democratic firebrand in the Senate.
But it was Bayh’s bad luck to follow the star of the convention’s second day _ Hillary Rodham Clinton, who received a wild and loving reception. By the time he started to speak at the end of a long night of speechmaking, hundreds of delegates headed for the exits.
``They probably have parties to go to,″ said one, Mary Brown of Yosemite, Calif. ``They want to get the bus. They’re antsy.″
The commercial television networks, however, stayed with Bayh for his low-key, 10-minute talk.
The governor praised President Clinton for cutting the deficit, curtailing bureaucracy, protecting Medicare and promoting education.
``But we must go beyond these historic gains because our progress has yet to touch all Americans,″ Bayh said.
``In quiet corners across our country, families still struggle to pay the mortgage, save for college, make ends meet. To you, our neighbors, I say the president’s agenda for the future reaches these quiet corners. It protects against wholesale cuts for the elderly, the sick, the young, the environment, the fight against crime and drugs.″
Bayh’s only acknowledgement of the Republican opposition came in an attack on Bob Dole’s 15 percent tax-cut proposal as overly ambitious.
``It will explode the deficit, raise interest rates, slow the economy and still require deep cuts in the things we care about,″ he said.
Bayh is reticent, but his speech was intensely personal, full of his family’s Hoosier history. He reached back to his great-great-grandfather, Christopher Bayh, who ``arrived in Indiana with a yellow tag on his overall that said `railroad’ _ and that’s where he went to work.″
He recalled his mother, Marvella, who died of breast cancer at age 46. He hailed his father, who used to antagonize President Nixon.
He talked about his twin sons, Birch Evans Bayh IV (his parents call him ``Beau″) and Nicholas Harrison Bayh, born 9 months ago, and his gregarious wife, Susan, a lawyer.
His father, former senator Birch Bayh, was in the audience. Said the son, ``Dad, I want to tell you how proud of you I am.″
In word and deed, the younger Bayh, 40, is conservative _ a far cry from his father, a down-the-line liberal who served three terms in the Senate and once sought the presidency.
Back home, Bayh is enormously popular in a state that doesn’t often favor Democrats. He was only 32 when first elected in 1988, replacing Clinton as the nation’s youngest state chief executive. He won a second term in 1992 with 62 percent of the vote.
He has been dubbed a ``Republicrat.″ He has cut taxes and spending while producing a $1.6 billion state budget surplus, increasing spending on education, fighting adult illiteracy, hiring more state troopers and expanding prisons.
He instituted welfare changes that go far beyond the Republican-sponsored welfare revision bill that Clinton signed last week to the dismay of many Democrats at this convention. Among Indiana’s revisions are a cut in benefits and a two-year cap on benefits; the federal measure allows five years on welfare and permits exemptions.
It was exactly Bayh’s ``New Democrat″ image that led party leaders to pick him as keynoter, a role usually assigned to liberal orators with the purpose of whipping up rank-and-file enthusiasm.
But Bayh’s mission was to convey an image of moderation and competence and to portray a new generation of serious-minded Democrats.
Bayh plans to challenge Republican Sen. Dan Coats, a social-issues conservative and former Quayle aide, in 1998. And some Hoosier Democrats are talking him up as a potential running mate for Vice President Al Gore should Gore win the presidential nomination in 2000. They see Bayh’s conservatism offsetting Gore’s perceived liberalism.