First Lady Speaks to Convention Seeking Balance
CHICAGO (AP) _ Seeking political balance, Democrats hear tonight from Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jesse Jackson while reaching for the center with a platform that is tough on crime and calls for a balanced budget. President Clinton assailed those who try to cram him into an ideological box.
``If you spend more money you’re a Democrat,″ he said in an interview broadcast today on CBS. ``If you spend less you’re a Republican. If you’re a Democrat who spends less you must not have a conscience. ... I believe that politics should be more about what to do than who to blame.″
Education was the theme as the Clinton campaign train moved across Michigan toward the convention that will nominate him for a second term on Wednesday.
At Wyandotte, Mich., he called for a $2 billion program to teach all children to read by the third grade. The program would recruit 30,000 reading specialists to work with what Clinton called ``a citizen army of volunteers.″
And in the convention city, Mrs. Clinton told some 500 arts patrons that art education should not be a victim of budget cuts. ``Children need something to say yes to,″ she said after touring Gallery 37, a jobs program that has transformed a three-acre downtown site into a tented arts studio.
Republican rival Bob Dole’s campaign quickly dismissed the president’s proposal as unlikely to help much.
``Instead of pursuing fundamental reform _ by confronting the teachers’ unions and embracing school choice _ Bill Clinton announces a new government program and a new pot of money for the unions,″ said deputy press secretary Christina Martin.
Earlier, the president visited a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, and watched the two millionth Cherokee come off its assembly line.
``You proved one more time that whenever we’re given a chance to compete we can be the best in the world,″ he told cheering workers.
Jackson and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, voices from a liberal tradition spurned by Clinton, get their moment on the podium tonight. But the prime time slots go to Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana, the more moderate convention keynoter, and to Mrs. Clinton.
``I intend to speak about traditional values and what we can do to renew them,″ Bayh said. He will talk about the need ``most importantly to create a better world for our children,″ he added.
The convention speeches and platform define Clinton’s Democratic Party and try to co-opt political ground held by the Republicans over the past decade and a half.
``That certainly is the goal,″ said Republican Gov. John Engler of Michigan, one of several GOP officials giving his party’s view of the convention. Engler said the Democrats were hoping Jackson would criticize Clinton’s decision to sign the welfare bill so they ``can show how macho and tough we are because we signed this bill.″
Often identified with the liberal wing, Mrs. Clinton gave no advance hint of her speech, but it was a safe bet she will focus on children and the political power of women. In a CNN interview, she defended her husband’s decision to sign the welfare bill opposed by many convention delegates.
``This bill does a lot of good things that need to be done. I don’t think it was that flawed,″ she said.
Cuomo said he would make clear his opposition to the welfare measure, which puts a five-year lifetime cap on cash assistance to the poor and requires them to find jobs within two years. Jackson also has criticized the welfare bill but he said today his speech would carry the message of unity.
``We must not allow differences that will lead to splits,″ he said. decision to sign the bill ``a very hurtful thing to do.″
The president will focus on the environment on Wednesday, proposing ways to improve toxic waste cleanups and develop so-called ``brown field″ sites in inner cities.
Brown fields are old industrial sites that have fallen into disuse and are considered polluted. Generally, it is hard to develop them, but Clinton has proposed initiatives to make them more attractive. Aides say he will expand on those plans this week.
His party’s platform, scheduled for approval today, backs the death penalty for a range of crimes and calls for prosecuting young people as adults when accused of serious crimes. The document decries a ``failed welfare system.″
Republicans called it hypocritical.
``It says President Clinton and the Democratic Party have waged an aggressive war on drugs, when the facts are the Democratic Party’s run up the white flag on the war on drugs,″ said Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour.
On the Democratic convention’s opening night, the hall rocked with chants of ``Four more years″ as delegates waved their red, white and blue ``Clinton-Gore″ signs.
When Vice President Al Gore appeared on the floor briefly in a surprise appearance, delegates crowded around and yelled ``Four more and then Gore!″
With polls indicating the Democratic ticket recovering some of the ground lost during the Republican convention in San Diego, the Democrats were upbeat.
``There is a lot of spontaneity in this campaign. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun this fall,″ said Cindy Domenico, a delegate from Boulder, Colo.
Mrs. Clinton also showed up for the Monday night session in time for the appearance of James and Sarah Brady, who thanked the president for signing a gun control bill.
Walking slowly with the help of a cane, the former press secretary to President Reagan made his way to the podium.
``Jim, we must have made a wrong turn,″ deadpanned Mrs. Brady. ``This isn’t San Diego.″
Brady was left partially paralyzed when he was shot in the head during the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan. Since then, his wife has been a strong advocate of gun control and lobbied for the legislation that bears his name.
Later, actor Christopher Reeve, speaking haltingly from his wheelchair, told the hushed hall that as politicians rush to balance the budget ``we’ve also got to take care of our family _ and not slash programs people need.″
Speaking to a prime time television audience, Reeve sought increased spending on medical research and said he trusted Clinton to remember that ``America does not let its needy citizens fend for themselves.″